Chapstick, Shared Experience
and Human Connection

I’ve worked with my current employer for over 5 years. They’re a husband and wife team and run the business out of their home, so we know each other pretty well. Recently a small interaction boosted our affinity for each other.

One day at work, I had a painful crack in my right thumb. I was packaging seaweed that day, scooping dried sea vegetables from bulk bags of 10 plus pounds into smaller 1 and ½ pound bags. Every so often I would wince as a sharp seaweed edge jabbed my vulnerable finger.

I asked James (my boss) if he had a band aid, and he suggested I try rubbing my cracked finger with chapstick and wrapping the affected finger with athletic tape.

He handed me this tube of actual “Chapstick” brand chapstick. You know, this unassuming black tube of petroleum jelly.

I was surprised because these folks tend to either make their own or buy the natural alternative. Think Burts Bees vs Chapstick brand or Newmans Own Cookies vs Oreos.

Then another unexpected thing happened. I was transported back to the ski trips my dad used to take me on growing up. I hadn’t thought about these experiences for years, but I immediately remembered the lift lines, the exuberant thrill of carving down the mountain, chapped lips, and you guessed it, black Chapstick.

I mentioned this as we stood in their kitchen, and was doubly surprised when Kari, who is in her fifties, said the same thing to me! This plain old black tube of lip gloss also reminded her of skiing in her youth.

Kari and I had a nice moment there, as we shared some memories, and I felt like I knew her better than I had moments before. I wrapped my finger and got back to work.

This experience reminded me of a few things:

  1. Connecting with people over a specific shared experience brings us closer together. It builds trust and affection.
  2. In a marketing context, how can we connect with our audience in order to build that trust and affection? How can we show them that we know where they’re coming from and what they struggle with? By being honest about our own struggles.
  3. This doesn’t have to be contrived, we should be genuine in our desire to know our audience and serve them through our products and services.
  4. Chapstick, like Kleenex (tissue paper), is the name of a brand that became synonymous with the kind of product: lip gloss.
    1. I’m not sure if Chapstick dominates the lip gloss market anymore, but it is valuable to consider how your product or service can either dominate a given niche or create a category of its own through innovation in design or delivery.
    2. For more on this, check out The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (summary, book).

Thanks for reading

About The Author

Matt Stern is fascinated with design and created this site to practice, contribute and share. He also runs The Tool Merchants and helps manage the web presence of Naturespirit Herbs. When he’s not online, he’s probably in his garden or playing with his kids.

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