Corporate storytelling can be a tricky thing to master. Brands often interject political and social news into its content, with mixed results. If the views are consistent with the company’s values, they will ultimately benefit the brand and strengthen ties to its core customer base.
Whole Foods gave us a great example last week of letting corporate values drive its storytelling. The brand deleted all its previous posts on Instagram, unfollowed everyone, and then posted this cryptic image:
Which, as you can see, is an image of…nothing. This immediately got people talking; was Whole Foods hacked? Then the brand followed Beyonce…was there a collaboration coming? Then Sting, Jon Bon Jovi, Jerry Seinfeld.
Eventually, a few smart people noticed a ‘bee’ connection to the few people that Whole Foods had followed. Then a ‘bee’ emoji was added to Whole Foods’ Instagram profile. Then after 4 more ‘blank’ images were posted on IG, Whole Foods posted this:
Which confirmed that the account hadn’t been hacked, but that there was a ‘bee’ connection here. Then, Whole Foods started posting videos of some of the common (and delicious) foods that we might lose without bees.
The goal of this campaign on Instagram was to raise awareness of the declining bee population around the world, and to support the Whole Kids Foundation in helping bring beekeeping materials and education to 50 schools and nonprofits around the country. Declining bee populations can have a huge impact on agriculture around the world, and Whole Foods is also helping to raise awareness of how “one of every three bites of food eaten worldwide depends on pollinators, especially bees, for a successful harvest.”
Some of the most engaging content that brands can create is content that’s focused on the brand’s core values and those of its customers. Whole Foods sells healthy food and is concerned about the ingredients in those foods and how they are sourced and grown. This campaign helps educate customers and followers on how the food it sells is created, while also being true to the brand and its values.
If your brand wants to do compelling storytelling like Whole Foods did on Instagram, here’s what to keep in mind:
1 – Have a compelling story to tell that’s focused on ideas/themes/beliefs that are associated with the brand, but not about the brand. There are always exceptions to every rule, but in most cases, the most engaging content is related to the brand but not about the brand. Here, Whole Foods focused on the declining bee population and how that could impact the supply of healthy food. The potential impact on food supplies is the focus that’s related to the brand, but not about the brand. The topic is important to Whole Foods’ customers as well, which is why they paid attention. Patagonia creates content focused on protecting the environment, not its clothing. Red Bull creates content focused on extreme sports and athletes, not its energy drink. Pedigree creates content focused on happy and healthy dogs, not its dog food. All of these examples show the value of creating content that’s focused on the connection between the brand and its customers.
2 – Let the story develop on its own. By deleting its feed and only following a few people and then only posting a few blank images, Whole Foods left people speculating on what was happening with its Instagram account. That speculation led to a lot of extra media coverage and….’buzz’ about its bee-related content. It also led to people on Instagram trying to solve the mystery on its own. Here’s some of the comments IG users left:
“but who has enough time and patience to hack into a supermarket’s social media and delete every single post one by one and unfollow people one by one ?”
“If you look up Beyoncé Whole Foods, you’ll see there’s a pic of her on their website”
“Bees!! Check out the 5 people WF follows! This is genius!”
“They are following Beyoncé and Sting. Bee emoji. You’re supposed to read between the lines. There are no posts about food anymore because WITHOUT BEES, WE WILL HAVE NOTHING.”
“None of the food they sell would be possible without the bees! The bee emoji, only following queen bee. Did I solve this ?!??♂️”
By letting the story play out or ‘breathe’ for a couple of days, followers on IG got more interested and invested in the developing story. They engaged more, they speculated more, and they created more ‘buzz’ for what Whole Foods was doing.
3 – Let the benefits be obvious to the customer. If we lose the bees, then we lose our food. That was the simple message from this campaign, and everyone can immediately see the significance. This also communicates to Whole Foods’ customers that Whole Foods cares about how its food is grown, even down to protecting the insects that may play a role in the growth of the foods we all love. This helps build loyalty and brand advocacy among Whole Foods’ customers for the brand.
All in all, I thought this was a great campaign by Whole Foods and if you pay close attention to how this campaign was structured and executed, you can improve your own corporate storytelling efforts.
BTW, if you want to donate to the Whole Kids Foundation to support the Give Bees a Chance campaign, click here. As of this writing, the current sum donated is just over $64k, with a goal of $100,000.