The Honest Bison featured in Bison World Magazine.
A couple months ago, the editors of Bison World Magazine asked us to contribute an article for their Spring 2015 issue. We were flattered, of course, but wondered what we could possibly share that would be of value to the bison industry, an industry that has been around far longer than we have. After giving it some thought, we decided to write not about how to raise bison but about how to tell the story of bison. Our marketing and branding backgrounds have given us a unique perspective on how to tell the kind of story that resonates with consumers in an authentic way and results in sales. Below is the full article as it appeared in the magazine. We hope it won’t be the last time we’re invited to share our knowledge with the community.
“Turning Bison Into a Brand” (Bison World Magazine, Spring 2015 Issue)
by Sean Lenihan, The Honest Bison
For the last 20 years I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the most well-known brands in the world as an experiential marketer and producer. Experiential marketing essentially creates immersive and engaging ways for consumers to interact with a brand. If done right, they have the power to influence both how consumers feel about the brand and their purchasing behavior. My role was to bring strategy, creative and production together to produce memorable events that caught the attention of both consumers and the competition.
And while I certainly enjoyed the travel (and other perks) that came with working for brands like Lexus, Activision, Aston Martin and Beats by Dr. Dre, the process was starting to breakdown. Clients wanted more for less. They didn’t see the value in exceptional creative and production. In a field that should be focused on the quality of the experience for consumers, more and more emphasis was placed on quantity; how many people can we reach in the shortest amount of time for the least amount of money? An industry-wide commodification was setting in. And I wanted out. If I was going to put energy into marketing a brand and changing people’s behavior, it needed to be for something I really believed in.
While I was searching for my next professional endeavor, I was also searching for a way to improve myself personally, especially with regard to my health and the health of my family. In 2010, I started hearing about two interesting new trends. The first was CrossFit, an intense fitness regime, and the second was the Paleo Diet, a more wholesome way of eating that goes back to our ancestral roots. Interestingly enough, both these things are what ultimately led me to discover bison, grassfed bison in particular. First as a way to fuel my body in a clean, natural way and then later as a business opportunity. The problem was that no one else seemed to know about bison and all it’s incredible nutritional benefits, at least not in Los Angeles. Sources for quality, grassfed bison were few and far between. And the proverbial lightbulb went off inside my entrepreneurial soul.
I did my research. Visited a lot of ranches. Talked to a lot of people. I even took some basic ranching courses. I wanted to know everything about bison. And through that process, I discovered what I personally believed in and what I wanted The Honest Bison to stand for. I believed that everyone should have access to food that is naturally raised, humanely treated and minimally processed. And perhaps even more importantly, they should be able to trust that food and the people behind it.
In a 2009 TEDx Talk https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action the author of Start with Why, Simon Sinek, summarized consumer behavior in one simple rule: “the goal is not to just sell to people who need what you have; the goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe.” Well, I knew what The Honest Bison believed. I just had to find other people who believed it as well. Sinek went on to explain a concept he called “The Golden Circle” or the three stages of human decision making. The first circle, the outermost one, asks the question, what? The circle inside that one asks the question, how? And finally, the innermost circle asks the most important question, why? If you understand the why, you can understand how to motivate your audience from an emotional level.
I knew my why: Food (and a process) that you could trust to fuel you naturally. Authenticity, transparency and honesty became the guiding principles of The Honest Bison brand. They were reflected in everything from the name and packaging to the website and the way we talked to people. I invested time and money into telling this story with beautiful photos, moving video and compelling copy. When people interacted with the brand, either in person or online, I wanted them to feel like they’d been to the ranch themselves. I wanted them to know without a doubt where their food was coming from. And I wanted them to be able to taste that trust with every bite of grassfed bison they ate.
In a time when people were becoming more and more distrustful of food companies, this approach seemed to really resonate. We weren’t trying to sell people bison. We were educating them about the benefits of this incredible meat and we were giving them access to it. We made them feel good about feeding their families again. We showed them that there were still companies that cared more about them as healthy people than as money in the bank. And ultimately, we proved to them that grassfed bison was a premium product worth paying a premium price for. In doing so, the leap from merely believing to actively buying was no longer a leap at all. It was a logical step along their path to becoming healthier and more confident in what they were eating – and in what they were feeding their families.
We’re all in this industry because we believe that bison is a quality product. So the key to differentiating your brand from the others is finding your unique story and telling it well. It may take some time and a financial investment but if done right, you’ll have created a brand that (almost) sells itself.
All photography featured in the article including the cover is by Chris Howard Photography.
Bison World is published quarterly by the National Bison Association.