Patagonia loudly and proudly proclaims it is “in business to save our home planet.” TOMS donates one-third of its profits into various grassroots campaigns. And even Sesame Street — initially launched to teach children through television — has addressed everything from gender equity to racial justice.
Brands are increasingly taking a stance in regard to environmental issues, racial justice, gender equity, the climate crisis, Indigenous rights, child welfare, animal protection, and other social issues. Not only have brands aligned themselves with certain issues — these issues have become a cornerstone of their ethos, operations, and stories.
Companies can still try to slide products or services into the world without context, but the days of “neutral” brands are nearing an end. Brands no longer just “operate” in the world; they are integrated players in society’s complex fabric. And if there’s anything we’ve learned from this highly interconnected, globalized world we live in, nothing exists in a silo.
It’s easy being neutral. But being neutral is boring, and, quite frankly, it’s not genuine. Every brand started from a spark of an idea, a conversation, a need or desire noted by an individual. And every individual believes in, supports, or stands for something.
Taking a stance and putting that story out into the world is scary. Publicly stating your company’s values can turn potential customers away. Yet, just as it might push some people away, it’s likely to attract the right people to your brand.
Even more importantly, not only does shaping and sharing your company’s story make your brand far more interesting than a logo shilling consumer goods, but it is essential in today’s marketplace.
According to the 5W 2020 Consumer Culture Report, 71% of consumers prefer buying from brands that share their values. This is particularly true for Millennials: 83% say it’s important for the companies they buy from to align with their beliefs and values. Additionally, 76% say they like it when CEOs of companies they buy from speak out on issues.
Consumers align trust with brands’ values and environmental impact. As the climate crisis becomes an even more urgent issue and sustainability steps into the spotlight, companies need to make decisions about how to respond.
Beyond that, they must learn to tell their stories in a way that resonates with people.
Here’s how you can make that a reality in your company:
Be clear about your company’s values.
Do you understand what your company stands for? What sets it apart from competitors? If not, how can you expect anyone else to understand? Take the time to clearly identify your company’s mission and values, and then make sure everything that follows aligns with them.
Put a face behind the story.
Don’t let your company stand behind a logo. Who are the people and personalities that make your brand tick? Take another look at that statistic about how 76% of consumers like it when CEOs speak out on issues. That means a person with a name, face, and voice.
Commit and lean in.
Your brand story will not align with everyone. That’s okay. It’s far better to be clear and attract the right customer than muddle your messaging in an attempt to appeal to everyone.
Make your story a journey.
You know how the story started, but it hasn’t yet ended. As the human race navigates a myriad of challenging issues, invite your consumers along and help them become part of your brand’s story.
Get rid of jargon and clichés, and communicate clearly.
The challenges your brand speaks up for are likely complex and multifaceted, but your message doesn’t have to be. According to a recent report by Radley Yeldar on effective language in sustainability communications, 98% of Forbes 50 most valuable brands used a common sustainability cliché on their websites. Yikes.
Stories over stats.
People are heart-centered. They connect with each other over shared values, beliefs, and dreams. Stats keep people at an arm’s distance. If you incorporate stats into your brand story, create meaning from those numbers by shaping a story that helps people connect, understand, and empathize.
Integrate your story into your offerings.
It’s not enough for your company to state its stance on something; it must follow through with action. This is a great area of opportunity within the tourism industry, where consistent and reinforced messaging can be integrated throughout all aspects of the buyer journey and travel experience.
Too many companies stay way too vague when it comes to clearly articulating their brand story. With a macro lens, they insist they’re “committed to sustainability” and “engaged in climate action” — a story that could be attributed to any other company. Your company’s message should be unique and informative by highlighting specifically about what this looks like for your brand.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion might be one of the cornerstones of your brand story. People will be able to tell if that’s true through the stories your company tells and the imagery it projects. A wide range of voices, perspectives, and backgrounds provides fertile ground for interesting, engaging, and real stories that appeal to a wide variety of people.
Make it personal.
Besides your company’s CEO, who are the other people that humanize your brand? As a company invested in social and environmental issues, surely there are employees involved in outreach efforts and people who have benefited from your company’s commitments. Bring their voices into the fold, but be very mindful of not extracting or exploiting anyone in an effort to “tell a better story.”
Avoid greenwashing, but avoid greenhushing too.
A lot of companies avoid talking about their environmental commitments. This is because they don’t want to be seen as greenwashing, or misleading people about the environmental integrity of their products, services, or efforts. Unfortunately, this can lead to greenhushing, or deliberately under communicating about environmental work.
The best thing to do in crafting your brand story is simply to be honest. Don’t overstate and don’t understate. Be genuine and true to your company’s values, and your brand story will naturally reveal itself.