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 justAskinosie chocolate barwanted 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 -

People

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.

Farmers

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 chocolateAskinosie chocolate and more profits for the farmer.”—Askinosie media kit

It’s not all about him; it’s about them, and it shows.

Planet

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.

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About Heather Rast

Heather Rast

Heather is Principal of a boutique Cedar Rapids digital marketing company. She develops brand positioning strategy and marketing communications plans to distinguish small businesses from the competition and attract their ideal customers. Her content planning, writing, and online community-building work helps larger businesses better serve their audiences with useful information that solves problems as it builds affinity for the brand.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Parissa Behnia

    Great read… I would liken Askinosie to Intelligentsia Coffee based in Chicago. They have a similar farm to cup approach and every step is lovingly choreographed and executed. The end product is an almost criminally delicious cup of coffee that makes this affordable luxury trigger some emotions. Proof? I wrote a post about them a while ago: http://678partners.blogspot.co….

    Regards,

    Parissa Behnia
    678 Partners

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

      Good example! I knew there would be others. I like the point in your post about precision. I think Askinosie indeed has a laser focus on what they want to create, made possible by the way in which they create it. They've made the means the core of their business strategy – sustainable, fair practices with an emphasis on quality. Those values spread laterally among all functions to become the Askinosie way of life. It's honest, it's open and its generous. People eventually see through companies that bolt on these values because they aren't woven throughout all processes nor an intrinsic part of the culture.

  • http://trafficcoleman.com/blog/official-black-seo-guy/ Black Seo Guy

    Heather..the word of mouth concept is what really drives the internet….people say this and that and the next thing you know it all over the world..I call it free mouth talking..

    BTW Jason..Can you can contact me on my contact page..Its very important..I need your help.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • http://www.tyrellmara.com Tyrell Mara

    Great article Heather!

    You have done a great job not only of telling the story of Askinosie, but also illustrating what makes them so special!

    It is always inspiring to hear about businesses and leaders who have 'figured it out'… Providing a worthy product while having a positive influence on each of the members of their supply chain, as well as the environment as a whole! Most importantly, this strategy has created a meaningful and differentiated product, that, as you say, reading about it gets you excited to support a great organization and spread the word!

    You have gotten me excited to learn more about the company and their successes!

    Thank you for your time and effort on this story!
    Cheers
    Tyrell Mara

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

      Hi, Tyrell. Thanks for the good word. When you visit the Askinosie Facebook page, you'll see more good things about the ways they give back to the communities their farmers live in. Enrichment like school supplies and toys are donated to better the lives of the hardworking people who commit to Askinosie's farming policies. I can't think of a better reason to eat chocolate than to help out a kid! ;-)

  • Collectual

    Great article, Heather. The phrase “Genuine social integrity isn’t a strategy; it’s a values system ” really resonates with me and clearly others, who love Askinosie's chocolate. The values and integrity of a company are echoed in the interaction they have with their customers, suppliers, community. I'll have to check out their Facebook page!

    Thanks for the great post!

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

      You're right. Customers eventually put all pieces of their brand experience together, and the pieces either meld to ring true with our spidey senses (“This makes sense. This feels right.”) or fall short. Looking at those times the senses go off, you'll have come to realize that company claims and deliverables are askew, customer service is a misnomer and/or operating principles aren't particularly credible. A great tag line is nothing but pretty words if your customers don't believe in it.

  • http://journamarketing.com/ dbrazeal

    I love this article and this story, Heather.

    It doesn't hurt that Askinosie Chocolate is mind-blowingly delicious. It's a company with a great story AND a great product, and that combination is hard to stop. (And the fact that they're in my hometown makes it even better.)

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

      You touch on a good point – the product has to fulfill expectations. If Askinosie had this great story but their chocolate didn't taste any different than Hershey's, some of the glow and appeal would diminish, especially at the price point. But in this case, it's a sourcing and manufacturing process that fuels the entire market strategy and culture, and the product delivers. What could be better?

  • http://www.all-themeparks.com Jenny Esponda

    Hey Heather, I am new to your article but I liked it very much… You got amazing list of words to bind the reader while they are reading your article. And the best part is its informative.

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  • http://www.alexasigno.co.uk starralex76

    good examples, really good. I'd never write better, well done!!

  • http://www.videocharacter.com Lucy @VideoCharacter

    I totally agree not to focus on Facebook only, there are other great websites that can do the same for us. Facebook can still be one of our strategies but we should be versatile and look for more ways in order to achieve what we need.

  • http://www.experiate.net Paul Flanigan

    I think it is always interesting to be reminded that word of mouths requires mouths, not keyboards. And branding is a watered down term these days, fought over when huge companies change their logos. If it were me, I would want more “engagement” and less “branding.”

    Great post.

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