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Storytelling Tools to Help Your Target Audience see WIIFM

By Clare Innes on 2/22/18 11:43 AM

old manual typewriter keyboard representing storytelling tools

Want to gain traction in the early stages of the customer’s journey? Here’s a tip: Step out of your shoes. Your audience wants to interact with someone who has walked a mile in their shoes. Add personality and customer aspirations to your product storytelling and you can unearth fresh, authentic ways to connect. It’s in there, right next to your passion, mission, and vision. Here's how two companies do just that to make “What’s in it for me?” crystal clear.

Yankee practicality in a bag

There’s a company in New Hampshire that sells chunks of wood, called Stump Chunks. I’ll tell you what it is about Stump Chunks that makes me drive out of my way to the one hardware store that carries them: Like most humans, I’m a sucker for good storytelling that resonates with what I want my life to look like. The Stump Chunks folks deftly enable their target audience to quickly see the answer to “What’s in it for me?” Here’s what works:

Express solutions as aspirational imagery

We all know the advantages of showing over telling when it comes to features and benefits. The folks at Stump Chunks have burnished their content and visuals to reflect the aspirational lifestyle of their target audience.

In New England, Old Man Winter owns the climate, teasing us only briefly with a summery respite (or “four months of bad sledding,” as the saying goes). We burn a lot of wood in the winter, and fire up the barbecue the minute the ice on the pond is too thin for skating.

One way to get the home fires burning quickly is to give it a jumpstart with “fatwood” – small chunks of wood harvested from old pine stumps that have a naturally high concentration of flammable resin, which makes starting a fire a breeze. That’s it. No toxic additives. Just sticks of wood, harvested as-is. 

StumpChunksThe Stump Chunks packaging looks like a barbecue briquette bag (instead of a bland box like the other guys), with a good ol’ string-tear opening and a gusseted bottom that enables it to stand on its own. This ain't no flatlander firewood. This is a sturdy bag packed with Yankee practicality. With wry, well-aimed content and imagery, they turn that bag into a billboard of features and benefits that hit their target audience literally right where they wish they lived:

  • “Quick blazing kindling and fire starter-in-one.” Mundane yet affirming. Exactly what everyone who lives in a cold climate seeks: Convenience and heat.
  • “Ideal for cozy blankets, s’mores, fireplaces, ghost stories, field notes, campfire songs, outdoor enthusiasts, staying in.” Hey, that’s MY romanticized lifestyle to-do list! How’d they do that? They know what connects the company persona with their customers.
  • Step 3 of their brief and breezy how-to section nails it in the most non-how-to way possible: “Open beverage, put feet up, relax and enjoy.” These guys show that they know me. Better still, they know who I fancy myself to be. They had me at s’mores, but also at putting my feet up and cracking open a beverage – none of which has anything to do with actually lighting a fire, making it ideal content for customers at the top of the marketing funnel.

Who knew there was such personality in them thar chunks? They warm me before I even have a chance to crack open the bag. I also appreciate their making the decision to purchase so enjoyable. It's worth it to go that extra mile to put your organizational personality into your branding efforts.

Show your roots
The idea of selling chunks of wood was born on a cold, New Hampshire night. I know this because the back of the bag tells how four brothers in New Hampshire overcame their own doubts about selling something as basic as chunks of wood. “It sounded too simple,” they muse. The bag goes on to describe how the wood is harvested, including a sustainability statement: “No trees were ever cut down expressly to make this product.”

The brothers’ story does sound “too simple,” but refreshingly so. You don’t need to overwork a good origin story, especially when there’s icing on the cake – in this case, a strong sustainability story. Again, it has nothing to do with the performance of the product. Instead, it’s a way of showing (not telling) their values and aspirations, and a way of earning some well-deserved brand loyalty with a target audience that shares those intangibles.

The most optimistic chocolate bar you'll ever meet

Across the pond in the Netherlands, Tony's Chocolonely has carved out a niche in the confectionary world: slave-free chocolate. Stops you in your tracks, doesn't it? It implies that the chocolate we've been chowing all this time has been the product of slavery. I, for one, couldn't help but read on.


Tony's Chocolonely tells a difficult story in an optimistic way.






I found Tony's Chocolonely when I was scanning the shelves of a local food co-op for chocolate that didn't cost $86 a pound (you'll find that one at eye level), when the bright and affordable Chocolonely wrapper caught my eye. "I exist to end slavery in the chocolate industry, together with you," it proclaimed. "Together we'll make chocolate 100% slave free. Are you in?" My taste buds and social consciousness sufficiently piqued, the bar and I headed home.

Tony's Chocolonely slave-free sealI freed the bar from its wrapper (for research purposes) and read the story inside, where bit more information was laid out about the company's efforts and what inspired them to take on the chocolate industry. It was the perfect blend of simplicity and conviction; I got the gist of the story and in that quick read they earned my heartfelt support. A longer, more dense treatment might have lost me as I went about my busy day. A heavy-handed, guilt-inducing treatment might not have inspired me to visit their website to learn more.

It turns out that a journalist named Teun van de Keuken ("Teun" is the Dutch equivalent for "Tony") was horrified to discover that the production of chocolate relies heavily on slave labor, so he began his company. An unscientific taste test of the bar confirms that irresistible chocolate can be made without human suffering ... and not drain my grocery fund. 

The impact of Tony's Chocolonely chocolate bars: Nearly 15 million pounds of cocoa beans bought directly from farmers, who earned over $1 million in extra premiums (on top of the Fairtrade premiums), and 28 million bars sold, bearing the message around the world. Now that's doing good done right, with a quality product at a fair price and a story a busy shopper can understand quickly. 

Go ahead, walk that mile

Every product, service, or behavior change has a story. You can up the amperage of yours when you walk the proverbial mile in the shoes of your target audience to find fresh ways to add your own color, dimension, and personality. Stump Chunks and Tony's Chocolonely both hit all three with warmth and humor. 

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The Change Conversations blog is where changemakers find inspiration and insights on the power of mission-driven communication to create the change you want to see.


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