Thrive Market co-founder: ‘Data and storytelling go hand in hand’

Discussion
Photo: Thrive Market
Oct 04, 2017
George Anderson

Thrive Market isn’t just a pure play e-tailer. It’s a social experiment that combines e-commerce with an authentic commitment to social change, according to Gunner Lovelace, the company’s co-founder and chief strategy officer, who spoke during a Fast Company session last week at Shop.org in Los Angeles.

The online subscription service’s mission to sell name brand natural and organic products at affordable prices was shaped early on by its inability to secure venture capital funding, said Mr. Lovelace. Thrive had to rely on 150 bloggers or “influencers” to raise $10 million in capital. The number of influencers with a stake in promoting Thrive’s mission has grown to 500 today.

Mr. Lovelace said that consumers no longer trust traditional sources of information. “Working with influencers has taught us that content equals marketing and marketing equals content,” he said.

Mr. Lovelace said that consumers want to be able to buy “super high quality” products at a good price. Beyond that, however, they want those products and the companies they do business with to represent their personal values. This gives consumers the ability to “do something” while living in a politically dysfunctional world.

Thrive’s goal, Mr. Lovelace said, is to radically transform access to the products it sells. The e-tailer offers a free subscription to a family in need with every annual membership it sells. Customers may also donate some of their savings on orders directly into the shopping carts of Thrive Gives families.

From its beginning in 2014, Mr. Lovelace said that Thrive has seen “information overload” as a core challenge to breaking through in the market. The e-tailer has focused on “hypercuration – not trying to out Amazon Amazon” in order to be “an authentic, trusted source” for its customers. Instead of carrying 20 types of laundry detergent, for example, Thrive carries two.

Ultimately, Thrive’s success is a combination of science and art with all “data and storytelling go hand in hand,” according to Mr. Lovelace. In the end, he said, “It’s all relationship marketing.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How well do most retailers combine data and storytelling? Is a retailer or brand’s position on social issues more important or less to its success today than it has been in the past?

Braintrust
"[Retailers] want to understand their customers better, but consistently turn away from data to focus on pushing promotions and advertising."
"There is just one question missing from this story more important than storytelling or data: are they making a profit?"
"Most retailers pay lip service to telling a story, relying instead on values like lower prices."

Join the Discussion!

13 Comments on "Thrive Market co-founder: ‘Data and storytelling go hand in hand’"

Notify of

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Michael Day
BrainTrust

I would say at this point in the game that most retailers do not do well enough when it comes to data and storytelling. As time goes by they will do better. They have to.

Yes, there’s no ambiguity here: a brand’s position on social issues is more important today than ever before. If there is any doubt, if additional quantitative validation needed, just take a poll of consumers born between 1980 and 2000.

Phil Masiello
BrainTrust

Thrive does a great job of connecting with their core customers through storytelling. They use their data to better understand their customers. This approach enables them to provide the products their customers want and to THRIVE as a company.

Most retailers today don’t really know their customers. They do not understand the use of storytelling to connect with their customers. Most of their social efforts revolve around discounts and coupons, which is the wrong approach.

Consumers want to connect with a brand that shares their same values. Retailers need to take some position on social issues today. If they know their core customers and understand who they are, then they should be able to connect on similar social problems. Consumers also want to know that the money they spend with a retailer is doing some good other than just paying salaries to executives.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Most retailers pay lip service to telling a story, relying instead on values like lower prices. Today, more than ever, it’s important for a retailer to stand for something. That story may reflect the history of the company, its values or affiliation with a cause. Consumers, particularly Millennials, want to feel good about their purchases. A story goes a long way towards creating that affinity.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

Paula and I are working on a benchmark survey on exactly this question. We framed it as “customer engagement” (results coming next month). We’ve already found some depressing things: retailers believe consumers are only motivated by price and nothing else, and yet they also believe that brand identity is increasingly important to consumers. They want to understand their customers better, but consistently turn away from data to focus on pushing promotions and advertising.

So my answer to the question is: no. Retailers stink at combining data and story-telling. Apparently, the only thing they’re good at is advertising price reductions on items they sell. No wonder they’re struggling.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

There is just one question missing from this story more important than storytelling or data: are they making a profit? It is fine to use social as your USP but translating name brands into low margins does not make economic sense. Someone is paying the difference and if you don’t have Wall Street behind you — how long can you last?

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Many retailers do this badly or don’t really bother. Product and price remain vital and retailers have to get those two core elements right. However, beyond this, many consumers crave connection, authenticity and engagement — all things which can be achieved through storytelling.

Brands like Thrive and Innocent do this extremely well. Some niche and higher-end retailers/brands like REI, North Face and John Lewis also excel at telling authentic stories about their businesses.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Fear. Fear holds retailers back. Fear of changing strategies, even losing strategies. Fear of data and technology. Fear of trusting the people who interpret the data. Fear = Stuck. Fresh and forward thinking is required. Unfortunately, unlikely evidenced by retail’s inaction as Amazon and digital shopping became ubiquitous, right in plain sight over the past decade or so. Ex·tinc·tion: the state or process of a species, family, or larger group being or becoming extinct.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Too few retailers and brands leverage storytelling as a marketing tool. This is more important than ever due to the tsunami of hundreds of thousands of new product launches each year. This creates a personal side of the brand and that is one of the last true differentiators.

Seth Nagle
Guest

Some retailers do a great job of telling their story, but many have such a diverse shopper demographic it’s difficult to create a single message that resonates. On the flip side I’ve seen CPG brands do a masterful job of this from a variety of social channels and client support. For Thrive it’s much easier to create its niche than other traditional grocers

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
My sense is that Thrive has benefitted from their choice of an area where storytelling about ingredients and the like can matter. Where I’d be exceptionally careful is trying to take this narrowly cast example and move it to another company, other food products, or to retail in general. As an ad guy, the “storytelling industry” hasn’t proven to be very good at returning solid results. Why doesn’t the storytelling industry drive great results? What is a story? The term storytelling is quite misleading. Do consumers want you to have a reason to be that matters to them? Absolutely. Do they want you to sell products that matter to them? Absolutely. Do stories make a significant difference to consumers? Sometimes — not often. Stories more often lead to belabored, long things that consumers turn away from in droves. The “story” that is useful to consumers might be worth one 15 second viewing, but I see a lot of people drag it out to 3 minutes and repeat it in every medium. Having spent a couple of decades delivering highly successful retail-driving full 30 minute ads and having done extensive research with consumers on long ads, what we learned is they… Read more »
Vahe Katros
Guest

Tip O’Neill is know for saying: “All politics is local” and for retailers with stores, we exist locally, whether on the coasts or in the middle — so what to do when faced with commerce polarization? Fiercely serve your local market (read: people) while being in-tune with the global impact of the products you sell. Doing that authentically and helping people live a better life is a defensible position. It’s Alright, Ma (It’s Only Retail)

Alex Levashov
Guest

It is true that there are now more and more customers who prefer to shop from brands who stand for the causes they share. According to an Edelman report 57% of customers buy or boycott brands based on their position on social or political issues.

However, standing for something is a double edged sword and may work if what you are standing for corresponds with what your target audience believes. Otherwise you just face risk to alienate part of your customers.

It is much easier to stand for something for a new brand who can wisely select the niche and align their position with target market. For established market players it is much harder. They built their customer base not really on the beliefs and standing, so just blindly taking position, especially on controversial issues is a huge risk. Hence often a wise choice to is be neutral and leave political and social activity to others.

Peter Luff
Guest

Retailers need to work harder at both collating big data and from this then work the art of story telling. With so many parts in development, this feels to be at its infancy. It is critical to able to connect through this approach to shoppers hearts and minds.

Thrive has built its business with Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability built into the fabric. I sense there is a long way to go for established businesses to be as believable in this area, which makes the story telling a little more tricky.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"[Retailers] want to understand their customers better, but consistently turn away from data to focus on pushing promotions and advertising."
"There is just one question missing from this story more important than storytelling or data: are they making a profit?"
"Most retailers pay lip service to telling a story, relying instead on values like lower prices."

Take Our Instant Poll

Is a retailer or brand’s position on social issues more important or less to its success today than it has been in the past?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...