Which of the following do you look for when trying to find the perfect gift?
a. Beautiful, eye-catching design – a true work of art.
b. 10% of proceeds donated to charity.
c. Handmade, local craftsmanship (from workers who are paid a living wage).
d. A gift that costs the same or less than a bouquet of flowers, but lasts for generations to enjoy.
e. glassybaby, or, all of the above.
Many would argue that choice e., Seattle’s own glassybaby, is indeed the perfect gift, but, to marketers, the company is also a study of grassroots marketing infused with storytelling at every step. The stunningly successful results have surprised even its founders, leaving today’s marketers wondering just how far selling a philosophy of kindness can really go.
Marissa Brooks, creative director for glassybaby, shared some of the secrets behind their unique voice, and how their commitment to giving back, which includes collaborations with Starbucks, SeaTac, and even Harrison Ford with the Conservation International, is paying off.
The local business that sells simple, beautiful candle votives, (or glassware, it’s a glassybaby principle to never tell anyone how their glassybaby should be used) began with its owner, Lee Rhodes. Rhodes was a mother of three when she was first diagnosed with lung cancer in the 1990s. She would fight it a total of three times, and is now healthy and more active than ever, but along the way, she realized the healing power of friends and loved ones who came together to support her in her fight. One night while preparing to host some friends, she dropped a votive candle in a glass, and then marveled at the beautiful glow.
That glow turned into a business idea, one with a primary motivation of helping other cancer patients who Rhodes saw struggling with the costs of treatment. Today, glassybaby has over 50 donation partners, and 2014 marked the first year that glassybaby donated more than they earned in profits.
“To have gotten to the point where we’re giving away more than what we make, that’s really cool, that’s what we want,” said Brooks. “Our mission is giving back, and creating this beautiful product is part of that.”
The company found phenomenal success and publicity, but now the business is shifting away from centering on Rhodes’ founding experience and expanding throughout the West Coast and beyond.
Growing Through Story
Story will be at the center of the expansion, and indeed, each glassybaby comes with its own name and mini-story. Through infographics, video and an interactive website, the marketing team presents the story of how each glassybaby is made. They also recognize the power of creating story through events held at their glassblowing “hot shops.”
“When you can make something yourself, it’s a part of our story that resonates with people who might not know about glassybaby. For us, that’s story right there,” said Brooks.
Personifying each product has been key from the start. They built off the individuality of each handmade creation and found a quirky voice for their brand, neatly juxtaposed with the clean, art-gallery style shops.
The written “voice” of glassybaby was created by the founder’s son, Mericos, who wasn’t even through high school when he wrote the first “storycard” that served as the original brand vision. Now, after graduating from college, Mericos continues to write descriptive stories for each glassybaby. The content appears on the website and increasingly on social media, two of their critical communication tools.
Brooks explained how website design and functionality has been critical for customers’ ability to remotely choose a product that is so captivating in person.
“We want to make sure it’s a place people want to click through,” she said. “Telling the story better is the next goal for the website.” PPC and SEO strategies will also be part of the next phase of growth.
“Understanding our story in thirty seconds or less when they’re on the website is the next step. It’s those little tweaks that help with that,” Brooks said.
Digital media is critical to glassybaby’s strategy, which invests little in traditional advertising, instead relying on customers for word-of-mouth marketing.
“We call our customers our ambassadors,” said Brooks. “We may not have one million followers, but the followers we have are incredibly engaged, they share a lot, they post a lot.”
The company uses several digital media tools to share their story. For the recent “glassroots” tour led by Mericos as a multipurpose scouting expedition, they created an interactive experience for customers to track and follow blogs and photos on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, or even through email alerts.
Kindness at the Core
Yet where the glassybaby story truly belongs is with its customers, each of whom have their own, often incredibly personal, reasons for using glassybaby to share their own stories. They are used at celebrations, or given for weddings, as messages of hope or forgiveness, even as memorials.
Brooks discussed their boundaries in using social media as a tool for leveraging powerful customer stories.
“We’ve stepped back from asking people to share because that’s such a personal thing for people to talk about. People don’t always want to relive a tough time when they needed funds,” Brooks explained. “One thing Lee learned is just being kind, and helping provide those things that help people get through that treatment.”
It comes down to their philosophy of kindness, and the idea that it can be inspiring to seek out a thing of beauty in an often frightening world.
“We think about it from our design and the people we hire to work in the store. We tell them you’re gonna hear stories that are gonna be really great and some that are hard and will make you want to cry,” said Brooks. “To us, all that matters is that we can help.”