Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Yunnan Sourcing & Exploring the Encyclopedic Depths of Puerh

There is only one thing, from the very beginning, infinitely bright and mysterious by nature.It was never born, and it never dies. It cannot be described or given a name.

Zen Master So Sahn

Old time puerh drinkers like me know the answer to this question is Yunnan Sourcing… hahaha….

The Good Ol’ Days & Keeping With the Times

No seriously though, even for someone who has been drinking puerh as long as I have, there was always Scott Wilson and Yunnan Sourcing and there still is and there probably always will be.  I just can’t imagine the Western puerh scene without Yunnan Sourcing and Scott.  To me, some of this is nostalgia, no doubt.

Throughout the many changes in the world of puerh tea over this time, I feel Scott and Yunnan Sourcing have remained authentic to themselves while changing with the times.  This is hard to do and they are the only one of these first online English puerh vendors that have done more than survive, but rather they have flourished.  This no doubt speaks to the genius who is Scott Wilson.

Over the years, Scott has opted to strongly empower the puerh drinker by being as transparent as possible with each product he sells and presses.  For years he would dump as much information as he possibly knows about each product on the website description.  Way back in the day some of these were direct translations of puerh factory descriptions that may not have always been completely truthful.  Scott has always put as much information out there as possible and left it to the drinker to decide.  Later when Yunnan Sourcing took to pressing its own Yunnan Sourcing Brand cakes, one of the first to do so, Scott took great pains to provide the customer with unprecedented information about regions, families, mountains, outputs, geographical locations, general qualities of the regions, specifics of organic testing, … the list goes on and on.  As a result Yunnan Sourcing has been instrumental at educating the Western puerh drinking public.

Yunnan Sourcing Aggressive Conventional Marketing

Over the years the Yunnan Sourcing online puerh shopping experience has also shifted from a decent size selection of factory puerh in its early days, to the encyclopedic experience of the overflowing and difficult to navigate old red and gold website.  I likened the old site to browsing an enormous library of puerh and puerh knowledge.  I don’t know when but sometime he opened a Yunnan Sourcing. US site based in the USA which offers those in the USA sometimes a cheaper option.  And some time thereabouts he opened Taiwan Sourcing, for oblong lovers.  The starkest change to the brand happening in 2017 with the closure of the old website and the opening of the handy new Shopify site.  No longer did we have to pour over hundreds of pages of puerh without the use of those handy Shopify filters. 

Over the years the marketing focus has also changed.  Scott’s marketing has been described by other bloggers as aggressive conventional marketing which I pretty much agree with.  It really has 5 elements to it...

The first is their website descriptions which I mentioned a little bit above.  They have also included teaser videos and increasingly professional staged photos as the years have gone by.  Another cool thing about the website is the popular review option which is used more than all the other Western puerh vendors combined.  The review allows you to get 5% off coupon.This really creates community within the umbrella of the massive website.

The second is extensive use of social media with a unique focus these days on You Tube videos.  I think Scott doesn’t use social media as good as other vendors but he really nails it with his You Tube videos.  I think Scott is a bit uneasy about aggressive social media.  The You Tube videos continue to get better, I think.  It also contrasts himself from other camera shy Western vendors.  Great Job!

The third is a pretty aggressive email marketing campaign including small print marketing.  This is totally optional as you can opt in and out as you please.  But many find this to be the most annoying out of Yunnan Sourcing’s marketing.

The fourth is the 13% off sale which over the last year has mainly shifted to 10% off.  On the plus, the much bigger Black Friday sale has shifted from 13% to 15% off last year as more weight has been shifted to the one big sale, I think.

The fifth is the loyalty points program.  This is my favorite marketing option.  The fact that you can let it really accumulate is awesome.  I got a $50 coupon I'm just itching to use...

All in all the marketing is pretty standard and transparent stuff.  Of course, the sales and discounts from loyalty points are built into the larger picture of the actual cost of the products.  I know lots of people don’t think about it that way, but these marketing strategies are pretty transparent just like the product it promotes.  Nothing too crazy or controversial here but definitely a multifaceted, sustained, and persistent marketing strategy.  The totality of it all is a lot.  The most interesting thing is how the competition, white2tea, almost has no overlap with its aggressive marketing style.

Yunnan Sourcing & Scott Wilson & Xiao Yao

I think the one part of Yunnan Sourcing that is a bit controversial is Scott Wilson the president and owner of Yunnan Sourcing.  I really think that he gives Yunnan Sourcing this larger than life and at times unrestrained quirky persona behind this more serious restrained look and branding.  I think this is what breathes a bit of life into the Yunnan Sourcing brand.  I always love when Scott says it like it is or speaks his mind even if it is not always the most appropriate thing to say or do.  In these moments he makes things feel more real and less scripted.  I feel like he gives the brand a human face, faults and all, and I respect the humanity in that and like the energy it brings to my shopping experience at Yunnan Sourcing.

I think of Scott Wilson as an eccentric librarian of this huge repository of puerh tea and puerh history and knowledge, like one I had once met in real life working as a librarian in an old library.  He has been in the puerh scene for so long and has such an established reputation.  He is almost like that one family member who sometimes says inappropriate things but whom we all know and love.  Plus Scott has kind of always been this way if you look back like 15 years ago (the big hair days) on some forms you can see him there.  I remember in the early days his insistence of the merits of Kunming dry storage and warning of the evils of wet stored puerh.  Hahahha…. That’s classic Scott! I know there are some out there that feel different than me, and I can respect that.  I also love the invaluable contrast/ counter balance that his partner Xiao Yao provides Yunnan Sourcing.  She adds to the rich depth of Yunnan Sourcing.  Personality aside, as far as business transaction of buying puerh, they sell volumes of puerh daily but I’ve never hear of any major problems.  That is always the way it’s been, and I can’t see it changing anytime soon.

I think another criticism of the Yunnan Sourcing brand is how intimidating and immense it is, for new puerh drinker and old alike.  They sell a lot of different puerh, for sure.  Scott doesn’t play games by taking things out of stock and putting them back at a later date.  I respect this super high level of transparency.  What you see is what you get and that level of trust is maybe the highest with puerh drinkers new and old alike.  He also doesn’t play favorites with his puerh, and demands that each is judged on its own merits despite all the information that he willingly supplies for each puerh.  This approach allows for a deep self-discovery of what puerh is to each unique individual without him dictating to the customer what they should consume.  Yunnan Sourcing uses a more traditional business model of selling puerh but that model seems to work good for Yunnan Sourcing and customer alike.  For the rookie customer and veteran alike, the overall experience at Yunnan Sourcing is an educational one, a journey, a self-discovery of puerh and of self.



Edward A. Voss said...

Scott is very accessible and makes time to answer questions from the community and individuals who ask for more information about the products he sells. He's not content to just sit back and let the profits roll in - he's down in the trenches slugging it out with critics, customers, other vendors, and even bloggers like yourself.

Matt said...

Edward A. Voss,

This post doesn’t really get into the “why?” Yunnan Sourcing has flourished. I think your comment pretty much covers it!

Scott is most definitely hard working and he is a fighter.


Geoff said...

Great post, Matt!

I actually met Scott IRL a couple of years ago at a tea festival, under a tree ... while being served puerh by Glen from Crimson Lotus.

Talk about surreal.

Matt said...


That would have been surreal!

Oolong Owl had a similar experience...