The story of OXO – one of my favorite business stories

I had a conversation with Sanyin Siang, the executive director of COLE, the center for leadership and ethics at Duke University yesterday and during our conversation, we talked at length about storytelling in business. I shared one of my favorite business stories with her and thought that you might like to hear about it too.

OXO is a company that produces utensils, tools and housewares. The genesis of the company is rooted in one man’s love for his wife.

Sam Farber was the retired CEO of a cookware company and he and his wife, Betsey, were making apple pie one day when he noticed how she struggled with the apple peeler that she was using. Betsey had arthritis, and the peeler that she was using was difficult and painful for her to use. Sam’s further investigations showed that most utensils had poor functional design and sensing an opportunity, he set out to create better products for everyone.

His research into the utensil market revealed that most companies were more interested in improving product packaging and retail displays than they were in making the products more functional. He founded OXO International with Betsey and his brother John in 1989, hired a design consulting company, Smart Design, to design better utensils and revolutionized the industry by starting the ‘inclusive design’ revolution. ‘Inclusive design’ sought to create products that had broad appeal and superior usability, and they conducted extensive research among people who used utensils, including healthy consumers, professional chefs, people with arthritis and people whose grips were weakened because of age. In this discovery phase, they researched competitors’ products too and realized that most products in the marketplace also suffered from the use of poor quality materials, which often exacerbated the usability woes that consumers had to deal with.

OXO’s Good Grips product line was unveiled at the Gourmet Products Show in San Francisco in 1991, and they instantly became a hit. Their attention to detail and keeping their consumers’ usage habits in mind were exactly the prescription required to create a successful utensils company. They understood that to be successful, they had to understand the narratives of how their customers interacted with and used these products. This focus on usability is described in an excerpt from this article from the Department of Engineering at Cambridge University.

 Fundamental wrist and hand actions of kitchen utensil operation were identified: twist/turn, push/pull and squeeze. The concept designs had to make each of these actions as easy as possible. The resultant products share the same focus on usability and functionality. The designers developed a handle design that does not rotate in the hand, is large enough to not strain the hand and also distributes the pressure across the hand when in use. The soft rubber fins designed for enhanced finger-grip also serve the dual purpose of making it clear to consumers that these products have been designed for ease of use. Even the design of the large, tapered hole for hanging the utensils was intended to make it easier for someone with poor vision or reduced co-ordination to use.

The story of OXO is one that started humbly with the baking of an apple pie, but has grown to legendary status because of an unflinching dedication to understanding and designing to customer narratives.

Telling stories to effect change

I find a great deal of fulfillment from using my talents to help organizations with a positive mission accomplish their goals. One such organization is Note in the Pocket, a non-profit in Raleigh, North Carolina. They help to provide proper clothes to children who don’t have adequate clothing. Instead of reciting facts and figures, which are absolutely shocking, I decided that the best way to approach this video was to tell the story of an individual who represents the typical child whom the organization is trying to help. The character Michelle is not real, but her story is an accurate reflection of the embarrassing reality for thousands of children who live in one of the fastest growing areas of the United States. I couldn’t say no to the request for help when I heard about how many children don’t go to school because they don’t even have underwear or a winter jacket.

Stories can help us sell more products and services, sure, but they can also help create positive change for those who aren’t in a position to create their own change.

The voiceover was graciously provided by F. Arnold and the music was provided by Jesse Huebner.

Stories as content for your content marketing plan


Content marketing is a hot buzzword these days, especially in the B2B marketing sphere. In my company, we’ve developed content marketing strategies and plans both for ourselves as well as clients. In the beginning, the focus of our content marketing plans was solely on generating useful, relevant content that was of a more technical nature. However, we also understand that infotainment and entertainment are equally viable and appreciated forms of content. Customers want to be educated, sure, but they also want to know that they’re working with someone real and accessible. How do you show the human side of your company? Tell stories. Tell stories of your beginnings, your struggles, your successes, your fears. The more human you are, the more likely people will connect with you. We form relationships and respond emotionally to narratives, not buildings or logos.

The Importance of Creating Context in Business Storytelling

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Brandon Hoe‘s insight:

As storytellers, part of our responsibility is to create context for the stories we tell. Without context, the stories can be ambiguous, or worse yet, make our audience react strongly in a way that’s the opposite of how we want them to react.
In the short film montage that Russian filmmaker and film theorist, Lev Kuleshov shot at the beginning of the 20th century, he uses the same shot of a man and combines it with three other unique and different shots to create three separate and distinct moods. The mood of each is distinctly different and the message each story conveys is heavily influenced by the shot that the shot of the man is paired with. The juxtaposition of the second shot with the shot of the man creates context and shifts how the man is perceived.

As business storytellers, we have the ability to influence how our stories are perceived by creating the proper context. This can take many forms and include the mood and tone of our voices, our appearance when we tell the story in person, the medium through which our stories are told and the imagery we use. We should pay attention to these things in order to help us create the context that leads to positive results for us.

See on newbrandstories.com

How to Tell a Better Story | Personal Branding Blog – Dan Schawbel

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Brandon Hoe‘s insight:

We get few opportunities to tell our stories and when we do, the time we have to do so and make a good impression is short. It’s vital that we craft our storytelling to maximize our chances of making a positive impact on our audience.

See on www.personalbrandingblog.com

Packaged water – a new spin on an old story.

photo-4 copy
My girlfriend has a deep interest in water, especially as it pertains to its limited supply. I thought that my first blog post about H2O would be related to that, but instead, it’s about a company in Michigan that is reimagining packaged water.
I first discovered Boxed Water when my friends Leon and Areli, who own a wildly popular artisanal coffee shop, gave me a box of Boxed Water. The two things that really struck me about the product were:

  1. The water came in a box, not a bottle, something I had never seen before
  2. They tell their story on the package

Reading their story piqued my interest in their product and mission, instead of my typical reaction of being dismissive of gimmicky packaging or ideas. Boxed Water’s mission is to use sustainable resources to create their product and to donate a portion of their profits to charitable causes that are aligned with what they do. While this isn’t new, their story is an interesting one and their product is one of those that makes you go ‘Why didn’t someone do this before?’. You can find out more about them by clicking here.

Is the future of storytelling in business 140 characters or 6 seconds long?



In this age of increasing information sharing and decreasing attention spans, two services seem primed to be the conduit through which a lot of storytelling will occur. Twitter and Vine are all about simple sharing and brevity, which aligns well with these trends. These two platforms have forced us to rethink how we convey information. The restrictions on the amount of information we can share force us to be more thoughtful about what stories we tell and how we tell them. Vine, in particular is an interesting tool to tell stories with, as it allows businesses to tell ‘micro-stories’ using visuals and audio.

In one example of a great application of Vine, the GAP tells their audience the story of their brand. In just 6 seconds, we see the evolution of their jeans from the first pair to today’s jeans. Rather than some lengthy text post about their history, the visual representation of the jeans historical timeline is short, sweet and entertaining.


While the example below isn’t a brand-related story, it’s easy to see how it could easily be a video to promote a martial arts movie or school. While 6 seconds doesn’t seem long, it’s chock-full of action, is funny and engages viewers.


Twitter and Vine are both amazing tools to help us tell stories. While there’s a lot of noise out there that nobody cares about, good creative can help businesses and brands tell their stories in an effective way. How can you use these services to tell your company’s story?


Human-Centered Design: Where are the Product Storytellers Today? | CustomerThink

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Brandon Hoe‘s insight:

I’ve always been a strong proponent of using storytelling in the product development process, as traditional customer profiles are far too restricted in their ability to convey what product managers need to know to create hit products. 


In this article, Kathy Glotz-Guest provides a great example of how storytelling is used within the construct of design thinking to improve an existing product. The product she writes about is a cathether, a major source of hospital infections. By documenting and understanding the narrative of user actions, the marketing and development team determined that a new feature could be created that could easily address the problem of contamination. This is done with minimal intrusion into the users’ regular behavior.


Closer to home, I recently met with an agency that’s helping a manufacturer of home building and home improvement equipment to improve the design and sales processes of their products. They use storytelling at every step of the process, even going so far as to dress up as the users of their clients’ products during pitches! Their director of market research said that this is an effective way for them to develop and share their proposals, as their clients "Immediately get it". 


Having a narrative to work with during the product development process helps product managers and designers to understand what happens at every step of users’ action cycles. Instead of focusing on just the times when a product is most actively used, a story-driven approach allows us to understand how a product can be improved from a very holistic perspective. This comprehensive approach to product development provides additional utility to users of products that are born out of this process and helps the companies that use this approach to product development stand out from the competition.


See on www.customerthink.com

NBCUniversal: “Transmedia storytelling will be a part of Social TV” | IP&TV News

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Brandon Hoe‘s insight:

The business of storytelling on TV will soon change drastically and the emergence of transmedia storytelling will accompany the revolution in television. Television will become more engaging and interactive, social TV will become the de facto standard and opportunities for commerce using television will be more pervasive and extend beyond infomercials and shopping channels.

Imagine a day when you help to decide what happens on your television screen and determine the outcomes of stories you watch. Beyond just determining the direction of the stories, you’ll be able to purchase the clothes or watches or shoes that the characters are wearing, in real time, as you’re watching the content. TV will cease to become a mono-directional vehicle for storytelling and instead, be an extension of our social selves.

See on www.iptv-news.com

Storytelling: The Art of Moving People « The Portfolio Partnership

See on Scoop.itStorytelling in business

Brandon Hoe‘s insight:

Here are some interesting tips from a recent discussion group organized by the American Marketing Association. On the whole, the tips are the same ones that I’ve been advocating for storytelling in business, but with a couple of great additions. The tips can be summarized as:

1. Know your audience.

2. Target your story to your audience.

3. Be authentic.

4. Be consistent.

5. Storytelling does not equal bragging.


See on www.portfoliopartnership.com