We live in a noisy world. Nowadays to stand out as a brand you either have to offer an unparalleled customer experience or become a really engaging storyteller. Or both.
As I help companies small and large strategize on how to become ‘the beloved brand’ I walk them through a variety of things they need to consider in becoming master storyteller. I want to share just some of those with you today.
But what better way to do so than to share a story of a brand that does it right.
Plum Organics, a company that makes healthy food and snacks for babies and kids, is a perfect example.
Besides my daughter being a fan of their products, the company came back on my radar recently when it launched a campaign provocatively named “Do Your Part[ner].” Yes, you heard it right. They are inviting their customers to make love a priority and they produced a fun video to deliver their message. The campaign definitely intrigued me as a parent, but also as a marketer. Mostly because this isn’t the only interesting conversation they have started with parents around the world in the past several years. Plum’s #ParentingUnfiltered conversation is quite popular among not only Plum Organics’ customers, but parents everywhere.
So I reached out to their team and got a chance to sit down with Victoria Fiore, Director of Brand Strategy and Mission, and Katie Sobel, VP Brand Engagement & Marketing Communications, to talk about their approach to storytelling and customer engagement. Both Katie and Victoria have joined the company when it employed less than 50 people and they have seen it grow and mature. Interestingly, both have quite diverse backgrounds: Katie has culinary training and Victoria’s interests lie at the intersection of business and social impact. Plum seems to be a culture of hybrid thinkers.
Below are 10 lessons we can learn from the company not only about using storytelling to humanize your brand, but about effectively engaging your customers into meaningful to them conversations.
- Always tie your stories (and your campaigns) back to your values and mission
Plum was founded by a team of real parents dealing with real parenting challenges. Most of them aspired to make their own fresh, homemade, organic baby food. Some succeed, some did not. The company’s products – nutritious, organic baby food, tots, and kids snacks – are designed to make life for parents a bit easier, sans the guilt.
“Whether it’s product development or messaging, it’s our belief that it all starts with an intimate knowledge of and camaraderie with our consumer, as a parent and a person,” says Katie Sobel.
From its amazing Manifesto to every single campaign created, the company is not shy to admit that the world isn’t perfect and that pressure for parenting perfection doesn’t end with baby food either.
- Stay true to who you are and be consistent about it
“Even from our scrappy early days before we did any paid advertising, our marketing strategy has consistently shared parent-to-parent content, and engaged in a two-way conversation with our consumers that addresses the real issues parents face and tells them they’re not alone, and they’re doing a great job muddling through,” says Victoria Fiore. “When we got big enough that we could do our first real brand campaign, we decided to more explicitly address this tension between aspiration and reality that was leaving us all feel like we were constantly falling short. How do we normalize them and start a genuine conversation while maintaining our brand’s bright, spunky, playful personality? We launched Parenting Unfiltered and found the conversations it created were not only fun and engaging, but cathartic to the millions of parents in our community.”
It surpassed their wildest expectations and completely outperformed its spend, earning industry awards and praise from parents.
Do Your Part(ner) campaign is an extension of that same concept – taking a taboo, but entirely real and incredibly important subject and bringing humor and levity to it on a public stage by using the brand as a platform.
- Use data to understand which stories will resonate
Running Parenting Unfiltered, the team noticed that the content touching on relationships between parents was consistently their highest performing, particularly in terms of engagement.
Victoria Fiore elaborates: ”For our Mother’s and Father’s Day video series, for example, we saw thousands of our parents tagging their partners to share content like ‘Dear Mom Who Maybe Never Wants to Have Sex Again’ and ‘Dear Dad Who Isn’t Sure Where to Look During Labor’. The best thing about these public partnership shares was that we were creating moments of connection, however brief of superficial, between two overwhelmed parents. We wanted to create more of that. We’ve been joking about a ‘make more babies’ campaign for years and so what was a joke suddenly became a real idea – and an awkwardly hilarious RFP.”
Hence, the “Do Your Part(ner)” campaign wasn’t a coincidence. Plum Organics did research to see if parents are putting themselves first every once in a while and here is what they found:
- 70% of millennial parents feel guilty when they’re away from their child for a night out with their partner
- Nearly 70% of parents with a significant other talk about their kids the majority of the time they’re alone together
- Over 1/3 of parents say the thing they do most in their bed besides sleeping is catching up on news or social media
- Parents say they are 52% less likely to celebrate Valentine’s Day after they became a parent
Interesting stats, especially if you consider that 88% of parents think having a good sex life is essential to their family’s happiness. So the company decided to address the issue head-on.
And quite successfully, I might add. In just two and a half weeks into the campaigns, the main video was seen over 11.4 million times across channels and the brand received some great industry recognition. But the internal teams seem way more excited by the kinds of comments they are seeing from parents such as “this is so us” or “we can so relate”.
- Engage your communities
Having genuine conversations with parents has always been company’s biggest goal. Everything they do is targeted on fostering a peer-to-peer conversation vs. a brand-to-customer one.
“With Parenting Unfiltered,” says Katie Sobel, “we encouraged people to share their own real parenting moments on their channels, and the hashtag took on a life of its own. It’s still being used all the time by parents everywhere, which we love.”
- Add value
But the company didn’t just ask their communities to do the work. They give back as well.
On their website, they have provided valuable tips on easy ways to connect with your partners, appropriately called “G-Rated Quickies”. Whether you have 30 seconds, 15 minutes, or 3 hours, you will find a lot of ideas you can implement immediately.
- Listen to the customers, but don’t ignore your own teams
So much of the actual story lines come from personal experiences within Plum Organic’s extended team.
“That’s how we get our best ideas,” continues Victoria. “After that, it’s fun to see how many people – from internal leaders to copywriters, production directors, even our legal team – see the content and say, ‘whoa – this is so true’. These exchanges often lead to more personal anecdotes that you don’t normally get in professional settings, some of which even make it into the next round of content.”
“As a brand by parents for parents, the humanization of our brand has been a huge part of our success,” adds Katie. “Sharing personal experiences is how we’ve learned so much about our consumers, and I believe it’s also how they’ve learned so much about us. We’re always showcasing the stories of real parents on our team as part of our external marketing and strategy.”
- Build relationships with influencers
Plum Organics have also invested heavily in building relationships with the influential moms and dads with their own platforms and communities where they share their own genuine stories and experiences. Working with these influencers gave them permission to explore the deeper, more reflective side of parenting topics in an authentic way. And it gave the way for the company’s stories to be extended into the communities that matter to their brand.
“We also created a fun Do Your Part(ner) Kit that’s inspired by a date night in, featuring a curated selection of products from some of our favorite brands, from chocolate to massage oil (and, of course, Plum snacks),” said Katie. “We’re giving away the kits through our influencers and on Plum’s social channels.”