Innovative Business Models Using “Story”

June 6, 2007 at 9:35 am 1 comment

By now I’m sure there are tons of blog entries out there in the blogosphere regarding an excellent article in the June 2007 Fast Company magazine about a brilliantly innovative company called Nau.  If you want to read the article (I highly recommend it), click here.  This could be a posting about design.  Nau’s integration of design into its business is just incredible.  Their business model is way ahead of its time.  What I’d like to focus on instead is the successful integration of story into Nau’s business model.

Nau is a business on a mission to contribute to society in a positive way.  They see business as not just an entity to profit from, but a force for change in the world.  If you own a business or contribute to the navigation of a business in any way, this is your responsibility in today’s society.  Amazingly, the company contributes 5% of sales to “charitable organizations dedicated to solving big-ticket environmental and humanitarian problems” (apparently the average among all corporations is 0.047%).

This is how it works and where we begin to see story in action:

 At the point of sale, customers are presented with a “Partners for Change” menu listing partnered charitable organizations.  This enables them to choose where the 5% goes.  What I find interesting about this is that in the back of any Webfront (for an explanation of Webfronts see the original article) are two touch screens that are embedded with documentaries or “stories” portraying each partner.  The hope is that this will incline customers to think about their purchases and by “designing a conscious choice about giving into the moment of getting, Nau is calling its customers out, daring them to connect the dots”.  I really like how Jil Zilligen, Nau’s vice president of sustainability, explains the use of story at the point of purchase:

“That moment of transaction is not where people expect to have a values confrontation.  And because it’s unexpected, it’s powerful”.

The next part is the part I found most interesting in the entire article (in terms of story anyways.  The idea of combining all the current business buzzwords to create an attractive brand is really the MOST interesting, but that’s another posting all together) is the idea of “sustainable marketing”.  One differentiating characteristic of Nau is their drive to integrate sustainable values into every facet of their business.  They still haven’t, however, been able to really define sustainable marketing.  What’s so interesting about this is where they have taken the concept so far:

“at the core is story.  There are all kinds of interesting and authentic stories embedded in our people, their passions, the ideas behind the company, and a wider, emerging community of people who embody the same ethos”

Ian Yolles, Nau’s vice president of marketing has taken this core of storytelling and developed a range of “mechanisms and venues” for that storytelling:

  1. the Nau blog
  2. the thought kitchen
  3. The collective
  4. Partners for Change web pages
  5. stores featuring “salonlike evenings featuring local storyteller such as Topher Donahue and Jonathan Maus

I aim to explore these features over the next coming days and see for myself the value “story” brings to Nau.


Entry filed under: Story.

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