Most people love a good yarn. Stories capture us, are surprising, funny, sad, have compelling characters and make us think and empathise with others. They stick with us and help us remember concepts and ideas.
They also can be a powerful marketing tool – NZ merino clothing brand Icebreaker is a perfect example of that. As are crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, where entrepreneurs tell their stories to attract investors.
US-based content marketing researcher Onespot says 92% of consumers want brands to make ads that feel like a story. And research from UK-based content marketing agency Headstream found almost 80% of repondents think it’s a good idea for brands to tell stories. If companies share their brand story with their customers, more than half are more likely to buy the product in the future, the survey found; meanwhile 44% will share the story and 15% will buy the product for the first time.
This idea is even more true for millenials (or Gen Ys, as they are also known). “Gone are the days of faceless organisations with untouchable leadership,” says academic Joel Kaplan, writing on the Mashable website. “This generation craves transparency and dialogue with the products they love.”
Gen Y consumers want to know the stories behind your product, and how those stories are shaping your company’s mission and values, Kaplan says, and they participate in that mission by using your products.
“Make sure you know what you stand for and communicate it clearly. Stay in touch with your audience through social media so it can see how your company – and their use of your product – is making a positive impact.”
New Zealand’s green, pristine, untouched reputation has been, and continues to be a powerful ‘story’ to tell to the world. Yet New Zealand companies have been slow to use our brand story to reach consumers in competitive overseas markets.
NZTE, Tourism NZ and Education NZ have jointly developed an online business initiative ‘New Zealand Story’, that defines our distinctly New Zealand attributes and helps companies build a framework to better communicate their story to the world.
The site has photographs, videos, infographics, presentations and case-studies of companies which tell their story effectively in export branding.
One such story is that of Okains Bay Seafood, one of New Zealand’s largest privately-owned long line fishing companies. Founded by Greg Summerton, the company’s story weaves around Summerton’s Ngai Tahu whakapapa, his ties with 1840 European migrant fisherman John Fleurtey, and the way the family has been involved in commercial fishing ever since.
The American and Asian markets really value longevity, Summerton says, and Okains has that in spades.
"Fish is fish – anywhere in the world you go. Most fishing companies, to survive, know how to produce fresh, high-quality fish. The only difference we have is the New Zealand brand and our whakapapa. It gives buyers a certain amount of satisfaction that we have these other overwhelming desires and respect for the resource.
“Consumers can’t question our story. It’s not a clever, corporate made-up campaign to sell the product. Customers want a genuine story, and to feel good about what they are eating."
It was the Okains Bay story which got Summerton a foot in the door to pitch to the fifth largest supermarket chain in the world. Greg would like to keep the name of the supermarket confidential and isn’t sure about what exactly it was about his company’s story that got their attention, but the “more good stories they have, the better”.
Gone are the days of faceless organisations with untouchable leadership. This generation craves transparency and dialogue with the products they love (Joel Kaplan, Syracuse University)
Whatever it was, Summerton’s pitch to the supermarket chain was successful, and the company now supplies 90,000 units of fish per year to the USA, UK, Spain and Australia.
Summerton says he was raised in the Maori way to understand the traditions of hunting and the value of water as the source of all life, and a QR code on every box links consumers with the story behind each fish.
“You zap it with your smart phone and it gives you everything from the status of the fisheries, how it has been harvested, where we caught it, when we caught it, when it was processed, how it was shipped to you – and then it leads into the whole Okains Bay story and the whakapapa, and the sustainability of the fisheries.”
“Don’t under-value your story or be scared to get on a plane and go to market and tell your story,” Summerton says. “Companies aren’t going to come to you to knock on your door, but you can count on them being more open to you. The NZ brand goes a long way.”
The Better Drinks Co
The clean green story behind The Better Drinks Co’s juices and blended drinks is an integral part of the luring potential overseas customers to buy products, says the firm’s CEO Craig Cotton.
Although the-company-formerly-known-as-Charlie’s (and which now also includes the Phoenix organic drinks range and others) was sold to Japanese beverage firm Asahi in 2011, product development and marketing is still headed by a team of New Zealanders, and the Kiwi-based stories are still crucial in overseas markets, says Cotton.
For example, when the company launched Charlie’s in Japan in 2014, it was able to build on the story of New Zealand as a country with beautiful scenery, an idea the Japanese project team was already familiar with, thanks to films like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and the 100% Pure New Zealand tourism campaign, Cotton says.
“When we started discussions in Japan, we naturally introduced the product development and marketing teams to the New Zealand story by talking about our open spaces. We established the quality of our good, honest products by telling them about the purity of our air, our clear water and the fertile soils our fruit thrives in.”
The company used this knowledge as a platform to build on, “before telling the broader story of our products, culture, people and the things we are creating”, he says.