Should retailers promote brand backstories?

Discussion
Photos: Wegmans; Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer
Apr 24, 2019

Howard Rosenthal

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer magazine.

For the Millennial, the local mom-and-pop or farmers market experience offers a connection, while large food manufacturers and retailers seem detached, cold and calculating.

For manufacturers of even the biggest brands, sharing the story behind the products offers the transparency, intimacy and respect today’s consumers crave. Although a lot of the heavy lifting here is the responsibility of manufacturers, retailers need to roll up their sleeves and do their part as well:

  • Signage goes a long way: Attaching even a small sign on a freezer door or cooler case — like Whole Foods does to highlight local items — can really pique a consumer’s interest. These signs can include everything from fun facts provided by the manufacturer to “Did You Know?” trivia (e.g.,Did you know? Mrs. Smith started by selling her homemade fruit filled pies at her local YMCA. After her passing, her grandson, Robert, used her recipes to bring his grandma’s delicious pies into every home in America!”).
  • Staging products with a local theme: Whether in-store or in a circular, retailers could group family-owned and locally produced products together. Today’s shoppers are also interested in the ethical origins and social impact of their food, and they want to support companies whose values align with their own.
  • Interactive demos: In addition to using signage and displays, information about charitable initiatives, sustainable sourcing or fair trade guidelines can be communicated in live interactive demonstrations. As your demo cook prepares a meal, he or she can casually chat about the origins of a product and include some attractive “brag points.”
  • Digital speak: Incorporating QR codes into product packaging and at point of purchase could send smartphone users to social media channels specifically devoted to documenting the lives and faces of the men and women behind the products.

Sharing stories can humanize names such as Marie Callender and Mrs. Smith. Yes, both are real women who took their passion for baking to new heights. You are also offering respect by sharing that history with shoppers who want to know everything about the food they eat.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are consumers as open to hearing the backstories of established food brands as they are to upstarts? Should food retailers play a larger role in sharing the history and evolution of brands? Are any already doing it well?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"If a backstory or tidbits about the brand are interesting, sharing them with the consumer can create an experience that might make the difference between a purchase or not."
"As long as the stories are concise and use visuals for the full impact, of course it will help retailers with shopper engagement. And the stories don’t even have to be true."
"The more a brand tilts to the premium side, the more consumers buy the story before they buy the product. "

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22 Comments on "Should retailers promote brand backstories?"


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Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

For years now, we’ve been talking about the importance of authenticity for brands and retailers. Customers want to know what they’re buying and who made it — its true identity. They want “clean” food and responsibly sourced products. This is undoubtedly true of well-familiar products as well.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

It’s tricky. I mean, we can read all about how Annie’s got started, or Kashi — but then you find out that they are owned by a major conglomerate and all you think is “There goes the neighborhood.” Burt’s Bees even brought Burt back. But the company hasn’t been Burt’s for decades.

I mean, a brand’s backstory matters if the company has remained true to it. If it’s just a brand with no attachment to its roots, then nope.

Ron Margulis
BrainTrust

As long as the stories are concise and use visuals for the full impact, of course it will help retailers with shopper engagement. And the stories don’t even have to be true. I used to make up stories for a client of mine based on the retailer’s founder. You wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) believe how many celebrities he met and how many times he faced death only to be saved by using one of their products.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Brand backstories have an undeniable appeal, even for established brands, but it is a “one and done” affair and therefore best suited to smaller cyclical producers. I recall visiting the small museum where the story of W.K. Kellogg and the invention of his cereal flakes for patient nutrition is told. I was thoroughly intrigued but I can’t recall ever going back to it in the two years we worked there. While working at Frito Lay I loved hearing the stories of the exploits of Herman Lay and Elmer Doolin as the company evolved. They are incredibly interesting (though the best ones would never make it to a supermarket billboard!) The biggest challenge for brand marketers in using backstories at retail will be keeping them fresh and relevant.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

While I “get it,” all these signs seem like work — whether it’s in Whole Foods or the new Story. You think we all care and have time to read along with the inclination? I don’t think more signs is helpful.

Evan Snively
BrainTrust

Of course they should, and while consumers might not latch on or outwardly promote the story as much as they might for a “local treasure” they feel a duty to spread the word about, it will still increase the relational connection and give brands a leg up on competitors without such backstories.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Backstories are probably an important part of the brand promise. Backstories can be a great differentiator. Backstories contribute to cementing the brand in “front-of-mind” positioning. I don’t go to the deli to buy sliced ham and turkey. I go to buy Boar’s Head sliced ham and turkey.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Bottom line, it’s all about the experience. If a backstory or tidbits about the brand are interesting, sharing them with the consumer can create an experience that just might make the difference between a purchase or not. Retail winners are exploring every avenue toward differentiation these days and it isn’t all about price. And that’s my 2 cents.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

There’s a story behind everything in the universe and, indeed, the universe itself. The more you know the story the better your position to make a decision. Unfortunately, “story” is often equated with something made up, something false. True stories are what our world needs right now but gosh are they hard to come by.

There’s been no mention of the visual dimension of story. That can be more powerful than words. Remember one of them equals 1,000 of those. For example, when I quote someone in a presentation, a visual of that quote always includes a picture of that individual. Makes quite a difference. We all know what Einstein or Tesla looked like but what about Walter Russell or Kahlil Gibran? “Seeing” them express their brilliant wisdom makes a big difference. What did Burt Shavitz or Jerome Smucker look like? That’s part of the story too.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I love a product backstory when it makes sense, but it has to make sense. And it doesn’t when an indie created line has been purchased by a conglomerate.

Look at the two signs featured in the article. The first one is the equivalent of putting a sign on a rack of sweaters that reads, “Warm Sweaters” – it adds little value to the product. The copy in the second sign is long. You can’t write paragraphs and expect sound bite, Snapchat shoppers to stop and read them.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

You are exactly right re poor copy, Georganne. This is why I suggested saving space and making more impact with a picture. For example if, beside a stack of elderberry pies, a sign had an old picture of an elderly lady baking in her kitchen with the caption “‘Nana’ Jean Flowers created this famous pie recipe in 1923,” I could even fact check it right there and head to checkout with a dozen of them!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Nana. I saw her completely in my mind’s eye. You’re right, Ian, I’d buy that pie, too!

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

🙂

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

If it’s executed well this doesn’t hurt. However, the stories need to be interesting and relevant to capture the attention of busy consumers. I’d also venture that it needs to be done sparingly to maintain its impact.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

There is a fine line between authenticity and fake authenticity for a brand. Established, large corporate brands need to look at the backstory as more than just a backstory – it has to feel like it’s defining the company culture behind the brand in some way. Otherwise it’s just more fluff and consumers will see through that. That’s not to say large brands shouldn’t do this, nor should retailers stay away from the idea. It’s a balance. You might not expect to see a personalized historical account of Clorox bleach for example, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t have a backstory to Clorox at all. It’s a matter of how you define and tell the story. When it’s a small brand that got gobbled up by a larger company, it may even be more important to maintain the back story or consumers will just write off the brand as yet another “faceless” product.

Steve Dennis
BrainTrust

The more a brand tilts to the premium side, the more consumers buy the story before they buy the product. And in an ever noisier world if you aren’t memorable you’re likely to not be around very long. So among the keys to being memorable are to be unique, intensely customer relevant, authentic and have a story worth repeating. If a brand meets those requirements, the answer is yes. If not, it’s just a gimmick.

Bill Hanifin
BrainTrust

Storytelling is a big key to creating customer engagement. Any brand can do this, large or small. The determining factor may be whether the brand has the resource available to research, write and deliver a compelling story that can be communicated in the store or on a website to the customer. Storytelling is easy to propose to a brand but sometimes not as easy for the brand to execute.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

I think there is a wide-open opportunity to personalize brands. Creating awareness of brand backstories has proven to drive true loyalty and connection to brands.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

It is important to keep in mind that today’s consumer is quick and efficient with short attention spans. I believe they want information — in sound bites that create emotion. All these BIG signs do is create air pollution. Some customers may scan a QR code and stand and watch the info the stores would love to relate. Most probably will not. Signage is important — short and sweet — not overwhelming, creating emotion.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I think the issue is relevance. Yes, even (many) big brands were once “upstarts,” but finding out it was “started in the kitchen” of someone dead and buried for 150 years is probably less compelling than having a founder who was interviewed just last week. And as for the many brands whose “backstory” is that they were created by a marketing team….

Mike Osorio
BrainTrust

First, storytelling must be authentic and true to the brand’s core DNA to have any value for consumer engagement and to have the potential to spark purchase. Second, this is much less likely to work for large, established brands because much of the power of storytelling is tied to the “discovery” journey of a customer exploring potential products for trial and purchase. For most, there is already a perceived knowledge of the brand and therefore a lack of interest to “learn” more via storytelling. Third, despite my second point relating to customer interest, storytelling continues to be very powerful for employees of those brands and should continue to be leveraged.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

I’m a skeptic on this. What I’ve found most is that brand backstories aren’t interesting to consumers — they’re just interesting to the brand. The backstory consumers want is the one which tells them why the product is what they would be most satisfied with. That’s the right general rule to assume.

There have been a few exceptions — in fashion/luxury items. Banana Republic, when it started, used an Indiana Jones back story to make its fashion make sense. But note, the backstory established “these are the products you want…”

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"If a backstory or tidbits about the brand are interesting, sharing them with the consumer can create an experience that might make the difference between a purchase or not."
"As long as the stories are concise and use visuals for the full impact, of course it will help retailers with shopper engagement. And the stories don’t even have to be true."
"The more a brand tilts to the premium side, the more consumers buy the story before they buy the product. "

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