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The Best Marketers Are Great Storytellers

George Deeb l Contributor (This post originally posted in Forbes)

Forward from Patty: You know how when you tell a story to a young person, they listen intently to every word and love to ask you "why" over and over again, which forces you to think! The gift of storytelling doesn't really change when it comes to business. Every business has a story behind it, and most are fascinating to hear if you'll take the time to listen and ask "why"!

This article struck a chord for me. What can I say? I love a good story.


I recently met John Replogle, the former CEO at the big consumer products brands Burt's Bees and Seventh Generation, and the current venture capitalist at Raleigh-based One Better Ventures.  He is one of the most successful entrepreneurs and consumer marketers I have ever met, which says a lot, given my Rolodex filled with many rock-star entrepreneurs.  In that meeting, I asked him, with the sea of competition that was in your consumer products space (largely using the same ingredients), how do you break out from the clutter and get mass consumer adoption.  His answer was short and sweet: it's all about "telling the right story".  Let's learn more.


John has held CEO, President or GM roles roles at some of the biggest consumer brands, including Guinness (Diageo), Unilever, Burt's Bees and Seventh Generation.  What caught my attention was the fact he was able to sell two different companies for huge valuations in a short period of time.  He sold Burt's Bees to Clorox for $925MM in 2007, and he sold Seventh Generation to Unilever for around $650MM in 2016.  He currently is a venture investor and advisor at One Better Ventures in Raleigh, who specializes in helping growth-stage companies in the consumer products space.  Their portfolio includes many companies that are off to the races, including Leesa, the online mattress startup, who has built up over $100MM in revenues in less than three years.  So, when John talks consumer marketing, you should listen!


Burt's Bees is the natural skin care business, doing around $250MM in revenue.  When you go to their website and click on their "About Us Page", nowhere do you see the word skin care anywhere on the page.  It leads with "We champion the benefits of nature in our lives and work to protect its beauty and diversity".  It pounds home four main points: (i) they use 100% natural ingredients; (ii) they don't do any animal testing; (iii) they do responsible sourcing, supporting the communities in which they operate; and (iv) they use recyclable packaging, to protect the environment.  The page closes with their philanthropic efforts.  In the sea of the "same types of products", they are giving the customer a reason to buy from them, as good corporate citizens.


Seventh Generation is the natural household cleaners business, also doing around $250MM in revenue.  When you go to their website and click on their "About Us Page", again nothing about the cleaners themselves.  It is all about their "mission" to make a difference and save the planet.  They talk about building communities, transforming commerce, nurturing nature, their philanthropic foundation and reporting on corporate consciousness.  Yes, you buy their product, and the planet lives to see another day!


I have previously written about focusing on the "why", not the "what", when selling your products.  That post was trying to get you to speak less about your "features and functionalities", and more about how your product is going to help your customers drive more revenues, lower costs or improve their customer experience (which is what they really care about).

But, this post is taking it to the next level.  Now, we are speaking to creating a personality for your company itself, as consumers love a good story almost more than they care about the product itself (especially when those products are commodities).  Burt's Bees is not a manufacturer of skin care (a dime a dozen when said that way), it is nature's laboratory founded in a bee hive.  Seventh Generation is not a manufacturer of cleaning supplies, it is a steward for the making the planet a better place to live.

So, take out the "About Us" page from all your own websites.  Start scratching out anything that speaks to the "what" your business does. Replace it with the "why" you matter to your customers, with the personality and positioning within the world of what your company aspires to be.  All while building a community around that passion point, to help you spread the word.  By better telling your corporate story, one that resonates with customers and differentiates you from competitors, hopefully massive sales will soon follow.


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