Let Me Tell You A Story

 Like my 87 year old mom Bea, I love to eavesdrop on conversations.

I love to listen to people talking in the grocery store about a food or beverage product they recently purchased.  It is like hearing how marketing works. My goal is never to be intrusive.  I’m listening to understand what stories they tell about products they look at on the shelf, put in their cart or have recently purchased. I’m listening to hear how they share stories about brands and their experience. Like a cultural anthropologist, I’m listening to learn how people behave in the wild.

A few months back, while doing grocery shopping in my local Raleigh, North Carolina Whole Foods, I overheard two thirty-something women standing in the produce section talking about their shoes.

“I bought these Tom’s shoes recently. My sister had them on, and she told me that they gave away a pair of shoes for every pair that is purchased. This made me feel really good about buying from this company, and I happen to love how they feel when I wear them all day and they look awesome. They weren’t super expensive either. I wonder why other companies aren’t so generous. Have you ever bought a pair? Do you know Tom’s? ”  

One for One
Tom’s shoes are an example of a brand that has a contagious story worth telling. The brand’s tale comes from real life experience of an American traveler named Blake Mycoskie. He met some children in Argentina and found they had no shoes to protect their feet. Saddened by what he observed, he developed a company to solve this problem and to help improve the children’s lives. The by-product of his generosity is a business success and over ten million pairs of shoes have been distributed globally to needy, shoeless children throughout the world.

His story is his marketing.

His shoes aren’t the focus of what he does for a living. It is all about the one-for-one story that has been shared millions of times.

Red Souls
Three months ago, I was fortunate to find myself in Paris on business. While eating lunch at a restaurant outside of the Louvre Museum, I notice several woman wearing fancy high heeled shoes and the soles of each shoe were red. I thought it odd that someone paid attention to this part of the shoe.

 When I asked one of my colleagues, she told me that those are Christian Louboutine shoe’s. He is a well-known French fashion designer and his shoes are extremely expensive and fashionable. His signature is the red-bottom high heel shoe often called a “Sammy red-bottom” and he has a registered Pantone color (18-1663 TPX).

The story about these red soles traces back to a special collection he was creating for an upcoming fashion show. He wanted to do something distinctive and saw some red nail polish on a table nearby and determined that he could jazz up these shoes by focusing on something no one else has ever paid attention to - - - the color of the sole. It occurred to him that no one ever featured the bottom of shoes yet to him; they were a distinctive part of the shoe wearing experience that could be celebrated. To Christian, he uncovered something that no one else was paying attention to in his industry. And those who shop and buy expensive shoes, knows his red-sole story and tell it over and over again until they are blue, or red in the face. The red sole became the soul of his brand.

Do shoe laces get you tied up in knots?

Gaston Frydlewski, the founder of HICKIES, disliked the bow and knot of traditional shoelaces. It annoyed him at the airport when he had to unlace and re-lace his shoes. With sports, he was frustrated by the time it took to deal with knots on sneakers and to lace up skates.
I noticed two teenagers at the mall wearing these odd laces and sat by as they were putting them into their adidas.  It was the first time I saw these brightly colored elastic connecting devices.

Gaston realized that he was not alone. Shoe and sneaker laces can be a pain for parents and annoying for the athlete’s. The answer was HICKIES. Gaston and his wife Mariquel (Co- Founder) launched HICKIES with a Kickstarter campaign and raised 6 times the original goal, commanding attention from both press and retailers. HICKIES is the first elastic lacing system brand and has changed the way people wear sneakers forever. He has reinvented something that most people never think about unless it doesn’t work right. These innovative elastic laces, unlike anything else in the category, are a story people want to share.  

Blake, Christian and Gaston products serve very different markets. Yet they share one important marketing asset that ties them together with a story that their consumer’s tell on their behalf. The marketing is stitched into their product as the story is retold by their customers.  

These brands don’t think like conventional brand to market their products. They don’t create a product and then ask how can we advertise it so we interrupt people and annoy them until they buy. Instead, they have found important ways to build storytelling into their products and let the consumer help do the marketing.

If the shoe fits
There are some important lessons for the wine industry to learn from these three examples. Often, wineries tell the same story over and over again without a meaningful way of distinguishing themselves from the category.  And different segments of the market want to learn about different aspects of winemaking. Connoisseurs care more about the art and craft of winemaking – how it was blended, the variety used, terroir, estate grown, etc.  But more casual consumers make not give those things a second thought.  So you must know who your target audience is and what motivates and interests them.

A short list of thought starters and questions to consider as you think about blending a story in your wine.

Is there a genuine, unique and truly authentic story that is part of your wine’s heritage and that no one else can tell?  

What separates your brand from the category of other wines that target a similar audience?

Can you pay attention to an aspect of your wine, your process, your package or your distribution that could help elevate your story?

Have you helped fans of your brand tell your story by giving them tools to amplify and disseminate your message? Can you do more to make it easy to share?

Can you borrow an idea from another product category (ice cream, perfume, technology, cereal, greeting cards, hair care products, organic produce, etc.) that no one is currently focusing on in your segment?

If you are telling stories today, are they really special and different from your next door neighbor? How do you know that? Have you found customers sharing your special reason for being?

Have you ever considered hiring a writer, a journalist or a novelist to come and spend time at your winery? Perhaps they can uncover a story that you are too close to see. 

Play the “How Would” Game

Often, I wonder how marketing superstars would enter a category.

For example, how would Steve Jobs have gone into the wine business? Would he have done what everyone else did or would he step back and find a way to solve problems that no one else was solving. You know that he would approach the problem with a view to enable a “DRINK DIFFERENT” mentality. What story would he unravel? All white wine bottles? Sell by the glass (like iTunes). Elegant packaging?

How would James Dyson get into wine? He is another hero of mine who invented such a superb vacuum cleaner that I find myself enjoying what were formerly pure drudgery and a chore. Dyson also reinvented how fans work by eliminating the blades and thus enabling stories to be told that seem a contradiction. How can a fan move air if it doesn’t have a blade? I’m sure we’d be blown away by the story he would love to tell about a wine venture.

How would Ben & Jerry freeze out the competition? Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield built a business around social responsibility and a progressive sense of values. But they also created a new category (Super Premium) and were one of the first to introduce thick chunks of ingredients into their ice cream. Ben once told me that it was more important for his company to be different but his products helped him be different.  He cared more about social responsibility in practice, and that was the story he told over and over. If he made wine, how might he have approached this market?

Shoe-in For Success
The wine industry tends to have so many brands that blur into the category. Genuine, authentic stories can help differentiate companies and the wonderful wines they nurture.

What story will your customers tell about your wine?


Speaking of stories, if you'd like to pick my marketing brain about your story, you can do it through Clarity at this link. All proceed are donated to Charity Water

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