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Marketing and Comms
The Secret Sauce:
Why Sustainability Stories Spread, or Don't

Language is a virus: Get it wrong and it can kill your venture. Get it right, and it inspires others and spreads like fire. In sustainability, where we are still working to attract new audiences, this can be the difference between engagement and alienation. So how do we get it right?

According to Betsy Henning, CEO & Founder of AHA, an award-winning creative marketing communications firm based in Portland, Oregon, there are seven deadly sins of sustainability communications to avoid:

7 deadly sins of communications

What else can you do?

To create exceptional communication you need to meet people where they are.

“We are always trying to build bridges across rivers, to bridge the chasms,” Henning said. “If we are starting to build the story from our side, it takes a long time for others to be able to meet us halfway; in fact, we have to build the whole bridge first. If we tell the story from the other side, in their language and from their starting point, they can start crossing it as soon as the first brick is laid.”

In order to do this effectively you really need to know your audience. During her SB’16 San Diego workshop, Henning shared an empathy-mapping tool, which helps you gain a deeper understanding of what your audience is thinking and feeling, seeing, saying, hearing and doing. By spending time developing an empathy map you can create communication that effectively speaks to your target audience (if you need some help with this, reach out to the AHA team).

In addition to this, Henning shared a few final tips to good communication:

  • Pause: Help people absorb what you are saying. Give them a moment to digest the information and be able to ask questions.
  • Watch your words: Build a stronger vocabulary and speak in a language that resonates with your audience.
  • Actively listen: Listening creates a dialogue and builds your vocabulary. People will tell you what words to use that work for them.
  • Use your body: Body language is important: hand gestures, smiling, and using vocal variety all create impact. Spend some time learning about how to use your body language to your advantage.
  • Go beyond words: Emojis, icons, pictures are all great tools. Humans are highly visual and images capture us.

In the meantime, Henning suggested two videos that may provide a little inspiration:

Heineken: "Let’s Get Frank" sustainability report

Epuron: Mr. Wind

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