7 Steps to Tell Your Green Business Story in a Changing World

How to boost your green business with the power of a good story
Aug 30, 2011 8:00 AM ET

From Glenn Croston's blog at Ecopreneurist

Everybody loves a good story, but story telling isn’t just for bedtime and movies. Story telling is an essential skill for businesses of all colors, including the green ones.
Our minds are wired to listen to stories, dating back probably to the early dawn of man when telling stories was how we shared important information with others. Whether in science, politics, or marketing, those who harness the power of stories do better at connecting with and influencing others than those who present dry facts and figures devoid of emotional content. In a changing and confusing world, the stories we tell help us to understand who we are and where we are going.
In the world of corporate communications and marketing, stories are used to sell without looking like we are selling. We all know commercials that work because the story sneaks under our intellectual radar, connecting with our emotional brain to get us to care. Quoting prices and listing benefits is a more direct approach but may accomplish nothing more than getting us to switch the channel or click to another page.
Green businesses are no different when it comes to marketing their business with stories, working their stories into their communications from social networking to ads to press releases to blogs. The good news is that green businesses have so many great stories to tell, stories about their commitment to building a better and brighter world through sustainability. This is one factor that gives green businesses a big leg up in the business world, so they need to make the most of it.
Here are 7 green marketing steps to tell your business story:
1. Find what makes you unique- If you want your story to stick with people and go viral it needs to be different from what they have heard before. Sometimes your business is so innovative that finding the uniqueness is easy. When Spencer Brown tells the story of Rent a Green Box, having an epiphany at the landfill with his mountain of wasted cardboard boxes, it’s not hard to connect with the story of their innovative zero-waste moving business. The story of Tom Szaky starting Terracycle with worm poop in soda bottles is another compelling example of green innovation that easily captures the imagination.
If you have a greener version of an existing business, making greener coat hangers, then perhaps this is your story. Perhaps you are greener than your competition, or working to support your community and your world in a new and creative way, such as an initiative to provide clean water in Africa by collaborating with a group like Water for People. Perhaps your founder has a compelling story of how and why they started the business, or where they would like to see it go, and can help us to see their vision as well. There’s always a way to make your story stand out.
2. Figure out your story- It’s surprising, but when I talk with people it often seems that they don’t know the story of their own business, or don’t know how to tell it. Partly it might be perspective that is the problem. We get so immersed in our own business that we can’t see it clearly. Sometimes it’s easier for someone else to see your business objectively than for you to see your own story. Getting your story right is so important that getting help from a trusted friend or a marketing pro can be very worthwhile.
Here are some tried and true simple story lines that you can use and adapt freely to ensure that your story hits home. See which one works for you, or try a few on for size. I’m a big fan of upbeat green business stories myself – with such a blizzard of negative news, a story of positive change be quite refreshing.
3. Keep it simple- Your story needs to be simple if anyone is going to listen. Remember that we live in the age of electronic distraction, and shape your story accordingly. You only have a few moments, a few words to hook someone’s attention before all they hear is “blah, blah, blah” and they go back to playing on their iPhone. One of the good things about Twitter is that it forces this kind of simplicity. Even if you’re not using Twitter, using a Twitter level of simplicity is a good exercise, forcing you to boil down your story to the essence of connecting people together.
4. The story is about more than selling- Your story has to lead somewhere, including doing business with you, but it needs to be about more than just selling things. Starbucks doesn’t just sell coffee – they sell a vision of how people want to live, of small luxuries. Your green business isn’t just a product you sell, but a vision of how you will make lives better for people and our planet.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice- Your story will have a face associated with it or a voice, someone who is good at telling the story. Video is a great way to communicate, often with a simple video of you talking about your business. You might be a natural at this, but if you’re not then practicing your story is a good idea so it is smooth, natural, and personal. Taping yourself and watching the playback is brutal, but effective. Getting an honest opinion from a friend can also be good if they can provide honest and specific constructive criticism.
6. Tell your story many different places, many different times, and in many different ways- No matter how great your story is, it won’t matter if nobody hears it. You need to tell your story over and over again to anyone who will listen. You need to use all of the media that are available today, moving beyond press releases to use new tools like videos and social networking that are more personal and form a stronger connection with your audience.
7. Don’t forget to connect with people- The whole point of telling your story in your green marketing and communications is to connect with people. It’s important to remember that this is the essence of your story and why you tell it. Your story needs to say something that your audience cares about, motivating them to take action. What is that story going to be? That all depends on you and your business, but with a little luck, experience, and practice you’ll be a great green biz storyteller in no time.
Glenn Croston is the author of “75 Green Businesses” and “Starting Green”, helping businesses to go green and grow green with consulting and communications at Starting Up Green (www.startingupgreen.com). He can be reached at glenn.croston(at)startingupgreen(dot)com


Glenn Croston
Starting Up Green