Monday, February 13, 2012
An inspiring lesson from the Blue Crab Bay Company.
That summer morning in 1988, as I was driving along the lanky stretch of the Bay Bridge from Washington, DC to Onancock, VA, a small fishing village on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, I knew only that I was heading toward a good story. Stories traveled by word of mouth back then. As a Washington-based journalist, I had heard a story about a scrappy little woman-owned business that had overcome huge adversity to begin fulfilling its dream of marketing the food, crafts, and culture of the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. It was my kind of story!
Writing for foreign audiences, I also sensed a uniquely American story, representing the imagination, optimism, and resilience that is the best of a free enterprise tradition.
The story turned out to be better than I, or anyone, could have imagined. Twenty-four years later, the Blue Crab Bay Company is an established, internationally-known company, and having weathered the recent recession, now employs 20 people, publishes a newsletter, sends out a seasonal recipe-laden calendar with every purchase, and runs special deals for regular customers.
The "About Us" story of this company played a substantial role, especially in the beginning, in magnetizing capital, media attention, and customer loyalty.
Click on "Our Story" on their home page, and this is part of what you’ll read:
“In 1984, a young woman named Pamela Barefoot had a dream — to move to Virginia’s isolated Eastern Shore and survive with her creativity. The rural coastal peninsula, bounded by the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, offered a blank canvas for entrepreneurial opportunity, inspiring Pam to start her own business. Driving around the back roads in 1985, she envisioned items such as spice blends for clam and crab, two seafood species prevalent in the Chesapeake.
Setting up shop on the table in her farmhouse kitchen, she mixed seasonings and dreamed of other specialties that would embrace the flavors of the region. The “blank canvas” began filling in with all sorts of possibilities and new dreams, including the creation of local jobs, raising awareness of the region’s natural resources, and getting her new homeland on the map. Not long after she began, she rented space above a waterfront restaurant and immediately experienced a devastating fire. She moved her fledgling business back home. Then Hurricane Gloria hit, causing significant damage.
Business steadily increased, and like the Blue Crab of its logo, the company experienced several moltings. Pam’s hard work paid off: In 1999, she was named Virginia’s Small Business Person of the Year, and in 2003 the U.S. Small Business Administration tapped her as one of the nation’s Outstanding Women Entrepreneurs...."
The article goes on to describe the wide array of products -- Eastern Shore specialty foods, gift packs, stoneware, seaweed soaps, and even imported Thai crabmeat -- that sprung from the first catalog of spices and dip mixes.
The back story has grown into an evolving story: Last year, the Blue Crab Bay Company received the prestigious Chairman’s Award at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards. "The dream that started on a back road has become a reality — jobs have been created, products are shipped internationally, and the Eastern Shore is finally on the map.”
Are you not inspired to place an order right now? Don't you want to breathe in that fresh bay air and brave spirit? The Blue Crab story shows how an authentic back story becomes part of a product.
Notice there’s no selling here, no big promises, no spin. Only an authentic, colorful, human, and compelling story that has every element of a good story: a dream, adversity, triumph, and most of all, a heroine we can root for.
We were humans before we became consumers. We're hard-wired to engage in a story that uplifts and guides us in our own struggles. Whether the story is about sustainability, buying local or being an underdog, we want to feel there’s a person behind the company, and that there’s a sense of purpose to which we can relate and that we want to experience for ourselves.
Lesson 1: Your back story creates credibility and connection.
There was a time when a company’s “About Us” page didn’t matter. No longer, according to a January 10, 2012 article by Jennifer Wang in Entrepreneur Magazine (http://entrepreneur.com/article/22240). “These days, corporate-weary consumers care more and more about buying locally, supporting independent businesses, and owning products that are made sustainably and responsibility. They want to know the story of what they’re buying, who is selling it, and causes it may support. In a business landscape where success hinges on establishing a personal connection with customers and inventors, the About Us page has become prime real estate.”
Lesson 2: Celebrate your smallness and leverage the adversity you've faced.
When David the humble shepherd boy stood before Goliath, he saw what none of the generals did: that the giant was looking up and out, expecting a army in chariots to meet him on the field of battle. He never thought to look right under his feet. And so David took aim with his trusty sling shot and zapped the giant in the blind spot between his eyes. As a small business trying to compete with giants, one of your most powerful "weapons" is your story.
The underdog story is fundamental in all storytelling traditions -- ancient and modern. The person who overcomes all odds, those who take big falls and stage miraculous comebacks, give us hope; they trigger the sleeping champion in us all; and they inspire trust in someone who has lived this story.
List the things your small business provides that a larger company in your market cannot, including quick response and personalized customer service. Include a couple to remind potential customers of the special benefits they receive in using your service or buying your product.
Lesson 3: Communicate the core values of your business through your past and present actions..
Stories don't push influence on us; they engage and inspire us. If you look closely at the Blue Crab "About Us" story, you'll find no brags, no boasts, just a clearly stated mission, and how it has ultimately become realized. Like any good story, it tells who the principal is and what this company stands for without getting in its own way.
Lesson 4: Back up the promise of your story.
Story is not just a verbal narrative of past events; it's everything about your company -- the images, look, and atmosphere you create through your web site and promotional materials; the way you and your employees interact with your customers; the design of your product and packaging. It must be aligned.
What Does Your "About Us" Page Say about You?
You may not have such a dramatic story or work in such an evocative location, but you have a story. The key to finding it is asking story (i.e., qualitative rather than quantitative) questions.
What do you do or make and how does it benefit others?
Who is your ideal customer?
What elements of your offering have the most meaning for them?
Now, tell your story to this customer:
1. What propels you and your business? What passion, interest, gift, need? How does your offering reflect your values? What do you absolutely love about your product, service?
2. What are the environments, locations, people, features of your offering? Colors, environments, atmosphere, style? Think as a filmmaker (and you may well use this story for a video at some point!)
3. What obstacles have you met along the way? What personal weaknesses did you have to overcome in building your business?
4. How have you dealt with setbacks? What have you learned that is meaningful about your offering to your target market? If you gave your story a title, what would it be?
5. What are you proud of about your business? What do you do to build on these things?
6. Is your story congruent? How do you back up your story in terms of web site, blog, newsletter, quality of service, customer service? Keep in mind that a story is the whole package and it's always unfolding.
7. Now that you've got your back story, what's your future story? What does your business, fully realized in all its potential, look, sound, and feel like? And imagining yourself in that story looking back to where you may be now, what did you do to get here?
SPECIAL OFFER: Blue Crab Bay Company did not know I was writing this article until I showed it to them for updates. As a result, they are making a special offer to my readers. Use Code 12SB10 at checkout if you use this link www.bluecrabbay.com to place an order, and you’ll receive a courtesy 10% discount! Plus a free copy of the book, My Bird, Bud—The Corporate Cockatiel for orders of $25 or more, and Saltwater Cowboys, a $24.95 photo documentary book about Chincoteague Island and the Pony Penning for orders of $100 or more.
Have a question? Want help in finding your business story? I'm offering a "new project" promotion for private story coaching sessions. Write Juliet at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Juliet Bruce. All rights reserved.