Why Storytelling Is Important for Sustainable Brands
No matter where we are from, when we think back to our ancestors sitting around a flickering fire against the backdrop of a dark night, punctuated by sparkling stars and rustling leaves. Then, perhaps our mind shifts, and we think of the stories they tell. Every story comes with the passing of values, traditions and life lessons from generation to generation. This is the timeless magic of storytelling, uniting us through the years through shared experiences and emotional engagement.
Fast forward to today, and we can also apply this to brands. Brands no longer sell products but ideals, visions and goals for a more sustainable future. However, we face greenwashing and empty jargon such as “eco-friendly” and “greener tomorrow” at every turn. Gather round as we dive deep into the narrative of sustainable storytelling and its importance for your company’s sustainable brand messaging.
Storytelling – A Neurological Perspective
This universal appeal of storytelling is discussed by Karen Eber, a Leadership Consultant who noted that despite its efficacy, many leaders hesitate to embrace storytelling, often favouring presentations and hard data.
Storytelling and data presentation aren’t necessarily in opposition. From a neurological standpoint, our brains engage differently when processing stories versus data. When we listen to stories, our entire brain becomes activated, encompassing emotions and sensory perceptions.
Source: Karen Eber
This holistic engagement leads to neural coupling, where the listener’s brain mirrors the storyteller’s, allowing them to experience the events and sensations described. This “neural mirroring” effectively creates an artificial reality for the listener, which creates empathy and establishes trust with the storyteller.
In contrast, it has been shown that data doesn’t motivate behavioural change; however, emotions do play an important role. Decisions are initiated in the amygdala, our emotional centre and while we often perceive our choices to be based on logic, they mainly stem from emotional triggers.
Data, while valuable, demands interpretation. Personal biases can often alter our understanding of data without a narrative to support it. A well-constructed story provides context, introduces moments of conflict, and culminates in a resolution. This narrative captivates the listener, building and releasing stress, offering transformative insights, and effectively communicating core values. We have a compelling business case if we apply this to sustainability stories.
What Does A Brand Story Look Like?
Donald Miller’s framework introduced in his book, “Building a StoryBrand,” allows businesses to clarify their messaging to enable customers to resonate with the brand’s story. The StoryBrand Framework provides a seven-part structure to guide businesses in creating compelling brand stories:
- A Character: Every brand story starts with the customer, focusing on their needs and desires. Many businesses fail by overemphasizing their missions and visions without connecting with the customer’s challenges.
- Has a Problem: Just as stories have heroes and villains, brands need to identify and communicate the problem they’re addressing. A good brand message can provide a solution to your customers’ problems.
- And Meets a Guide: Here, the brand acts as the guide, showing the customer a clear path to the solution.
- Who Gives Them a Plan: After positioning the brand as the solution, it’s vital to offer a clear, easy-to-understand plan to address the customer’s problem. This isn’t an educational step; it’s a directive.
- And Calls Them to Action: With the groundwork laid, the customer is urged to act, typically reflected in Call to Action (CTA) buttons or prompts.
- This Helps Them Avoid Failure: Introducing potential risks or failures helps to empathize with the customers’ concerns and shows them the negative consequences of inaction.
- And Ends in a Success: The brand should paint a vivid picture of the positive outcomes awaiting customers after choosing the brand’s solution.
Miller highlights the importance of emotion, simplicity, and clarity in brand messaging to create genuine customer connection. By incorporating authentic impact stories and green narratives within their content strategy, brands can promote ethical business practices and sustainable values. Leveraging these story techniques cultivate customer loyalty and reinforces authenticity.
How to Tell Your Brand’s Impactful Story
Sustainability is no longer about ticking boxes nor is it something that’s just for senior management; it’s a journey with complex and diverse stakeholders with many different narratives involved. As the focus sharpens on sustainability data, it’s more important than ever for brands to be honest, transparent and conscious.
Solitaire Townsend’s book “The Solutionists” emphasizes the vital role of effective communication in addressing global challenges. It explores how clear communication inspires collaboration and the power of storytelling in shaping perceptions and driving change. It also discusses the importance of transparency and authenticity for building trust.
Here are some tips on how to tell your brand’s sustainable story:
6 Ways To Communicate Your Brand’s Sustainable Values
- Use honesty and transparency – demonstrate your business values and commitment to sustainable improvements. Don’t just focus on the positive. Display the negative as it fosters a sense of trust and openness with your stakeholders.
- Use empathy to communicate your sustainable story and identify the relevant stakeholders early and what’s important to them.
- Early and frequent communications with your stakeholders – no one likes unpleasant surprises. Mitigate your risks and issues as you tell your sustainable story. Have an honest conversation with your stakeholders whether it’s the everyday employee, the discerning investor or the regulators every stakeholder has an important role in your brand’s sustainable story.
- Reference the numbers – data and metrics still form an essential part of your business while it’s not always possible to include all the details in a social media post for example you can link to the elements and showcase the data behind your efforts on your website. Align your products with ESG goals. You can also bond with customers by demonstrating sustainability’s integration into your products or services to create trust and shared value.
- Certifications don’t just talk about finance. Annual values show your dedication and work towards a certification goal, for example, B Corp, if it’s right for your business.
- Be open about your challenges and how you will tackle them. Every journey has its learning curve; being transparent about it and the lessons you’ve learned adds layers of authenticity, showcasing your resilience and your brand’s commitment to continuous improvement. Use challenges to forge stronger bonds and demonstrate the integration of sustainability into your products and services to reinforce trust with your stakeholders. An authentic, sustainable story can redefine your company’s image.
Storytelling has been a powerful way to share human experiences and emotions for millennia. From sharing ancient tales around the fire to today’s brand stories, storytelling effectively gains trust and tackles shared challenges. Storytelling is a way to show what brands are about. Instead of being lost in a haze of jargon, brands can use stories to connect the dots, illustrate their data, and genuinely connect with people. It’s often said that sustainability is a journey, and it is. Sustainable stories show the highs and the lows, guiding principles, and how taking action can make a positive continuation into the future.
Contact me if you’d like to elevate your brand’s storytelling.
 Eber, K. (n.d.). How your brain responds to stories — and why they’re crucial for leaders [Transcript]. TED Talks. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/karen_eber_how_your_brain_responds_to_stories_and_why_they_re_crucial_for_leaders/transcript?referrer=playlist-why_do_we_tell_stories&autoplay=true
 Notarstefano, F., Morsella, E., & Gazzola, V. (2022). Neurological bases of narrative comprehension: A brief review and proposal of a Neurocinematic Model for the Experimental Investigation of Storytelling [Abstract]. Frontiers in Psychology, 13, 755697. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8228195/
 Townsend, S. (2022, July 9). Storytellers for Sustainability Needed. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/solitairetownsend/2022/07/09/storytellers-for-sustainability-needed/?sh=4f8cdb291e86
 Miller, D. (2017). Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen. HarperCollins Leadership.
 Townsend, S. (2021). The Solutionists: Solving the World’s Problems One Bit at a Time. Fast Company Press.