brand story & messaging

Good news for sustainable brands: your purpose is your superpower

Anya Khalamayzer | May 22, 2018

B Corp panelists Heath Shackleford, Good.Must.Grow; Sarah Bodnar, Bison Media; David Fortson, LoaCom; and moderator

In a time when big businesses are spending big marketing bucks to position themselves as environmentally friendly, it may seem that your company’s message is fated to go unheard.

“You are competing with companies that are out-storying you,” said Sarah Bodnar, who calls the situation the “undue burden of the do-good company.” Bodnar, founder and CEO of B Corp marketing firm Bison Media, spoke during the “The Art and Science of Communicating Your Impact” panel at BLD: Bay Area, an annual conference for local B Corps held May 16 at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

The good news for sustainable and purpose-driven brands: your purpose is your superpower. For example, a small yet mighty impact-driven business can tell a knockout story with a creative public relations campaign that turns consumers into collaborators, creates lasting relationships beyond a purchase and educates the public about the company’s environmental leadership.

“People seek deep meaning,” said David Fortson, co-founder and CEO of marketing and communications agency LoaCom. “We are in a saccharine, saturated world of media. People want to know they can make choices on a daily basis that give back to the world.”

Here are a few ideas for amplifying your company’s story and impact.

Develop your brand voice—and stick with it

Your environment or community impact must be woven into the very fabric of your business. “A mission statement is not enough,” said Bodnar. Creating a brand guide that enables that voice to speak through all of your company’s communications—including website and package design—is part of the solution.

“It allows you to articulate your story, your personality, the values you come from, and the audiences you try to reach,” she said, noting that brand voice is often overlooked because companies focus on their visual identity. Articulating clear messages will bring credibility to your actions and reach advertising-weary audiences.

Tell your origin story

Bodnar also advocates that companies tell their origin stories to illustrate where they come from and how they give back to the community where their business is located.

“If I can’t trace back a story to a place, people feel lost,” she said. “Our impacts are spaced out and invisible. Having a tangible [story] is important—where this company is based, where it started—because we are a product of our environment.”

For example, one of Bison’s clients, North Coast Brewing (also a B Corp), showcases its support for regenerative farming by partnering with the 40-acre Fortunate Farm, located just four miles south of the brewery. North Coast, a zero-waste company, delivers its used hops to the farm, where they are turned into a carbon-rich compost.

Promote policy change

“Companies are the best, most agile vessels for social change on the planet,” said LoaCom’s Fortson. LoaCom worked with ethical sunscreen company All Good to roll out its Reef Friendly Campaign, which educated people about ingredients in sunscreens that harm ocean life.

All Good set up booths at sporting events to swap regular sunscreen for its safer products at no charge, and created the national Safe Sunscreen Council so companies could advocate for environmental products. It successfully advocated for Hawaii’s ban on toxic, reef-eroding sunscreens, and the story received major news coverage (as did the Safe Sunscreen Council).

“Find your space and engage authentically, understand the policy process, and follow direction from the folks on the ground,” Fortson advised.

Coalition-building has to start locally, said Heath Shackleford, founder of marketing agency Good Must Grow. This gives small organizations a leg up—taking a local approach can be daunting for a national brand. And the partner nonprofits will be happy for the attention.

“Tons of organizations and entities could benefit from consumers being more aware when they go to shop,” he said. “There are lots of collaborations that haven’t been realized yet.”

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