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016 – Tips for strawberry flavour

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —April 23, 2018
Filed in Anecdotes, Business storytelling, Insight, Podcast, Strategy

Tags: brand storytelling, competitors, collaboration

In this episode of Anecdotally Speaking, we explain what it is that Mark and I do for work, why some stories work for some audiences and not for others, and the difference between the typical ‘brand stories’ we see and the one we share today.

Lots of companies have ‘brand stories’. The problem is that most of these aren’t actually stories – they’re simply a list of assertions. In this episode Mark relays a typical one we might hear – ’our brands represents freedom, innovation and the pursuit of happiness’. There are no events to follow, people involved, or insight given. It only gives us an idea of what it is they believe in.

strawberry-tips

I heard this week’s story from Karen Stanton who works for International Flavours and Fragrances. It’s an example of a genuine brand story. We also talk about the importance of data in storytelling.

Here’s a link to the blog post on data storytelling that I mention, and a link to Significant Objects.

For your storybank:

Karen Stanton, Head of the Asia Pacific for Marketing of International Flavours and Fragrances.

Over number of years, a major flavour was strawberry

Each year they were losing ground on the flavour with a competitor

Got colleagues from different countries – Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, China.

Discussed in a workshop what it is about their strawberry flavour that differentiated them.

Japanese team said there’s an informal ritual in Japan – they start with the tip and savour it.

They were intrigued – decide to test this out.

Sent message to scientists, asked them to slice strawberry into cross-sections, analyse each part and show which has the most intense flavour. It was confirmed that it was the tip.

Renamed the product to “strawberry tips” and also attached to it the story of how they discovered the flavour.

Popularity grew and they were ahead of competitors again.

Podcast Transcript

Shawn:

This is Anecdotally Speaking—the podcast to help you build your business story repertoire. I’m Shawn Callahan.

Mark:

And I’m Mark Schenk. And before we get started this week I had a little experience in Sydney yesterday, running a workshop, and one of the participants is a podcast listener, which is great, a friendly face in the audience. And at the morning tea break he came up to me and he says, ‘I love the podcasts etc but what do you guys do?’

Shawn:

Whoops.

Mark:

I kind of realised this is our 16th episode of the podcasts and we haven’t actually told people what we do. I guess we do a number of things but probably the main thing that people might be interested in is that our purpose in an organisation is to help restore humanity to the work place. We do that using stories and our objective is to help business leaders and sales people put stories to work.

We have two programmes: story telling for leaders which is about helping leaders communicate better, how to influence, engage and inspire, and storytelling for sales which is also aimed to help sellers influence, engage and sell more. So, this is kind of what we do so for any listeners who have the same question in your mind that’s part of the answer, that’s kind of two of the main things we do here at anecdotally speaking.

Shawn:

I guess over the last few years what we’ve done is we’ve taken those programmes and we license them to other companies don’t we, Mark? And that’s what keeps us very busy because these companies are all over the world and keeps us on our toes, that’s fantastic.

Mark:

And we are just in the process of getting it translated into Indonesian which will be the twelfth language.

Shawn:

Indonesia

Mark:

Yes, Bahasa Indonesia.

Shawn:

Yeah, it’s probably one of the simpler languages to learn as opposed to Mandarin or something like that.

Mark:

It is also hopefully going to be easier to translate because different languages have different complexities in translation. Japanese for example, we’ve been working for about a year trying to get the Japanese translation perfect. It’s a very complex language and has different nuances depending on the context and so getting the business nuances absolutely correct has been, let’s just say it’s been complex, a challenge.

Shawn:

Hey, we have some news for everyone. Not too long ago we got an email that said we’d been short listed for the Australian podcasting awards, how about that?

Mark:

That was a very good email to receive.

Shawn:

We are one of five podcasts in the category of business and marketing and the big event when it’s all being announced is on the 5th of May. I think it’s in the Spiegeltent, this is all part of the comedy festival I would say. The Spiegeltent tent in Collingwood so that will be pretty exciting. So, thanks very much for all those folk who are listening to our podcasts and enabling us to continue doing this little thing that we love to do.

Mark:

We should remind people that our objective here is to share a business story, talk about why it works and how we can use it in business. Because it’s an even number Shawn, it’s your turn to tell a story so what have you got for us today?

Shawn:

Okay I guess this came about in a conversation I had with a client, Karen Stanton. She works for a very interesting organisation called International Flavours and Fragrances

Mark:

Can we just call it IFF?

Shawn:

Yeah, I think they call it IFF for short. They were actually founded in 1889 so a very long-running organisation. They’re a massive corporation now, about 3.5 billion dollars in revenue. When you go into a supermarket and look at just about any product that has some flavour or fragrance to it, all the fake ones, you know inside the main aisles on the outside of the supermarket, all the ones in the aisles I suspect have these flavours, these are products that IFF have a big part to play.

Mark:

So, if I go to the fresh produce area and they produced a steak flavour.

Shawn:

I hope not. Your dish washing liquid has a nice lemon scent or something like that; they would have created the lemon scent for that. In fact, I’ve heard that different buildings have their own scent and these companies make the scent, for example with Casinos.

It’s a bit of a scary thought which is probably why I keep right away from casinos, but if you go into a casino there is actually a certain smell of poverty going through that organisation that encourages you to keep gambling.

Mark:

So, OD hope.

Shawn:

OD hope, that’s the one. Anyway, I was turning to Karen and she was telling me that over a number of years one of their major flavours was strawberry and it was being beaten out by one of their competitors and every year they were losing ground to this particular competitor. She was head of marketing and she needed to do something to change that direction.

So, she got it. At that stage she was head of the Asia-Pacific business for marketing, so she got all her colleagues from different countries; from Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, China all together in a room and did a big workshop about what could they draw from this product about this idea of strawberries that could differentiate them?

Anyway, as they were going around, the Japanese team sort of came up and said look there’s kind of an informal ritual in Japan right and that is when we eat our strawberries we always start with the tip and we savour it. It’s the juiciest most flavoursome part of the strawberry, surely Mark you’ve experienced this?

Mark:

Well I’m definitely going to go and buy a strawberry and try it out.

Shawn:

And when this was suggested, and they were talking about this in the workshop everyone thought this was interesting, maybe we can test it out. Of course, these companies have very sophisticated scientific laboratories and they sent the message down to their scientists saying can you get a whole bunch of strawberries, thin slice them and cross section them and take each thin slice, measure the intensity of the flavour and where is the greatest intensity?

As our intuition would suggest all the flavour was at the strawberry tip. So, what they did was renamed their product ‘strawberry tips’ but also they attached to it the story of how they discovered that is where the flavour was. Low and behold next thing you know the market for their strawberry tips started to grow and grow and grow. Next thing you know they were way ahead of their competitors again, so you know just this one change was actually having an enormous impact on their business.

Mark:

So, the change of name and the story literally made that brand more valuable.

Shawn:

Yeah exactly. It’s kind of a funny thing, people underestimate the impact the story can actually have but I know we’ve had fun looking at that website called significantobjects.com. It’s a great website. Go and check it out. These couple of guys, they went out and collected cheap objects.

Mark:

Yeah, they put cheap objects on eBay.

Shawn:

Right and then they wrote a story about those objects and then posted it back to eBay with the story right and sometimes it an object that cost $4 went for $120 just because there was a story to it.

Mark:

The biggest percentage increase was this porcelain squaw that they bought for $1.59 and they sold it for something like $189 and the story was quite cool that the writer had written. Using this in workshops and conference presentations is fantastic, because people just go wow. The story has literally made these objects vastly more valuable.

Shawn:

Yes, and in fact I remember seeing this whole thing demonstrated. Annette Simmons came out to Australia and did a whole series of talks, and we sponsored it to give some in Sydney, and that’s where I first saw that significantobject.com website. It was a nice little discovery.

The thing though about significant objects is that they make up those stories right, whereas what they did here at IFF was that they created the story. They went out, they got the scientists to do the investigation and the results gave them a story. There’s a big area now of data storytelling. How do you tell the story of data and that’s an example of that if you like?

Mark:

And of course, they didn’t have to make anything up. It was not a construction at all; they were simply recounting the process that they went through that caused them to name the product strawberry tips.

Shawn:

Exactly. I wrote a paper last year around data storytelling and I was just talking about the different type of tactics you can use. One of the tactics is to tell the story of the discovery. If your data doesn’t lend itself to time-series analysis, which is what stories are all about, then the discovery of the insight is fabulous as a story.

So, what do you reckon? Why do you think this story works? It’s a simple story, it’s not a great reveal or anything like that, there’s not a big drama about it per se but what do you reckon about this story that helps it move along?

Mark:

I guess pretty much everybody has tried strawberries at some stage so it’s something we can all associate with, so that element of familiarity.

Shawn:

Yes definitely.

Mark:

It’s something very concrete that we can all associate with. In fact, you just say the word ‘strawberry’ and I have an immediate picture of that luscious red fruit.

Shawn:

And when you think about the Japanese experience of it, of course they have an extra level of quality or something. They have amazing strawberries over there. I don’t know where they get them.

Mark:

And of course, the Japanese are kind of renowned for their delicacies and their understanding of nuance.

Shawn:

Yes, indeed that’s part of it I think. I think the other thing that works in this story is immediately you learn it’s about this big company that’s got a long tradition. They were founded in the 1880’s. I don’t know if we mentioned they are headquartered in New York, it’s a big international company.

This works well if you are talking to other big international companies. It doesn’t work well if you are talking to a little start up for example or it doesn’t work as well I should say because they do aspire to be a larger thing don’t they, many of the start-ups? Often if you tell a big company story to a small company they sort of go it’s not really us.

Mark:

One of the key tests that people apply is relevance and so if the story is not particularly relevant to the audience then in general the story doesn’t work that well.

Shawn:

They just dismiss it don’t they?

Mark:

And so, you might have an absolutely fabulous story that works really well in one context, but you take it to a different context, suddenly it loses its relevance. Even though it’s a fantastic story elsewhere, it kind of falls flat. So, it’s one of the things that is really worth understanding; what’s the context in which your story works? Just a word of advice for people out there, you should always test your stories to figure out is it going to work because, believe me, Shawn and I have made that mistake a few times.

Shawn:

Yeah indeed, I think the other element which is important in this story is the science involved. As soon as you bring science you know, you bring some level of veracity to what you are saying, there’s a method. Of course, you know the scientist listening would probably roll their eyes at this stage and would ask where are the blind tests and what was the hypothesis? And you know there are probably a lot of methodological problems in the way this was done. However, that’s just the way it was told to me. They may have gone through all those.

Mark:

Absolutely, I totally understand that some people would have that methodological question in their mind but for the majority of listeners that’s not really important.

Shawn:

They’re not going to get stuck on that.

Mark:

Besides for the majority of listeners if you started to go through the methodological soundness of the approach, even if you knew it, it would probably be putting a lot of people to sleep very quickly.

Shawn:

I guess again that’s context.

Mark:

So, to pick up on the science thing. It is really important that we get the data right in our stories because our view is that stories are facts wrapped in context and delivered with emotion. You’ve got to get the facts right.

Shawn:

Yes.

Mark:

So that’s one of the reasons why I think this story works. It’s got that logical rational scientific basis.

Shawn:

I know this happens in magazines like the New Yorker, you know those fabulous mags where they have fact checkers. The writer writes the story, hands it over to the fact checker and away they go. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. You have to do your own fact checking in many cases.

Okay that sounds good. I think there are some very good reasons why this works.

Mark:

Absolutely.

Shawn:

Is there something we could do to make this a better story?

Mark:

Look, I think there is. I’m interested in adding more data. What was the percentage increase in market share for their strawberry flavour? Getting some data that demonstrates the efficacy of the story. For example, Significant Objects purchased for
$1.59 sold for $190 that’s great.

Shawn:

That’s good stuff isn’t it.

Mark:

Whereas in this case the sales went up significantly over the competitors which is good; even better if you’ve got the data to support it.

Shawn:

Yeah, but you are in one of those situations where you are unlikely to get that data right?

Mark:

True.

Shawn:

Because it’s competitive and the head of marketing is not going to give away that sort of information to you, but it would be great if you could have it.

Mark:

So, another thing that would make it even better; were there any benefits to the participants, like the people who came up with this fabulous insight that lead to this dramatic improvement in the market share of the IFF strawberry flavour?
Do you know of any outcomes from this?

Shawn:

It would be hard to draw a direct link between this activity, but Karen did get a promotion to New York, so that’s the headquarters. Surely that’s evidence enough.

Mark:

But adding in that little bit of information would make that story even better.

Shawn:

That’s true.

Mark:

So again, it’s the issue of high stakes. So, it’s not just about the brand, there are also implications for the participants.

Shawn:

Whenever you are sharing a story the person who’s listening to it is always trying to translate it into their own possibility for themselves, like what if I do this and follow some similar route, how will this affect my career, how will this affect my future in some way?

Okay, what about how we are going to use it.

Mark:

For me, one of the obvious uses of this story is it is a great example of brand storytelling. I’ve actually got a bit of a downer on brand storytelling in general. People talk about brand storytelling and they go our brand represents freedom, innovation and pursuit of happiness.

That’s not a story, whereas this is a genuine brand story. It meets the criteria of a story which is it has a time and a place. Specific events happen, there are characters involved and there’s a turnaround, there’s an insight, there’s an evolution, a change. It meets all the criteria of a story and the magnificent thing about it; 100 percent true.

Shawn:

You are right about this thing of not having a real story as your brand story. It just drives me nuts. I did hear a really good one though and I can’t remember all the details, but I was listening to Tom Ferriss’ podcast and they had one of the founders of Airbnb. What was nice is this guy was a terrific storyteller, what was his name, Joe? Anyway, you’ll find some more recent examples on Tom Ferriss.

And he was talking about the things that he did before Airbnb and one of them was he was an industrial designer. And he created this cushion for people to sit, called Critbuns because architecture students typically had to sit on the floor or hard surfaces to get their critiques and so they got sore buns.

So, he made this cushion and sold them. That was a bit of a long story, but I think he’s still selling them to this day. So, he still has Airbnb on one hand and Critbuns is out there. He shared in the podcast his brand story.
And his brand story was a simple story about a young university student with no money who came up with this simple idea to save the buns and backsides of students around the world who were doing their critiques. So, it was this nice little story and it was enough to give you an understanding of where it came from, why you’d need it, and also a little bit about the character of the person who did this.

And I thought it was great. And what he noticed when he was selling this in the various stores that he was at that people were telling others the story.

Mark:

That’s power.

Shawn:

So, he’d be sitting there, and someone would go ‘oh, what’s this thing? It’s kind of an unusual shape.’ And the other person would go, ‘this young university student…’. They would tell their own version of the story based on the little bit they’d read on the back of the label. To me that’s a great brand story.

Anyway, that’s one to check out. He’s a terrific storyteller and well worth listening to that episode—it’s a long one too. It’s like two hours long. But I tell you what, I could not stop listening to it, it was terrific. Check it out.

Mark:

So that’s a really good example of the Airbnb guy with a brand story for his Critbuns. Maybe not such a memorable brand name but a fantastic story. And as you were telling that story I was reminded of what I think is a great example of not a brand story. I’m not going to say the product name but here’s what their brand story is.

‘Our product integrates digital systems and orients you towards re-imagination so that innovation isn’t restricted.’

Shawn:

I really understand what they’re doing

Mark:

It’s ridiculously un-story-like and it’s almost completely impenetrable. Now it does pass one test though.

Shawn:

Which is?

Mark:

It’s impressive.

Shawn:

Yeah, that’s true.

Mark:

It’s got impressive words in it.

Shawn:

Yes, but at the same time it’s totally incomprehensible. And it’s to do with the difference between concrete words and abstract words. You bang on about this all the time, right?

Mark:

Absolutely, Mark Twain, ‘you should never use a $5 word when a 50-cent word will do’.

Shawn:

The other thing I wanted to mention about brand story; I often hear customers who want to find ‘the’ brand story, like this single story that once you’ve done that your job is done. And for me it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Your brand is your sense of what something is based on lots of stories. And so, you should be trying to create situations where those stories start to get told or things happen so that people tell stories about your brand—all those types of things.

Mark:

Or to trigger stories about your brand.

Shawn:

Exactly. Well, I think we’ve given that a pretty good run over. Let’s give it a rating. Given what you’ve heard, the story, where do you think it sits on the spectrum of 0 to 10?

Mark:

I think it’s an excellent story and I really like the story and so I’m tempted to give it a very, very high rating. But I’m going to moderate that a little bit because it’s one of those stories that is not ubiquitously useful. It has got a limited range of application. Nonetheless, a fantastic story; I’m going to give it an 8.

Shawn:

Fantastic. I think you’re right. Probably the only time you’d really use it would be when you have a situation where someone has a product and it’s not doing well. And you might tell that one. Even though it’s one I told I’m going to give it a 7.

Mark:

I think we’ve just broken new ground there.

Shawn:

We’ve flipped it; you’ve become more optimistic and I’ve gone the other way. So, just to wrap things up. Is there anything going on that we need to share with our listeners?

Mark:

We’ll definitely share how we go with the Australian podcast awards when they’re announced on the 5th of May. We’re all very excited about that. But if there are any stories of your own that are triggered by the story of strawberry tips then please go to our website: anecdote.com/podcast and make a note of your story and all of us will have more stories to share.

So, thanks again to all those people who have been listening to the podcast and have managed to get us into the position where we’re in the finals for the podcast awards.

Shawn:

One last thing I wanted to mention; on the 29th of May we’ve just put into the calendar a new public programme for our storytelling for leaders. It’s going to be in Auckland on the 29th of May. Come along. You’ll find all the details on our website and you’ll be able to sign up for that programme.

Mark:

So, for all our listeners in New Zealand a rare opportunity to attend one of our public workshops.

Shawn:

Fantastic. I just wanted to finish up by thanking everyone for listening to anecdotally speaking. And tune in next week for another episode on how to put stories to work.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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