Tell it in a story

How can companies use storytelling in order to create better customer experiences and to generate profit? Read how Mähöne Brothers, Ukko Finland, and Foodduck use storification!

Stories affect us – they make us feel, they help us remember, sometimes they even change the way we see the world. Isn’t that exactly what we want people to experience with brands as well? In this era of information overload, storytelling is a way to stand out and win people’s hearts and minds.

Storytelling conveys purpose and values

Storytelling is often associated with soft values, but according to Anne Kalliomäki, who has been working with organization storification for more than 10 years, it’s all about concrete actions that create real-life business value.

“Storification is story-based service design. It means developing the way a company functions and communicates with the means of storytelling. Storification is a strategic process which starts with creating a core story. After the company has defined the core story, it is used to design the services and to create customer experiences in a story-like manner. Storification weaves the different functions of the business together into one coherent story,” Kalliomäki explains.

Kalliomäki herself is an entrepreneur and award-winning author with a mission to help companies shape their business through story-based design. In storification, a story is seen as a strategic business narrative conveying the purpose and values of the company, and the ultimate goal is to help people get to know the brand and make them fall in love with it. Entertainment value is a natural part of storification, but it’s not all there is to it.

Storification generates real business value

“Storification is not a single marketing campaign or a company history on a website. It’s a tool that pushes companies to take the elements of a story – dramatization, plot, engagement – further, all the way to the core of the business. Companies can stand out only by making bold choices.”

As a tool, a story helps brands to identify, form, and express their unique voice. This voice is then seen and heard in everything the company does. Staying true to that unique voice is important for strong brand messages.

“The core story should always stem from real actions of the company, it cannot be glued on the surface to hide something that is beneath. It needs to be linked to real business goals and the needs of the customer,” Kalliomäki says.

The mystical man behind the underwear – Mähöne Brothers

The Finnish underwear enterprise, Mähöne Brothers, is a textbook example of great storytelling. The company was founded in 2010 by three childhood friends from Finland and their goal was – and still is – to make the best underwear in the world.

“It all started from the idea of making underwear that truly represents us. For us it’s all about the quality and the story behind the product,” says Toni Martikainen, one of the three founders of Mähöne Brothers.

The story behind the product is an interesting one indeed; the ballad of Jack Mahoney. Jack Mahoney, also known as Jack Mähöne, was a Finnish-American businessman who helped develop modern men’s underwear with color and pattern in the 1950s. He was born in Michigan to Finnish immigrant parents Martti and Alma Mähönen. When Mähöne passed, there was nobody continuing his work, but little did he know that decades later three fellows from Helsinki would be inspired by his story.

According to Martikainen, storytelling has an essential role in their business. The modern-day version of Jack can be seen and felt throughout the company’s marketing.

Mähöne Brothers trust in classic colors and premium quality.

“In our story we wanted to bring the Jack Mahoney from the past to present. His story is important to us and we want to stay true to it. I definitely think storytelling is something Finnish companies should use more. We at Mähöne strive to build on our core story throughout all our channels and be consistent with it. For us storytelling is genuinely a big part of why we exist as a company.”

Wilderness meets god-like design – Ukko Finland

First there was a man with a dream. A dream of an object, where everything would be in place – much like in a wilderness view. The CEO and designer of Ukko Finland Jani Jaatinen was that man and that dream gave birth to a design flask that is not about drinking, but about the memories. Each Ukko flask is made with absolute attention to detail and dedication to craftsmanship.

“Our products are all made from start to finish in Finland, so we wanted the brand to show Finnishness in a new way. This is where the story comes in. We have combined elements of the Nordic god Ukko (Thor), blacksmithery, and Finnish nature to create the story of Ukko Finland,” Jaatinen describes.

For Ukko, storytelling is everything when it comes to marketing. Jaatinen knew from the start that a great product wouldn’t work alone. Something else was needed to create something unique that would capture the attention of the consumers: “Product photos alone won’t work. You need stories that people can relate to. We started with the Nordic mythology and nature of Northern Finland and Lapland. The Finnish nature and Finnishness is especially important in global markets.”

Ukko Finland’s products can be used both in the best whisky bars and whilst enjoying the great outdoors.

The core of Ukko’s story has stayed the same, but the story lives and evolves and more elements have come to play: “We have been reaching more people on social media through our stories, and now we want to bring the artisans to the limelight so that people can see who is really making the products.”

The character of Ukko himself has evolved as well – these days Ukko is less Thor and more Jaatinen himself. Jaatinen wants to encourage Finnish companies to let passion shine through in everything they do: “Keep your feet grounded but always give a 100 % and believe in your dreams. You can’t be anything you are not, but a genuine story wins people over and spreads.”

The duck character gives Foodduck an approachable image.

Quack quack – Foodduck is the cutest food dispenser

Imagine a buffet with a delicious looking bread counter. You walk up to the counter, choose a delicious piece of a bread and look for the butter. Then you see a mess of spreads you don’t want to touch. In 2012 Foodduck was born to prevent such horrible scenarios. It’s a great example of a practical innovation that comes to life through design and storytelling. Automatic spread dispenser as such wouldn’t necessarily make you smile, but a Foodduck is bound to.

“Foodduck is a Finnish automatic spread dispenser solution for serving butter, cream cheese and other spreads in school canteens, restaurants and anywhere where there is a bread counter or need for spreads,” CEO of Foodduck, Timo Sorsavirta, says. “It’s a very practical solution; hygienic and environmental-friendly. However, it’s storytelling and design that really take our product to the next level. The name comes from my name Sorsavirta (Duck River) and this element was brought into the design from the start. We wanted the product to bring a smile to people’s face.”

Foodduck’s handy dispenser is known as the Duck by users of all ages.

The duck character that gives the unique product a playful touch, can be seen – and soon also heard – throughout the company’s marketing: “The duck will definitely be an even bigger part of our strategy in the future. We are planning to give the duck a voice too, so that it can be more of a storyteller as well.”

Sorsavirta believes that storytelling is an effective tool for companies. It can make you stand out and help people to remember the product: “Something practical can also be fun and memorable, and this is something storytelling can help with.”

Design needs to be experienced

Design in itself is full of emotion, it is something that screams to be experienced. But how can that inspiration and emotion behind the products be conveyed to the customers?

“I believe that design companies really need a story that reaches the customers, they need to truly experience the product and the story. Online stores, product cards, packaging, marketing and even invoices can be storified,” Kalliomäki says.

The origins of the product, the inspiration behind it as well as the values that are built in it are often important to the buyers. Kalliomäki strongly believes in creating experiences around design companies and products.

“This is a great time for Finnish companies to get their message through, if they only play their cards right. We have our beautiful arctic nature, interesting history, and quietness that interests people around the world. What we really need right now is the courage to build products and brands that have personality. A great core story is not full of clichés, it’s something original.”

The core story of a company can mix both fact and fiction to create best possible experiences for the customers. Naturally the communication of the company has to be honest and truthful, but in storification the core story can use fictional elements.

“You shouldn’t be afraid to use fiction when with storification. An example of using fiction as part of the story could be my own company, Tarinakone, which has a fictional Story Sheep as the company boss. Another example could be a fictional path which leads customers through a department store.”

According to Kalliomäki, even though storification is a strategic tool, it can be tested on smaller scale: “With small actions you can test your concept and see how it works for your business. Start with, for example, one product in a store. Create a story for it and support the story with material and props. Then see if it translates into increased sales,” Kalliomäki encourages. “But you have to remember that the best results from storification come in the long run, through repetition. The story keeps evolving in interaction with the customers.”

“Storification weaves the different functions of the business together into one coherent story”