Burt’s Bees case study

Burt's Bees original logo and bee photo

Burt’s Bees case study

Since moving to the country I’ve become an apiarist and my fascination with bees and all things honey has escalated. Beekeeping is one of those fields of endeavour where it seems the more you know the less you know. Even the members of the beekeepers club with 50+ years of experience will admit the learning is never-ending.

The world’s awareness of the importance of bees has also increased alongside the devastating news about a declining bee population across the globe. Disease, environmental factors such as urbanisation and chemical use has been impacting the bees and as a consequence our ecosystem. We rely on bees to pollinate 85% of our food crops.

As well as bees being important, honey is unbeelievable (don’t start me on the bee puns). Honey is not only as a source of food and medicine but has become an important ingredient in natural skin care products.

It would make sense companies relying on bees should be looking to save them. It makes good business sense. But to be authentic to their customers, the motivation to help the bees has to transcend pure profit motives. One brand that has effectively demonstrated their love of bees through their branding and marketing is US company Burt’s Bees.

Humble beginnings

The bodycare brand began in 1984 when its founders – Roxanne and Burt – met during a chance hitchhiking encounter and hit it off. Roxanne was an artist. Burt was a beekeeper who was well-known locally for selling his honey via the roadside from his pick-up truck. They shared a simple living philosophy and Roxanne asked to learn about beekeeping from Burt.

After a summer apprenticeship, Roxanne suggested to Burt they could improve the appearance of the honey they sold. At the time Burt was selling the honey packaged in large, used, unlabelled containers and jars. They moved to small bear-shaped plastic containers with attractive labels. Then they started using the beeswax to make candles to sell.

Burt’s Bees evolution

In 1989 they received a massive order for teddy bear candles from a boutique in New York. They started to hire people to help them fill the orders. With honey as the hero, they introduced other products. These included shoe and furniture polish. When they introduced lip balm they realised bodycare products were more in demand from their customers. At the time, in the early ‘90s, there was huge growth in the bodycare sector and increasing consumer interest in natural products.

In 1993 they focused entirely on bodycare products. They used Burt’s personal image – a bearded bloke – to reinforce the brand message of natural beauty and to make a public statement against the beauty industry’s idealised version of beauty. It was a unique selling point and position in the market.

Some years later the business created a simpler logo while the brand persona remained the same – laid-back and down-to-earth. The brand voice remains casual, caring and progressive.

The company continued to grow and expand its natural honey-based bodycare product lines. Production was scaled substantially in line with increasing demand from large-scale retailers. Like so many great businesses, they never set out to create an international brand. And although the marketing changed (products, price, place, promotion), the Burt’s Bees brand and values remained the same since they started: ‘What you put on your body should be made from the best nature has to offer.’

Burt’s Bees today

Today, Burt’s Bees sells around 350 natural bodycare products across the world. Burt’s Bees products are 99% natural with over half of the products 100% pure. Their packaging is as sustainable as the products. They are a member of the sustainable packaging coalition – hence ‘walking the talk’.

As well as advocates for nature, the brand became active in campaigning when the world became aware of the bees crisis. In 2016, the company launched a consumer campaign ‘bring back the bees’ to raise awareness of the worldwide decline in bee populations. For every #selflessselfie posted, Burt’s Bees donated 5000 wildflowers. The campaign helped cultivate more than 10,000 acres of honeybee forage in addition to many other projects to research and assist bees. Currently, in Australia, $1 from the sale of every strawberry lip balm goes to The Wheen Bee Foundation.

The Burt’s Bees Foundation

Through the Burt’s Bees Foundation they partner with non-profits and public agencies that promote bee health and growth. They also encourage Burt’s Bees employees to become more involved in the bee community by offering paid time off to work on community projects, and reimburse them for the expenses of becoming beekeepers. How good is that?!

Burt’s Bees values and their actions resonate with their target customer (and their staff): young, educated, progressive females who care about the environment.

The Burt’s Bees brand has built loyalty because of its commitment to the environment and the focus on being 100% transparent. In the spirit of transparency, the company produced a sustainability report in 2018 outlining its 2020 goals. On this journey, they have achieved Carbon Neutral Certification.

Guiding principles

The brand’s guiding principles are its triple bottom line: people, profit, planet. Burt’s uses storytelling as a mechanism to help customers buy into the company’s philosophy – we should treat our skin, the bees and the world we live in, with care.

They use social media to tell stories, in particular, YouTube. Video is used to educate consumers not only about the Burt’s Bees brand but also about one of the key ingredients in the brand’s success, the bees. My favourite video (resonating with me as a beekeeper) is ‘Burt Talks to the Worker Bees’.

From the founders to the current owners the value of the brand has been recognised and protected, guided by a single positioning statement: ‘Nature has the best answers’. Their marketing effectively represents the brand and the synergy between the two disciplines has meant the continued growth and expansion of the company.