What Kånken teaches us about storytelling and word of mouth marketing

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

If you haven’t heard of Fjallraven Kanken, it is definitely one brand worth looking into and supporting. It has around 6,000 reviews on Google, and with the exception of one person who complained about the zippers, everybody else was raving about it. These backpacks are not cheap, but if you’ve got nearly 6,000 people reviewing it and almost all of whom have given a five-star rating, then that says something about the product. 

Fjallraven’s focus on sustainability

In the SPEAK|pr course, the aim is to convert people from being unaware to becoming evangelists, and plainly, that is what the Fjallraven people in Sweden have managed to do with their products and services. On their website, on the top left on the navigation bar is the word “Sustainability.” There are pictures of people walking in the countryside, young people hiking, and then these Kanken family bags. Very early on, the brand is showing what they do. They say in their mission that, “They develop functional, durable, and timeless outdoor gear. They act responsibly towards nature, animals, and people, and they inspire and develop interest in outdoor life.” It also says on their website that, “We’ve been trekking for more than 50 years, I hope we never get there.” This is the beginnings of the storification part of SPEAK|pr. They’re starting to build a brand promise around the brand that speaks not just about the product, but around the ethos of the company.

When looking at the website, sustainability is nearly 15% of the homepage. They’ve got a whole section on it, and they’ve got information about the materials that they use. Interestingly enough, they’ve also got an area on their outdoor adventures, and they have the Fjallraven Classic, the Foxtrail blog, and the Arctic Fox Initiative, which is how they’re working to safeguard the arctic fox, which is what “fjallraven” stands for in Swedish. They’re not only creating products, but they’re very much part of the sustainability scene. Their press centre is excellent, not least because it has releases almost every month, but because each one has a very nice header with a graphic and a headline. It seems more like an advertising area than a traditional press area. They talk about the materials, the people behind the brand, and they mentioned how their Head of Sustainability, Christiane Dolva Törnberg, was awarded the Businesswoman of the Year in the Swedish Sports Industry, and so they’re really showing that they’re active when it comes to press & sustainability. All their pictures are of people wearing their equipment, their clothing, and their backpacks in and around the environments they should be in. There’s no feeling of it being “corporate” at all, which is refreshing.

Their products range from £120 to £400 for a pair of expedition trousers. This is obviously at the top end of outdoor products. When making a purchase, inside the bag, you will find an A4 flyer folded into quarters and showing a picture of the backpack. The paper does not look varnished or glossy. Rather, it looks slightly yellowed. When it’s opened up to its full A4 size, there’s the story behind Fjallraven. In 1960, Åke Nordin founded Fjallraven in the Swedish town Örnsköldsvik. It says that, “Since then, we’ve stayed true to our mission developing timeless, functional, and durable outdoor equipment, acting responsibly towards humans, animals, and nature, and inspiring people to spend time outdoors.” There’s a wonderful picture of the founder with a lightweight backpack in a field, and the whole feeling of the literature is that it’s very tactile, not sell at all. 

The story behind Fjallraven

On the reverse side of the flyer, there is the story of Kanken, the product, which is important because the SPEAK|pr program talks about storification, the narrative behind the business and here, they have it. On the left hand side of the page, they have three kids going off on their bikes, a slightly dirty, dark, grainy photograph, and a teacher at school. It says, “The backpack that straightened out a whole generation.” It also says that, “At the end of the 1970s, new statistics showed that up to 80% of the Swedish population at some point suffer from back pain, and these problems were appearing in the increasingly younger age groups. At this time, shoulder bags are popular; however, experts believe that the load from school bags and schoolbooks could be redistributed from one shoulder to both, so the risk of back pain will be greatly reduced.” In the Opportunity, But, Therefore framework of storification, they’re setting up the Opportunity that people could carry products without suffering any back pain. The But is that the shoulder bags were not working, and this is the Therefore: their backpack. 

“Our founder, Åke Nordin, was following the back debate with great interest. And with the help of the Swedish Guide and the Scout Association, they immediately sketched an affordable functional backpack with plenty of space for school children’s books and binders. This was introduced by Kanken in 1978. The weight of the bag was redistributed from a single shoulder to both shoulders. Back problems diminished. It was also asserted that the backpack was good for posture.” It’s a very logical solution to a very simple, practical issue. The way that it’s been written is very engaging, very simple, and very easy to understand. Within just one A4 piece of paper, one can easily grasp the narrative behind the company and the solution that the Fjallraven founder came up with for people experiencing back pain from one-shoulder backpacks. In SPEAK|pr, the focus is on the person: who is it that invented this, what is their backstory (if you pardon the pun), but also, who are the people that we are trying to make into the heroes of the story? In this case, it’s the children. The solution is meant to help children carry their belongings without pain, is durable, and also a little bit fashionable and trendy at the same time. 

Looking inwards to your own company, what is your story? What is your narrative? Why did you create this product or service? What problem were you trying to solve? And therefore, which heroes have you created as a result of the solutions that you found? In this case of the Fjallraven backpack, the Kanken, since 1978, it’s still going strong, and as they say in the brochure, it hasn’t really changed since. It’s still a good product, so why change it? And if that’s the story behind your product, don’t be ashamed. Be proud of its success. 

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo from Medium

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