Burt’s Bees: a Study in Successful Storytelling
How come one t-shirt costs $4.99 while another one costs $4,99.00? The answer lies in one word. Stories.
Brands and their perceived value are, in reality, nothing but the stories we’re told–and tell ourselves–about the meaning they carry.
As human beings, we understand the world through stories. Stories are how we make sense of, and cope with, our experiences.
Now, if you’re a marketer, this is something you must never forget. How well you succeed in telling the right stories will make, or break, your business.
Storytelling in marketing — how does it work?
Ever heard of the Significant Objects Project? It’s an experiment carried out in 2009 by two reporters; Rob Walker of The Washington Post and Joshua Glenn from The New York Times. They wanted to show that stories are the main driver behind perceived value.
They bought $128.74 worth of thrift-store junk, and then they created a compelling story for each of the items. Then, they posted the stuff on Ebay.
What happened? Well, the very same items were sold at a total of $3,612.5. That’s an increase of 2,700%. If that doesn’t prove the power of storytelling in marketing, I don’t know what does.
Burt’s Bees and the power of a great founder’s story
Burt’s Bees is the perfect real-life example of how we don’t buy products; we buy stories. Burt’s bees most sold product is a chapstick.
If you strip away the storytelling of this brand, it’s an extremely simple product that anyone and everyone could produce at very low cost.
And in fact, plenty of companies do. But no other company selling chapsticks has managed to create a true love brand with a loyal and enthusiastic fanbase the way Burt’s Bees have.
The story of Burt and his bees began with Roxanne Quimby and Burt Shavitz, an adorably eccentric and hippiesque couple from Maine. Roxanne and Burt met during a hitchhiking encounter and fell in love. Roxanne was an artist. Burt was a beekeeper, well-known locally for selling honey from his pick-up truck.
Before Burt met Roxanne, he used to sell his honey in large, unlabeled containers.
Roxanne brought her design skills to the equation, and the couple used Burt’s face, story, and quirky charm to create a sense of culture and personalization around the business.
Burt’s bees have always stuck with one very simple idea: what you put on your body should be made from the best nature has to offer. This is their mission statement, and they’re brilliantly creative as they weave it into compelling stories — often revolving around the founder, Mr Burt himself.
The brand identity appeals to those who long for a life closer to nature, less filled with toxic plastic and icky chemicals.
Even after the company was bought by Clorox, a company selling bleach, the brand has managed to sustain the sustainable and chemical-free image it was founded on.
That tells you something about the power of stories! People love a good story, and when they like it, they are often reluctant to change it. Stories bring comfort.
A legacy that lives on
For a great lesson in storytelling and marketing, but also a wonderfully told life story, go check out the “Our Story” section on Burt’s Bees’ website.
Not only is it lovely. It also showcases the magic that happens when you infuse a brand with love and personality.
Sadly, Burt passed away in 2015, and the world lost an incredibly charismatic and charming entrepreneur. But, s the website states: #burtliveson
Because that’s what good stories do. They live on. ❤