How the Always Pan inspires authentic user-generated content

May 13, 2024
Emmy Liederman
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You’ve seen it: the pink pan.

Its beauty calls to you: Touch me. Caress me. Cook something delicious with me.

You want to feel its terracotta texture under your fingertips. You want it to reproduce your grandmother’s signature dish. You want it to help you become the master chef-in-quarantine you know you can be. 

It’s called The Always Pan. And it seems like it’s everywhere, all the time. 

While her name is sparse on their website, Our Place founder Shiza Shahid is no stranger to the entrepreneurial journey. Shahid is best known for leading the Malala Fund, an international non-profit organization that fights for girls' education. 

At first glance Shahid’s pivot to cookware is surprising––but when you scratch beyond the surface of her famous non-stick pan, the parallels between mission and message begin to shine through. 

In a nutshell: The Our Place story

Our Place was founded by wife-and-husband team Shiza Shahid and Amir Tehrani a mere two months before the pandemic. A miracle of timing, some would say, as they had no way of knowing how important cooking would become to a global population isolated inside their homes. 

Shahid founded Our Place for reasons based on her personal experience as an immigrant. “We started Our Place because as immigrants we literally found our place in America by cooking and sharing food—having our friends come over and sharing our culture with them,” she says. “We believe that there is something really powerful about the way in which home cooking connects us.”

Since their founding in 2019, Our Place has raised $2.4 million in funding, run a bold political ad campaign, and mastered the art of user-generated content on Instagram. 

The brand’s trajectory to household name may not be guaranteed … but Our Place isn’t a flash in the pan, either.  

Keep reading to find out more about Our Place’s key ingredients for success:

  1. Designing for visual aesthetic and differentiation
  2. Amplifying one phenomenal feature in a bite-sized video clip
  3. Taking a stand on social justice
  4. Devoting resources to influencer and affiliate marketing
  5. Mastering the curation of user-generated content

Success ingredient #1: Design for visual aesthetic and differentiation

The Always Pan’s success may, in part, be attributed to shallow reasons: it’s just so … pretty.

While ultimately designed for functionality––the pan is meant to replace eight pieces of cookware––its aesthetic appeal is irresistible and feed-friendly. 

The Always Pan comes in six colours, from “blue salt” to “char” grey, but its design aesthetic goes all-in on its signature “spice” pink that has been lighting up Instagram feeds for months.

Just as SPANX saw early success by differentiating their product in a saturated market, Our Place is deviating from the standard stainless steel of cookware for a decidedly warmer, homey feel. 

While Shahid hasn’t stated as such, Our Place may just be the first piece of cookware designed with Instagram creators in mind. 

What you can do to design for aesthetic differentiation:

  • Perform a comprehensive visual audit on your brand category. 
  • Search Google images and YouTube for all your potential competitors.
  • Compile all images into a mood board.
  • Note similarities between products.
  • Make a list of aesthetic features no other brand has adopted.
  • Design a mockup visual based on three possible aesthetic differentiators. 
  • Form a focus group with friends and family––ask which mockup they are most drawn to and why.
  • Approach manufacturers with chosen mockups to determine possibilities and challenges with chosen aesthetic design. 

Success ingredient #2: Amplify one phenomenal feature in a bite-sized video clip

Our Place mentions many features and benefits of The Always Pan on their website, but they’ve chosen one to amplify above all others on social media: the incredible non-stick surface.

Our Place isn’t unique in their approach––they identified a common problem in their category and solved that problem for consumers. Where they win, however, is with the bite-sized visual appeal of that solution.

Before social media, infomercials and home shopping channels demonstrated a product’s flagship benefit over several minutes. Now, with mere milliseconds to capture a viewer’s attention on social, the time pressure to demonstrate features and benefits is compressed. 

The elevator pitch is officially too long––if you can inspire awe in three seconds, your brand’s road to social media stardom has just become a lot smoother.  

How to generate buzz on social for one product feature:

  • List all your product features and benefits. Isolate ones that are easiest to visually demonstrate in less than three seconds.
  • Record three-second demos on your phone.
  • Send bite-sized demo videos to a makeshift focus group of friends and family members––ask them which one would make them buy your product and why.
  • Post each bite-sized demo to Instagram and monitor the amount of shares you receive for each.
  • Compile focus group and Instagram results to choose your winning feature.
  • Approach Instagram and TikTok influencers with a pitch to amplify your product’s new flagship feature. 

Success ingredient #3: Take a stand on social justice––if it makes sense for your brand

Our Place was founded with a mission in mind: to bring immigrants together for a meal from their homeland. During the pandemic, when so many people are separated from their loved ones for who knows how long, Our Place’s mission has taken on new meaning. 

“My parents live far away and I don’t know when I’ll see them again, but I call up my mom and I ask her for recipes, and we connect over home cooking,” Shahid says. “At a time when so much is uncertain, there is just something really comforting to be able to create something with your hands, to nourish yourself and those that you love, and that’s what we’re trying to do with Our Place at this time.”

From the beginning, Our Place partnered with the Los Angeles Food Policy Council to make nutritious food accessible to everyone in LA. They’ve also donated more than 200,000 meals to Feeding America since their founding. 

Our Place’s social justice roots set the stage for authenticity behind their Vote campaign. During the U.S. election, Our Place took out billboards in battleground states with one message: “vote like your home depends on it.”

Social justice campaigns are, of course, tricky for brands––especially for ones not grounded in social impact from the beginning. 

Without strong partnerships with social justice organizations and the financial resources to execute genuine corporate social responsibility programs, social justice campaigns risk coming off as disingenuous.

But––if it works for your brand, don’t be afraid to take a stand. 

Questions to ask before you align your brand with a cause:

  • Have I partnered with a social justice organization that is having a real impact on people’s lives?
  • Do I have the resources to take action on a social justice initiative?
  • Do my corporate social responsibility programs have impact metrics unrelated to revenue?
  • Does my corporate social responsibility initiative align with my foundational brand messaging?
  • Will my social justice messaging resonate with key influencers in my category?

Success ingredient #4: Devote resources to influencer and affiliate marketing

The Always Pan’s dominant presence on social media is no accident. Our Place has gone all-in on influencer and affiliate marketing as a way to capitalize on the feed-friendly aesthetic of their beautiful pan. 

At Our Place, influencer and affiliate marketing aren’t just components of their marketing strategy––they’re whole departments. In the summer of 2020, Our Place hired Jenny Ly as senior influencer marketing manager and Emily Chan as head of affiliate marketing. 

Influencer marketing for DTC brands has become a no-brainer––nearly two thirds of marketers say they’ve increased their influencer marketing budgets in 2020. But that doesn’t mean you need massive resources to effectively leverage influencer marketing for your brand if you’re just starting out. 

How to shift resources to influencer and affiliate marketing:

  • Centralize influencer outreach and engagement with a platform like #paid
  • Develop a visual mood board you can share with influencers and affiliates to communicate your brand aesthetic. 
  • Run test campaigns with micro-influencers to set performance and budget benchmarks. 

Success ingredient #5: Master the curation of user-generated content

On top of a solid influencer marketing strategy, The Always Pan has inspired some of the best user-generated content in recent memory. In many ways, Our Place has struck marketing gold: The Always Pan has seen revenue via authentic word of mouth on social media. 

Revenue growth through user-generated content requires a few things:

  • One solid product differentiator that inspires conversation because it solves a real problem in a delightful way
  • A brand awareness and PR strategy that amplifies a clear message about your product differentiator
  • A social listening mechanism to uncover the best of the best user-generated content
  • A curation strategy with clear standards on which types of user-generated content to share
  • An influencer marketing strategy that inspires user-generated content as a byproduct 

Our Place may be in its infancy, but their growth has become nearly impossible to ignore. Through superior differentiation, message amplification, and a commitment to influencer marketing and UGC, The Always Pan is a brand staple of 2020.

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