We shine a regular spotlight on different brands that we think tell their story well. Here we take a look at Burt’s Bees, an American personal care products company. Burt’s Bees was the second instalment of our Brand Story Heroes series aired on Bobby Kerr’s ‘Down to Business’ on Newstalk FM.
Brand: Burt’s Bees
Industry: Personal care products
Products: Lip balm, baby care products, various creams and lotions.
Founders: Burt Shavitz and Roxanne Quimby
Year founded: 1984
Mission: “What you put on your body should be made from the best nature has to offer.”
Burt Shavitz was an eccentric loner from Long Island who never seemed to fit in with everyone else. After graduating high school he moved to Manhattan, where he became a photographer for Time and Life.
One day in 1970, he realised he was terrified of growing old in a tiny apartment and decided to move to the country. Eventually, he dropped his anchor in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. He grew his hair and beard and learned the art of beekeeping.
Shavitz marked his hives with “Burt’s Bees” to keep them from being robbed and developed a reputation among locals for selling gallons of honey out of his truck on the side of the road.
In the summer of 1984, he stopped his bright yellow pick up to give a ride to local artist Roxanne Quimby was thumbing on the road. Roxanne instantly recognised Burt Shavitz, whose beard was almost as well-known as his roadside honey stand.
Burt and Roxanne fell in love and before long Roxanne was making candles with unused wax from Burt’s beehives. They made just $200 at their first craft fair but within a year they made $20,000.
Shavitz showed Quimby an old beekeeping book filled with beeswax recipes, and the two began selling candles in addition to honey. Locals scooped them up, and the business partners began selling more products and growing distribution. They incorporated the company in 1991.
From those first candles to the company’s iconic beeswax, the Burt’s Bees brand has always remained true to a very simple idea: what you put on your body should be made from the best nature has to offer.
Shavitz never shared Quimby’s passion for business growth. He was content selling just enough products to keep his simple lifestyle. But he agreed to become the face of the company, appearing in print ads and using his engraved portrait as its logo.
Shavitz and Quimby grew further apart as Burt’s Bees became more successful and Quimby’s vision became more ambitious. Things came to a head in 1994, when Quimby moved the company’s headquarters to Durham, North Carolina, and Shavitz left the company. He and Quimby split up.
Quimby bought out Shavitz in 1999. Just five years later she sold 80% of Burt’s Bees to AEA Investors for $173 million, and then the Clorox Corporation acquired the company for $925 million in 2007.
Their storytelling lessons
Lesson #1 A strong founding story is hard to beat
The founding story of Burt’s Bees is romantic, charming and engaging. It proves that an authentic story connects with customers. In rural Maine, a hippy beekeeper who loves the countryside meets an artist and falls in love. They believe in the power of nature, and natural products. They make candles and creams with honey – one of the purest ingredients. Their business grows because of their great natural products and their passion and belief in nature.
Below is a video that explains “Who is Burt?”
Lesson #2 A philosophy grounded in a story and a physical product is a very strong proposition.
The philosophy of Burt’s Bees is simple:
“What you put on your body should be made from the best nature has to offer.”
This philosophy is real because its grounded in Burt’s craft as a beekeeper, and the fact that honey is the basis of their products. To this day that ethos is what is communicated in every aspect of the brand.
Lesson #3 Strong brand stories can survive strife and turmoil and a change of ownership and ethos
The road for the Burt’s Bees brand has been paved with strife and turmoil. Burt and Roxanne differed in their views about how the company should grow. He wanted a simple life in rural Maine, yet she wanted to grow. He left the company.
They split up and they sold to Clorox – a company that manufacturers bleach. And yet the brand still thrives. Why? Because it has remained true to its founding story. Every time a mother goes to get a product for a newborn baby something of that first moment that Roxanne and Burt shared the power of natural products still connects. It still connects because it’s still central to the brand.
Their Story Tools
1) An iconic logo
When you buy a product from Burt’s Bees you see Burt Shavitz’s unmistakable image in their classic logo that encompasses a line drawing of his likeness from 1984. The logo sums up the natural and artisan ethos which is central to the brand. It communicates a story and the message we care, because Burt is a person and he is central to it.
2) Making the bee the champion
Honey is central to the Burt’s Bees products and 2017 they commenced a campaign to highlight the dangers of the decline in the world bee population.
The key element of this campaign was a YouTube film that told the story of a Burt’s Bees flower Shop where the flowers keep disappearing. It’s been viewed over two million times. It works because it’s put the issue at the heart of a campaigning brand centre stage in a fun and entertaining way.
3) A charity connection that makes the brand stronger
When you buy any products on Burt’s Bees UK site they make a 10% donation to the British Beekeepers Association. This is very clever as it is a charitable link that connects the company’s main ingredient honey with doing good. It also connects the customer with the natural essence of the ingredient and makes them feel better about themselves.
Burt’s Bees uses Instagram to share a curious blend of images and videos. There is a mix of makeup tips and images – always grounded in an understated natural approach. They also include pictures and videos of honey and bees, which keeps the customer in tune with the products natural ethos.
5) Burts Cabin
Burt’s quest for a simple holistic life is such a central part of the Burt’s Bees brand that they have created an immersive 360-degree tour of Burt’s original cabin in the Maine countryside. This brings you back to brand zero – where the wonderful journey began and creates a powerful brand experience.
This 360-degree tour of Burt’s cabin can be found here.