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Connecting the Dots

Telling your brand story from store shelf to global impact

Communicating impact is hard. It’s a complex effort that, more often than not, takes a lot of work to get right. Your company’s impact-based decisions happen everywhere: how you compensate employees, who is in your supply chain, the ingredients you use, how you package products, your on-site energy use and waste management, where you donate money or give back to your community, and more. That’s a lot to consider — and a lot to try to communicate to consumers.

Many brands find it challenging to tell this story effectively as it’s not always easy to connect the dots between what’s on the store shelf and global impact. But in a marketplace where more than 80 percent of consumers say they want to support brands with values that align with their own, authentically conveying your values is a critical component of your marketing and brand identity. Engaging your customers to take action around the causes that are important to you is also an effective way to amplify the outcomes of your campaigns.

This makes dynamic impact communication one of the most effective ways to engage current and potential customers, as well as employees. Truly interacting with your customers and employees takes engagement to a new level. Aligning authentic messaging with ways to learn and act empowers consumers and breaks the fourth wall. For purpose-driven businesses, it is imperative to engage your customer around your values and provide verifiable metrics to your stakeholders.

Broken mirror on seashore

CARE – A guide to impact communication

So how do you design effective impact marketing and communication? When looking to authentically tell your brand’s story, the phrase CARE can act as a useful guide. Effective impact communication must be:

C – contextual, consistent, current

A – authentic, aspirational, accessible

R – relevant, rapid, reliable, focused on returns

E – engaging, educational, effective

Hand holding frame to skyConsider the brand TOMS Shoes, which has built its entire brand story around the principle of ‘One for One’, donating a pair of shoes for every pair sold. This simple yet powerful message is contextual, as it addresses a real-world need; authentic, reflecting a genuine commitment to social impact; relevant, given the widespread issues of poverty and health; and engaging, inviting consumers to be part of a larger cause. The brand communication is consistently aligned with this core message, making it current, aspirational, accessible, reliable, educational, and effective.

From the boardroom to the shelf, brands must communicate with content that inspires, motivates, and builds loyalty with their customer, including providing a data feedback loop as proof of impact. “Contextual, consistent, and current” is important because, for something to impact our behavior, we must be able to see how it relates to our lives right now. This means telling your story in a way that is relevant to the world today and speaks to the needs and cares of your audience in a way that is recognizable and makes sense to them. “Authentic, aspirational and accessible” means your storytelling is true to the way your brand lives in the world, and that you’re showing how the work you’re doing today is leading toward the world we want for the future. “Relevant, rapid, reliable, focused on returns” demonstrates that your brand can be trusted to do the right thing and adapt to a shifting world, all while staying focused on the measurable things that make a difference. Finally, when content is “engaging, educational, and effective,” it means your audience can easily understand what you’re sharing (no industry jargon!) and why it matters to them.

There is ever-growing consumer attention on companies’ efforts to realize a net-positive impact on people and the planet. As consumers continue to vote for sustainable businesses with their hard-earned dollars, companies face increased pressure for transparency and accountability. Clear communication can ensure you’re building a base of loyal customers who are building a relationship with your brand based on shared values and goals.

How to tell your impact story

While pulling together the disparate parts of your impact story can be challenging, your purpose-driven marketing chain can be connected from start to finish with proper planning, implementation, and measurement. Here is a framework to get started.

Planning – Begin with aligning the vision and priorities of your brand and understanding its specific impact goals in the context of your brand’s story — this initial step is crucial to an effective messaging framework. Different strategies are needed for various consumer targets and stakeholders, but one element remains the same across the board: careful, considerate, and authentic stories that humanize brand messaging and raise awareness time and again.

Ask yourself: Who are your key audience members/stakeholders? What values do they share with your brand? What story about your brand best highlights that shared value? And finally, what action do you want them to take — whether purchasing a product, sharing the story with others, donating to an aligned cause, or reading educational materials?

Shadow of person on floor

Implementation – Once you have a clear understanding of your specific goals, craft the messaging according to your brand’s story. Dig into creative ways to make your story personal and relatable to consumers while providing them with clear ways to get involved and make a difference themselves.

For instance, Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign sought to challenge beauty stereotypes and encourage self-esteem by featuring real women, not models, in its advertising. By doing so, Dove didn’t just sell soap; it sparked a global conversation about beauty norms and self-acceptance, making its brand story deeply personal and relatable. This campaign demonstrated a careful, considerate, and authentic storytelling approach that resonated with consumers globally, thereby humanizing the brand messaging and raising awareness about self-esteem issues.

Consider the right ways to tell the story across the right channels, and make sure that every campaign element has a clear call to action that connects the audience to the next phase of their journey. Finally, think about a way to present the information in an easy-to-navigate format. Consumers won’t dig through pages of your website to find the information they want. It’s up to you to find user-friendly solutions that enable you to tie together your storytelling, informational materials, and calls to action.

Measurement – Historically, impact has been measured by awards won, impressions, or “likes” on social media. But true impact occurs when individuals take action. Providing your consumers with a clear path toward action — and measuring those actions — creates a positive feedback loop where impact data and storytelling inform and strengthen one another.

The outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, for example, has been at the forefront of integrating impact measurement into its brand storytelling. Through its ‘Footprint Chronicles’ initiative, Patagonia provides detailed information on the environmental impact of its products, tracking the journey from design to delivery. This transparency not only educates consumers but also builds a relationship of trust. By measuring and sharing impact data, Patagonia enhances its brand story, demonstrating a commitment to environmental responsibility and continuous improvement.

By utilizing this type of feedback, you’ll be able to measure impact in different areas: solutions that clearly connect with the hearts and minds of your consumers while changing their behaviors, helping build up communities, and strengthening your business.

Shadow of person on floor

How effective impact marketing plays out in real life

Most of us are familiar with brands that do excellent impact marketing. They are global leaders with well-defined brand identities such as Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, and Salesforce. For brands that do impact marketing well, communications go far beyond sales to communicate about initiatives that align with the values of their company and their customers. In a great recent example, Salesforce worked with Fortune Brand Studio to develop a docuseries profiling innovative entrepreneurs leading and driving climate action. The campaign included a dynamic hub and a suite of content that drove audiences to deep-dive articles, animated videos, exclusive Q&As, and behind-the-scenes clips. This content — highlighting values that are important to Salesforce and its audience — enables viewers to connect with Salesforce in a meaningful way, building a deep and lasting relationship and establishing the brand’s identity as one aligned with support for entrepreneurs and climate action.

From the initial planning stages to measuring your impact on your target market — compelling storytelling tied to measurable outcomes is key. By leveraging stronger brand storytelling into your marketing strategy, you can drive your consumer from that initial spark of interest all the way to action and help connect your brand from the shelf to overarching global impact in the process.

Julie Davitz is the Founder and CEO of Plus Media Solutions, Inc. She was previously the Head of Impact Solutions for BNP Paribas/Bank of the West and has worked with hundreds of organizations worldwide through her own consulting firm. Julie aims to connect viable solutions, technology, and interest to address ... Read more
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