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  • Writer's pictureRuth Hoskins

Ethos-Led, Honest Messaging Is The Answer

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Get inspired to create and communicate genuine impact with more ease.

If you’re a business struggling to stand out, connect with people and have a genuinely interesting conversation in your pocket at all times, read this.

Before I talk more about the significant opportunity that’s yours for the taking, the one thing I see businesses struggle with the most is having clarity, conviction and confidence when it comes to talking about their brand. So firstly, I want you to know this:

  • Clarity comes from knowing exactly who you’re talking to

  • Conviction comes from understanding who you are and what your purpose is - the ‘bigger than you’ purpose

  • Confidence comes from a clear strategy about not only what to say, but how to say it.

99% of the time it’s really not because they can’t. It’s because they haven’t worked through the fundamentals of giving their business its roots and wings so it can fly without them but always know where home is.

When you create a business you are creating a brand. It’s true. And if you have ambitions to grow the brand, it needs to be bigger than the person who created it. Also true.

It’s very similar to birthing a human and guiding them into adulthood.

Your opportunity

There’s a huge opportunity for independent businesses to truly stand out and over-perform in their industry by creating and communicating impact.

It’s not just the anecdotal evidence either. The stats agree.

According to a global study by Zenno Group “Strength of Purpose”, people are four to six times more likely to buy from businesses with a clear purpose. When someone thinks of a brand as purpose-driven they associate it with words like “responsible”, “compassionate” and “ethical.

It removes doubt that you are the opposite of any of these things.

Why? Because people make automatic decisions rather than longer, methodical ones. In Dan Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow he explains this as “system one” thinking - automatic, intuitive and unconscious” rather than “system two” thinking that’s more controlled.

The study showed the gap (called The Purpose Paradox) between what people want (more purpose) and what they were getting from businesses. This is where your opportunity lies.

“A clear and compelling corporate Purpose serves as the filter for a company, guiding decisions around how to behave, what issues to advance and how to engage all stakeholders. “

As a storyteller, this makes sense too.

Stories are a significantly more powerful way of communicating concepts, thoughts and information than presenting a list of facts or benefits about a product.

When we share our ethos, our values and our beliefs, it’s like holding a mirror to the people who are right for your brand.

The opportunity for you, a business owner, is to communicate who you are clearly, and confidently. The rewards are:

  • Removing doubt from the right people’s minds

  • Cut through the noise

  • Genuinely building the know-like-trust triage of factors to relationship building

  • More profit £

  • Attract more people whose minds are made up

  • Enabling you to do more good for the causes you believe in.

The old “seven touchpoints” for businesses to attract and build relationships with their future customers aren’t as relevant today in this fractured and distracting world. Showing values purpose, and ethos is a fast-track line to hearts and minds. It cuts through the noise.

Finding purpose

You know Patagonia for earth-related endeavours, and probably Tom’s for giving away a pair of shoes. But what about smaller businesses here in the UK?

Smaller businesses who are successful right now follow this example and set the agenda for their own industry and 'bigger than them' purpose.

Successful businesses choose a cause that’s close to their hearts and ties in with their product.

Take Lemonade Dolls, a British underwear brand. Their ethos is at the front of the homepage, a core part of the experience. Immediately we know that they’re a community of women, secondly, they share their donations to Choose Love, the refugee charity.

There are many ways you can choose to be purposeful. For example, like Lemonade Dolls you might choose a single charity to support. You could also donate a % of your profit to a number of charities. You might want to collaborate with a charity to sell branded merch.

At the very least, you can partner up with climate action partners such as Ecologi or Tree Sisters to plant trees and fund vital climate projects. You can also look at other accreditations that many responsible businesses choose to take, such as the Living Wage.

Creating the roots - or the DNA of your business - starts from within. The things you care about, that you can make a difference to, that fits with your own personal ethos and experiences. The secret is then to take these roots and build an identity around them

Aim for imperfection

Sharing your journey doesn’t require perfection. Just like the life journey that we’re all on, the journey through business ownership is filled with mistakes and imperfections and that’s OK too.

The more real you can be, the better. Having clear goals and sharing the ups and downs of achieving them is the story to tell. Specificity is one of the absolute essentials of storytelling. Sharing the micro is a skill to learn. Just like looking in people’s houses, we love to hear the inside workings of the mistakes people are making in the hope we can avoid making them too.

These are the stories that get passed down and along. Word of Mouth.

Help people feel involved in your journey. We all want to know we’re doing good when we buy and we all want to buy more responsibly too.

Stand out and set the agenda

It’s why BCorp is a great step for a business to set concrete goals and work towards them. It's why we are going through the BCorp Pending process, to get it right and be publicly accountable right from the start of our journey.

There are many reasons why small businesses should consider certification, but in this context, it gives the confidence and community to share the ups and downs and experiences with others, at every step of the way.

Below, Ocean Bottle ties in their product with their cause and a promise to collect 1,000 plastic bottles for every bottle bought.

Tune into what people want

It's noisier than ever out there, so understanding what problems people have, but also what the change they want to see in the world is, allows you to make a difference in ways that people want to join in.

People want to buy better, they want to become more conscientious, and they want to be lead in the right direction. Ocean Bottle gets people involved. They understand that people want to be activists and their people want opportunities to get involved.

When you know what people want, you can craft a verbal identity that's as much a part of your brand as your logo and website.

Successful brands know this. And they communicate exactly what people want. A value, a belief, a cause, a way to join their community.

Even before you've created those things, it can be as helpful as asking people what they like about buying from you / your product and then using that to help people understand how they will feel.

Great sentence openers include:

  • When you buy from us.....tells the reader what to expect

  • Our business's DNA is made of....tell people what you're about

  • Help us on our mission....give people a reason to join your community

  • Our impact goals for this year are...share big and small goals. Something magic happens when you commit them down in words.

It's not what you say, it's how you say it

Setting the tone of how you talk is how people get to know you. Language matters, just like in real life. Creating a unique verbal identity helps people recognise you and it helps you stand out from similar businesses in your space.

Pip & Nut - a brand of Peanut Butter I simply cannot get enough of - has developed its tone of voice to feel playful.

Their sign-up pop-up says “Join The Scurry” and they refer to their “nest” throughout their communications.

It’s a language that brings us directly into their world and I think it’s really clever the way they’ve linked their product with the natural world and their responsibility as a business.

Closing the experience gap

Although you'll often hear "write for just one person", which is true to an extent, it is also worth your time in understanding the different types of buyers who come to your business online. There are a number of "types" of buyers. Some people are researchers - they want to compare all the info and read all the reviews before they commit.

Some people, those who are less analytical and more about creating an emotional connection, want headlines. They want bite-size chunks throughout their experience, to help them, inform their decision. This is where it's good to include your ethos-led content throughout the site - pulling cards into the product categories and results pages.

When you have a clear ethos, it gives you your one big thing to talk about, so shapes your whole content calendar, and engages your community (genuinely) so you are unlikely to feel lost for words.

Newsletters are, without a doubt, the number one place to build genuine relationships with your subscribers. Your goal is to turn the true-blue's into superfans.

Creating an email concept for your newsletter helps take your one big thing and break it down into regular things to talk about. Our client Cimmermann creates a brilliant monthly newsletter called It's Time.....their ethos is to help people buy better furniture once and keep it forever.

Wherever you're at, remember that slow and steady wins the race. Start here. Start now. The era of ethos-led business is here to stay.

The world needs you to become a more equitable and fair place to be.

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