Stephen Sullivan introduced his Jackson Hole, Wyoming-based company Stio with a blog called The Town Hill Chronicles a few months before launching it last September. A team of professional writers profiled people living in mountain communities across the United States for the blog. Before launching the website and brick-and-mortar store, it helped Stio tell its brand story, build an audience, and establish a set of values and an emotional connection to the outdoor experience.
“The goal was for people to learn more about the culture behind these communities and how diverse this mountain world is,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan, who co-founded the outdoor brand Cloudveil, keeps the Stio blog fresh by publishing new stories at least twice a month. Through strategically placed iPads, the blog enhances the in-store experience. “Adding some depth and texture to a brand’s story is really key in this much more abbreviated world we live in,” Sullivan says.
Bringing the Story to an End
Shawn Askinosie, the founder of Springfield, Mo.-based Askinosie Chocolate, decided to see if he could use an essential part of his product to tell the company’s story: the wrappers, with 14 employees and no advertising budget. A photo of the lead farmer whose cocoa beans were used to make the bar can be found on each package. They’re wrapped in a string made from biodegradable bean bags and cut to size by women staying at a local shelter.
“Every day, we use storytelling to sell our chocolate,” says Askinosie, a former criminal defense lawyer who founded a small-batch chocolatier in 2007. “Because we share their stories on our packaging, website, and other materials, our customers are familiar with our cocoa farmers. Our story would not be complete without the cocoa farmers.” Customers can see from this story that Askinosie pays higher prices for beans than Fair Trade, compensates farmers fairly (including profit sharing), and treats them as partners rather than vendors.
What’s the end result? Since the team began communicating clearly with those on the front lines selling the chocolates about how the product is sourced, Askinosie’s wholesale customer retention has increased by more than 30%. “What happens at our little factory, I hope, changes lives,” he says. “I want to tell our brand’s story in that way.”
Putting it into Words
When you’re selling an abstract service rather than a tangible product, telling a good story can help customers visualize themselves using it. The marketing team at Trupanion, a Seattle-based pet insurance company founded in 1998, was determined to find ways to make the service resonate with both customers and veterinarians. To do so, they produce five to ten branded video testimonials per year, highlighting the stories of pet owners who have reached out to express their gratitude to the company.
The videos are available for viewing on the Trupanion website. “Joe’s Dog Pack,” one of the most popular, tells the story of an employee who owns two deaf dogs and two hearing dogs, with the goal of dispelling negative stereotypes about deaf pets. More than 11,000 people have watched the video. “A Pet Fire Drill,” a video that teaches about fire safety and features the Trupanion staff’s pets (about 80 animals visit the Trupanion offices with their owners every day), has received 8,500 views. The videos are also distributed to veterinary clinics across the country, with many of them displaying them in their waiting rooms.
Trupanion’s vice president of brand and communication, Anne Tomsic, describes pet insurance as “two pieces of paper and a staple.” “We need to bring that to life, and a video is a compelling way for us to paint the picture of a Trupanion-benefited pet owner.”
As a result, thousands of customers have started sending in and posting their own pet stories on Facebook. “It’s a win-win situation,” CEO Darryl Rawlings says. “The stories our customers send in provide us with a lot of inspiration.”