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Don’t Be the Hero of Your Brand Story; Be the Guide

An Outsider Perspective: B Corps Need to Tell Better Stories to Audiences Outside the B Corp Ecosystem

It’s Sunday night. You’re watching your favorite TV show when all of a sudden a commercial comes on the screen, and it’s from a notoriously bad corporate actor. Its message is essentially, “Look! Look at the good we do; we’re good corporate citizens!”

You yell at the screen, “Says who? By what standard?”

As the owner of a Certified B Corporation, you’re pretty sure that a highly skeptical public will see right through such superficial “good washing.”

Still, you’re frustrated, because you know if you were to walk down the street right now and ask 100 people what a B Corporation is, most likely will not know the answer.

To grow your brand as a B Corporation, you decide to launch a campaign on social media.

You lead with all of the good your business is doing as “part of a global movement of people using business as a force for good.” You note that “B Corp certification requires meeting the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.”

This is all true, but I ask, is it compelling enough to break through the noise? As a veteran branding strategist and “raving fan” of the B Corp movement, I fear it isn’t. Remember, the average consumer is exposed to an estimated 10,000 brand messages a day!

B Corps need to do a better job of telling their story

Since 2016, I’ve written about or profiled more than a dozen Certified B Corporations. I’ve also directed the social media strategy for B Local Mid-Atlantic for the past six months.

What has impressed me the most about B Corp leaders is their extraordinary sense of passion and purpose for their business and for achieving a quadruple bottom line: Purpose. People. Planet. Profit. If only more businesses, especially in this day and age, were as committed to accountability and “walking their talk” as B Corporations!

My chief criticism is that most B Corps ought to be doing a significantly better job of telling and sharing compelling stories to audiences outside the B Corp ecosystem.

While sharing your company history and talking about being part of a “community of people using business as a force for good” (a messaging framework that seems to exclude consumers and employees) might inspire other B Corps, it’s not enough to break through all of the “good washing” and mass advertising noise out there. This is especially true if you aren’t connecting your story to your customer.

If my advocacy background has taught me anything, it is that the way to build a brand or grow a movement is not to say how great for the world you are. It’s inspiring others through your spectacular service and actions to say that on your behalf. But first, you need to invite them in. Otherwise, they may not know how to find you, where to find you, or that you even exist.

But, it’s not enough to tell people about your company’s social purpose. You have to show them and let them experience it.

Significant social change can’t happen alone. Whether you’re talking about customers, consumers, or employees, people want to be invited to participate in stories and causes larger than themselves. This is where B Corporations should have a clear advantage!

Resist the temptation to make your company the hero of the story; instead, be the guide

In business today, empathy is the new currency. Customers want to see themselves as the heroes of a story. Therefore, when crafting your overall story framework, a good rule of thumb is to start with the customer’s needs and wants (not your own as a business owner). This mindset shift is critical because it invites people into your brand story in an authentic way.

When your brand plays the guide, it frees you up to provide the hero with the tools and knowledge necessary to win the day. In addition to the customer, the hero of the story could be an employee or whomever it is that you’re supporting be they veterans, activists, or Indigenous communities.

Below are five ways you can use this story framework on social media to build deeper connections. I’ve included several B Corps that have successfully leveraged the power of storytelling. Rest assured, with the right framework, you can do it too!

Did you know that “meaningful” brands have outperformed the stock market by 206%?

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Five Ways You Can Use THIS STORY FRAMEWORK ON SOCIAL MEDIA TO BUILD DEEPER CONNECTIONS WITH YOUR BRAND:

Invite your customers to join you in taking a stand on issues that matter. This requires authenticity and not being afraid to show vulnerability. TOMS is making it easy for consumers to take action on its website in the fight to end gun violence. In doing so, TOMS is fostering lasting emotional connections and partnerships, and scaling its impact and bottom line.

Make an emotional connection with your customers by inviting them into a story and making a compelling call to action. As part of its revolutionary digital platform, Patagonia Action Works, Patagonia guides and empowers the customer (whose values are aligned with Patagonia’s environmental mission) with a plan and powerful call-to-action to become the hero of the story by facilitating connections with local environmental groups.

Feature the real faces and voices of employees or those you are serving in videos. Few things are as powerful as someone speaking directly to the camera about how your business has helped them. For guidance on making employees the hero of the story, look no further than Greyston, a Certified B Corporation renowned for hiring individuals who face barriers to employment.

Encourage customers to submit their own stories of their experiences with your company, and feature the best ones. User-generated content, video testimonials, and referrals build trust and grow your brand. There’s nothing better than word of mouth.

Build a “raving fan” community. The key here is demonstrating through action that you share the same values and beliefs as your customers. Empathy fuels connection. Listen, and be generous about giving away high-value content. Ask engaging questions, experiment with Facebook Stories, take advantage of Instagram Stories, or set up a private Facebook group. Plum Organics, a Certified B Corp, is beloved by parents not just for providing the best food to their little ones, but also for using empathy to show parents they understand the messy reality of parenting. They’ve even started a #ParentingUnfiltered campaign that enables parents to share their honest experiences on social media.

Agree or disagree? Have storytelling tips of your own? What’s your brand story? How are you connecting it to your customer? What has worked and what hasn’t? Please share!

Throughout his more than fifteen years as a communications strategist, Ryan Rudominer has made it his mission to help purpose-driven brands and organizations showcase how they are improving people's lives. Ryan specializes in brand storytelling and managing advocacy campaigns that help clients break through the noise to engage, educate, and empower target audiences. Follow him at @rrudominer.
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