Published in Mar-Apr 2020
My wife runs a small side business from home, selling bottled honey made by stingless bees. These bees are tiny in comparison to regular bees; less than one centimetre in length. Their honey is unique as it has a sour taste, is more liquid than regular honey and comes with a lot more health benefits compared to normal honey. Stingless bee honey has been described as a ‘new superfood’ due to its high nutritional properties. The sour taste makes it a delicious and refreshing drink on hot days when mixed with iced water (a bit like lemonade but a lot healthier). This is my absolute favourite drink after exercise and makes me go "aaahh" after every sip.
The stingless bees are owned and looked after by Shansiah. Her beehives are scattered deep in the Malaysian rainforest, far away from any pesticides and in the middle of a huge variety of flowering trees. Shansiah is in her mid-thirties with two beautiful young daughters whom she often takes with her to her hives. She takes pride in her bee colonies and keeps them in a fully ecologically sustainable manner.
Since the bees are so small and only develop small colonies, Shansiah can only harvest about half a litre of honey per season per hive. During the rainy season, there is no harvest; the bees produce very little, which they need for their own survival. This is part of the sustainability requirements of Shansiah’s stingless bee colonies.
Interestingly, since the honey is so liquid, the honeycombs are built horizontally (the honey doesn’t spill out), in contrast to regular bees which build vertical honeycombs as their honey is more viscous. The honey is harvested by sucking each honey cup one-by-one with a small vacuum pump and is obviously very labour-intensive. The amount of work involved and the small harvest quantity make this honey rare and more expensive than regular honey, more so if the bees are kept in a remote and therefore safe area.
Shansiah could cut corners by adding corn starch or molasses or even sugar to her stingless bee honey, but she prides herself on producing only top-quality, unadulterated raw honey. This quality comes at a price, but the health benefits her honey provides are worth every bit. And did I mention the delicious taste?
Hmm, so what does this have to do with marketing?
Chances are that you may not have heard about stingless bee honey before reading this. If you were to see it for sale in a shop or on a website, you may be taken aback by the price and the liquid consistency. And then the taste – why is it sour, is it spoilt? And why pay at least twice as much for raw stingless bee honey than you would for regular honey? So if a shop or website only displays the product, basic info and the ‘Buy Now’ button, the likelihood of a sale to someone who has never tried the product before is small. This was an issue my wife faced as well. So how did she get around this roadblock?
By doing just what I did above. I told you a story about the stingless bee honey my wife sells. Rather than just listing nutritional specifications and a product picture, I introduced you to all the relevant players. I described the bees and the taste of the honey (you probably just got a tad thirstier when you read about the refreshing taste!). I told you about Shansiah and the values she represents and explained why the honey is more expensive than what you are used to. I did all of this not by listing facts but by telling you a story about the honey. Now that you have read this, you are a bit more educated and possibly more interested in giving the stingless bee honey a try.
The story not only increased your knowledge about the honey, it also generated a connection between you, the bees and Shansiah. The story enhances the credibility of the product and generates an emotional response. The honey is no longer an anonymous product on a shelf, but a story with a human connection attached to it. You know where the honey comes from; you know who Shansiah is and her work and her values. Now that you somewhat know Shansiah you have a higher level of trust towards her honey and you are more likely to pay a premium for something that you have an emotional connection with.
This is the power of storytelling in marketing.
Above, I could only use a limited number of words to tell the story. A much better way to tell a story is through video. Video can go much more in-depth, hence telling a more comprehensive story that is also easier to consume. The power of sound and motion trigger different emotional responses from viewers, much deeper than the written or spoken word alone can achieve in marketing and advertising. Storytelling through video makes it a lot easier to form a connection between a brand and an audience – especially an audience that has never heard about your product.
I can hear you say: “Yes Frank, video is great, but it won’t work for my product/service.” I don’t even know what your product or service is, but I can tell you that you are wrong in your assumption. I have run courses on the use of digital marketing platforms for many years and I have yet to come across a vertical for which storytelling through video is not suitable.
There is no real difference as to whether you have visually appealing products (fashion, food, cars, etc.) or ‘boring’ ones. I consider legal services as part of the latter (just a personal opinion, please don’t sue me!). I have worked with a lawyers association on the use of videos to market their legal services. A great way to start is to simply make short videos on subjects of general interest, like a landlord-tenant dispute, or if someone is unhappy with a purchase. The idea is not to dispense specific legal advice but to educate viewers on options by sharing relevant examples they can relate to (stories). This will enhance the credibility of the lawyer talking to the camera and form a personal connection with viewers. The only people who would view such a video are those who seek information on this specific topic, maybe because they are facing a related situation. If they see credibility in the lawyer who explains the topic in layman’s terms and with relevant stories, they are more likely to contact this lawyer rather than a random one.
Another comment I hear often is: “I don’t know how to make the perfect video.” Let me ask you this: when you visit a website, do you go there to enjoy the beautiful layout and nice colour scheme, or do you go there because the website contains information you want? A similar scenario is true for video – in the above example, people visit YouTube to learn something about legal disputes. Nobody expects Oscar-worthy cinematography on YouTube; what counts is the content (it shouldn’t be sloppy either). There are plenty of videos on YouTube on how to start with minimal setup costs. All that initially counts is content that increases credibility and builds an emotional connection with viewers; the business will then follow.
Storytelling is a powerful tool in marketing, even more so if done through video. Focus on educating your viewers, on helping them answer the questions they have, on building an emotional connection. Don’t see it as a tool to push a product or service, it would then simply be an advertisement like the ones on TV (nobody likes those).
Find a way to tell the story of your business, your people, your products, your values – and in the context of educating your viewers. You will be surprised how easy it is to do, and how effective it is to build a community that supports you in the long run.
Dr Frank Peter, PhD, is a corporate trainer in digital marketing and digital transformation. www.drfrankpeter.com.