A unique storytelling experience from Clif Bar recently caught my eye. In the “Farmers Speak” series, the brand’s farmers and suppliers explain and discuss why they got started in organic farming and how they operate their businesses.
It works for three reasons:
- It reflects a perfect constellation of three huge trends in marketing and business strategy: the prominence of a higher purpose, the recognition that such a purpose often requires partners, and the power of stories.
- The stories are masterfully told. They are intriguing, authentic and involving. Each of the four minute videos have gotten over 600,000 views.
- It represents a great example of what I call signature stories, which are dramatically effective stories that become a strategic asset that explain and enhance the brand, the brand’s values, and/or the brand’s business strategy.
In 1948, Brian Krumm’s father and grandfather built 160-acre farm in Regina, Saskatchewan. It’s now over 2,800 acres. They long operated as a conventional chemical farm, using a long list of chemicals to provide nutrients and control insects. But gradually over the years, the dangers of chemicals became apparent to Brian. He lost his father to cancer in 1982 and noted that five other farmers of that time suffered a similar fate. There were other clues. Some grasshopper pesticides, for example, killed all the song birds.
In 1996, he decided that he did not want his three children to be exposed to that environment and decided to make the expensive three year transition to organic farming. His decision was aided by an emerging market for organic oats. His tools became crop rotation, organic fertilizers and the timing of planting instead of chemicals. He explains it as “they spray and we till.”
Enjoying the safe environment for his kids and seven grandkids, he would not go back and finds it enjoyable and enriching to again have bird and frogs abound.
Ward Burroughs is a fifth generation farmer with his wife Rose Marie and farms organically in California’s San Joaquin Valley and Oregon. It was his daughter, Benina Montes who introduced organic farming into the family. She graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 2001 with a degree in agriculture business management. It was there that she got exposure to the rationale and methods of organic farming.
A year later, she returned home and became a partner in the family orchards that produced almonds and olive oil and shared her passion for organic farming. There was resistance, because in the short run the transition involved higher costs, reduced production and considerable risk. But in 2006 she convinced the family to commit to organic farming despite these factors, as removing toxins and poisons from food was the right thing to do.
It took nine years to complete, but in 2015 they could finally say that all of their products were certified 100% organic. The effort involved a systems solution. For example, the free range chickens raised on organic food provided fertilizer and mowed the grass. Together with organic compost made up of onion and garlic skins, the ground cover provided nutrients, particularly nitrogen, as well as conserved water.
The family now regards the “go organic” decision to be the best one they have ever made. An important part of the Clif Bar strategy is to provide healthy sources of energy. The use of organic ingredients provides both a symbol and substance behind the strategy of providing safer and more nutritious food.
The stories communicate the strategy and its rationale more than any statement of facts or description of policy could. Stories don’t stimulate counter-arguing. In fact, they create emotions that reinforce the strategy. Clif Bar has addressed the challenge of getting exposure for the stories externally with exceptional content, presentation and distribution strategy involving its website, social media and YouTube channel. And as in all success cases, a bit of luck is involved. If you are looking for a role model for how signature stores should work, I would take a look at Clif Bar’s Farmers Speak.