Last week there was some really good discussion going on over at the Brains On Fire blog. Seems that UnMarketer (Scott Stratten) made a video recommendation to his tribe. He suggested they all go out quick and buy the book, “Brains On Fire: Igniting Powerful, Sustainable Word of Mouth Movements.” Tom Moradpour accepted the torch and went head down, then later posted a book review of his own. He rated it pretty highly at 4 out of 5 stars, but had some lingering points he believed warranted more discussion. How can teams defend Movements to the C-suite so that they are seen as legitimate business pursuits? And how can you gain the resources and budget to really start the fire, instead of just warming things up? Good questions indeed.
BOF courageous president Robbin Phillips and her clan responded with some high-level takes on the why of igniting a movement. She wrote that she’ll dig deeper into specifics (strategic points about scale and investment/costs) but we have to tune in next week to get that juicy goodness.
Meanwhile I’m still thinking about movements. The little engine that could, and does, because it knows what its about.
Little Engine Movements
A brand doesn’t have to be ginormous to build a strong tribe of committed followers. There are those of us searching for something that hasn’t been mass produced or recently acquired by parent something-or-other. It just has to give us something to hold onto. To feel good about. We’re in search of genuine. The word of mouth thing happens organically once we’re inspired by something original, with meaning that’s relevant to us.
Cue left stage and Askinosie Chocolate, “bean to bar” chocolate makers. Shawn Askinosie, the company’s founder (and one of three employees), is a former defense attorney who wanted to live longer and better than his father. Best I can determine, he started learning about the science and business of chocolate making in the mid-2000’s before opening a storefront in a historic district of Springfield, Mo. (near old folks haven Branson, ya’ll).
You may say, “That’s nice and all, but where’s the ‘so what’?” At about $8 for each 3 oz bar, you’d have to be in serious chocolate withdrawl to buy some of that Askinose stuff, right? 4,000 highly participative Facebook fans might suggest otherwise. I think there’s the start of a movement in them thar Ozark hills.
How Askinosie Started A Movement
Askinosie didn’t set out to make a fortune or glom a lot of attention. In fact, in his old life he made more money and was featured on several high-profile news shows after helping some clients wrongly accused get exonerated of their crimes. The chocolate man justwanted to do produce something people really enjoyed from a process everyone could feel good about.
Rather than half-assing their way through things, Askinosie fully embraced three aspects they saw as critical to their success, then built a business around principles which drive every decision. Askinosie wasn’t steeped in chocolate knowledge, but he had the passion to become the best for the good of his business, and the humility to appreciate the earth’s bounty and those who coax things from it. As written about in AdAge, Askinosie places a high priority on understanding the social priorities of stakeholders. Genuine social integrity isn’t a strategy; it’s a values system – one that draws in customers like moths to a flame when they see it permeate through all operations: sourcing, production, distribution, marketing, service. Even Oprah has Askinosie’s number (Feb issue of O Magazine). Methinks the tribe just grew.
The three legs of the Askinosie movement –
Each Askinosie bar has a Choc-O-Lot number which can be traced through the production process all the way back to the farm of origin, right from the company’s web site. There are no additives or preservatives in the brown gold they create, only organic cane sugar, cocoa butter and cocoa powder. The company provides local youth with a hands-on education in entreprenurship, direct trade, and sustainability. It’s a trans-disciplinary learning experience administered by Drury University and funded by monies from public and private tours of the factory. This is no ordinary Career Day, kids.
The artisan chocolate made in the refurbished factory is special; the cocoa beans are sourced directly by Askinosie from farmers with whom he carefully builds personal relationships. The prices paid in exchange for the crop are above world trade value (the farmers can’t afford Fair Trade certification, which just seems like a formality given the lucrative arrangement with Askinosie). Askinosie even has a profit sharing program with the farmers named after Jack Stack’s open-management book, “Stake in the Outcome.” When the company succeeds, the farmers succeed.
“We are assured of quality because it is linked it with profit; better post harvest techniques equals better taste, better selling chocolate and more profits for the farmer.”—Askinosie media kit
It’s not all about him; it’s about them, and it shows.
The compostable candy packaging is made from biodegradable materials like waxed kraft paper, an idea Askinosie birthed as a way to honor the cocoa farmers. The cotton string tied to the end of the chocolate bars is crafted by those in a local women’s shelter. The factory was refurbished using green concepts.
Affordable Luxury That Triggers Emotions
Rather than harm the company whose products fall into the “nice to have” rather than “need to have” category, these guiding principles and efforts are what help make Askinosie successful and memorable. Hell, I just heard of the company today after reading a friend’s status update on Facebook. Now after reading their stuff I’m thinking Valentine’s gifts for my peeps.
This is the kind of movement you want to write about. And the kind of chocolate you want to try.