Communicating impact: A guide for purpose-driven brands

With the rise of purpose-driven business comes a new approach to communications and marketing, emerging from a consumer-driven need to see brands embody authenticity and demonstrate tangible, positive outcomes.

Attracting business and support is no longer simply about building your brand’s reputation and showcasing great products and services; it’s about demonstrating how you’re contributing to a higher purpose – one that benefits people and the planet.

New terms like impact relations and purpose-driven marketing are coming to the fore and if you want to be seen as a leader in the world of ‘business for good’, the time to embody these approaches is now.

So how can you start effectively communicating your impact and why does it matter? Social impact business advisor Lisa Mead put a tough set of questions to me, based on her experience of helping brands transform their business mindset to one focused on impact. Here’s my advice.

What are the benefits of communicating impact? Why should impact-brands work on communicating about purpose, as well as what they do?

Putting genuine purpose and impact at the centre of your communications and marketing puts you at a distinct advantage. It allows you to appeal to people’s hearts and minds, and to build shared trust and credibility. This leads to positive, long-term relationships, built on shared values and not transactions.

Today’s consumers are overwhelmingly in favour of brands that focus on positive impact. According to ‘The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019’, 91% of Millennials (aged 22-35) would switch brands to one associated with a cause. Gen X (36-54) are also tipping the scales when it comes to purchasing based on impact, with 55% of this group indicating they’d pay more for eco-friendly or sustainable products (source: globalwebindex.com).

Regardless of whether you’re looking to boost sales of your sustainable products or drive donations to benefit the people you serve, your brand’s success relies on your ability to build an engaged community of supporters. Your stakeholders want to see that you not only have the intention but that you're really taking action, and that they too can contribute to a much bigger purpose by being associated with your brand.

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Where should businesses start?

Successful impact communications start with measurement. Measuring and understanding the real impact your business (or not-for-profit) makes is the key to starting an authentic conversation with stakeholders.

Brands across the globe are seeing the advantages of positioning themselves for good to align with their supporters’ values. However, this comes with varying degrees of authenticity and those that are seen as just ‘jumping on the impact bandwagon’ are being called out for green-washing and woke-washing, and putting their reputations through the wringer.

To position your brand as one of the genuine good guys, you need to be able to provide clear evidence that you’re behaving ethically and sustainably across your business, and show proof of your positive impact on the world around you.

Impact measurement and reporting gives you a foundation from which you can build a positive and authentic communications approach. Once you have this foundation, you can begin using your impact statistics and real impact stories to connect with your stakeholders.

For more on impact measurement and reporting, read the first blog in my series with business advisor Lisa Mead here.

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How can purpose-driven businesses best invest their communications and marketing resources for impact?

1.    Defining your brand’s purpose

To build long-term relationships with stakeholders, it’s important that brands have a clear understanding of who they are and what they stand for. Investing time in developing clear vision, mission, purpose and values statements will help you to form a strong core brand identity that you can use to guide how you communicate. Aligning your communications with your purpose will help you start conversations with people who share your aspirations and identify with your mission and values. These are the sorts of conversations that lead to lasting relationships.

2.    Understanding your stakeholder groups

Another key aspect of long-term communications success is an understanding of your stakeholder groups. Who are they? What do they spend their time doing? What issues do they care about? What are their pain points? How can you help them? Putting yourself in the shoes of each of your stakeholders is the key to developing messaging that will have the most influence, and to choosing the best communications channels and tactics for interacting with them. I’ve written about how to conduct basic audience research here.

3.    Creating key messages

With a solid understanding of your stakeholders, you can then begin to build key messages for your brand. These messages will support you to communicate effectively and consistently across all channels. Key messages provide a framework for clearly articulating what your business does, how this positively impacts your community and how your stakeholders can be involved.

A basic set of key messages could cover:

  • Why do you do what you do? Why did you start? What’s the history?

  • What need do you address? What problem do you solve?

  • How do you address this need/problem? What’s unique about this?

  • What difference do you make as a brand? What’s the outcome of your business impact activity?

  • What value do you create for your stakeholder groups? Craft a separate statement for each.

  • What is the call to action? How can your stakeholders help? Craft a separate statement for each group.

4.    Selecting channels and tactics that will maximise interaction

With all this good work behind you, you’re in a position to choose strategic communications channels and tactics that will help you connect with your stakeholder groups on a regular basis. I recommend starting with just a few communications activities and ensuring they are working well before adding other methods. Quality over quantity will maximise your results and it’s crucial to keep budget and team resources in mind so that you can sustain your approach.

Channels and tactics for communicating your impact could include:

  • Impact stories – real stories about how your work has helped individuals, whānau and communities. These could be as simple as quotes from people, or be in the form of longer articles or video stories.

  • Direct email engagement – a regular newsletter to stakeholder groups about the impact you’re creating together and how they can be a part of it. This might include an impact story, a piece of helpful advice or an exclusive opportunity, and a way for stakeholders to contribute to your mission.

  • Social media engagement – posts focused on highlighting your progress with impact, real impact stories, new initiatives or improvements your organisation is making, and how people can help - alongside showcasing your products or services.

  • Media engagement – pitching impact stories to media outlets. If you’re having a tangible impact in a unique way, chances are there will be a media channel that’s interested. You could also pitch an opinion piece, or find a channel you can write for or create podcasts for on a particular topic.

  • Blogging – sharing your thoughts and advice on issues and impact. This is a great way to position yourself as a thought-leader in your space.

  • Face-to-face engagement – get in front of the right kind of people by presenting at events and attending relevant networking opportunities that align with your values. Developing your personal brand will help you cement your reputation as a leader.

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5. Building a foundation communications strategy

The steps I’ve described above are the basic building blocks of a communications strategy. Businesses with a strategy are 538% more likely to succeed with their communications and marketing efforts – and that’s a pretty convincing statistic! (Source: Co-schedule state-of-marketing-strategy 2018).

A basic communications strategy focused on impact should cover:

  • Your business purpose

  • Communications objectives that tie to your impact goals as a business and have a set timeframe

  • Target stakeholder groups

  • Key messages

  • Channels and tactics

  • Identification of any risks or potential issues and a management plan for these

  • Measurement and evaluation methods

  • An action plan for activities, in a content calendar or project management system.

What is an easy way to plan and keep track of what you need to communicate and when?

Keeping on top of your communications and marketing activity can feel overwhelming. I find that most teams respond well to using a calendar to map out activity monthly.

This could be as simple as printing out a Word calendar template and adding days and topics for your social media posts, blog, impact story, email newsletter and so on. Asana and Trello project management tools also offer good content planning tools that can be viewed in calendar format. You can use these tools for other planning and project management for your business too.

Experiment and find out what works best for you and your team - the simpler the better. The key is to plan your actions regularly and to keep track of your progress. A monthly catch up to review last month’s activity and map out the month ahead can create a good rhythm and help to ensure your communications are consistent.

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Finally, when should organisations start to think about communicating their impact?

Short answer – now! Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can, test and improve. You can start sharing short impact stories, your plans for creating more impact and your journey from day one. To improve how you communicate, you have to start conversations after all!

If you have questions, or need a hand to refine your impact communications approach, reach out for a kōrero.