The challenge? Communicating your company’s values, higher purpose and supporting programs that have been put in place to inspire and motivate employees and the core customer base.  Descriptive programs and assertive facts are not the answer—they will usually be ignored.

The solution? Find topics that interest employees and customers, involve the brand as an active partner, and use stories that spark attention and draw in the audience.  By stories I mean “once upon a time” narratives that break through the clutter because they touch a nerve in some way.  See Creating Signature Stories for more.

The Starbucks Effort Is Illustrative of What Can Be Done

Starbucks has a set of values, employee policies, and social programs that are exemplary but hard to communicate. What Starbucks did is instructive. They created series of stories, labeled “Upstanders,” about “ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change”. The stories typically had a beginning that drew you in, a hero you got to know, a challenge, and a lot of emotion. They had authenticity and, by the way, did not mention Starbucks.

In its first season in 2016, ten stories were communicated in print, five-minute videos, and via podcast, which received over 80 million views. The second season, introduced in 2018, was expected to achieve over 100 million views.  Think of how these stories reflect and support the organization’s overall message.  Think of the brand energy for customers and employees that never could have been obtained if any of the materials mentioned Starbucks.

One story shared how Maria Rose Belding, an active volunteer as a teen at a food bank in Pella, Iowa, saw hunger up close, and saw the food bank throw away food due to missing ingredients to make the complete recipe. A few years later, as a junior at American University, it came full circle. The solution to hunger in America is simple—reduce waste and recapture the 30 to 40 percent of our food supply that winds up in the garbage.  She, along with her colleagues, created the Means Database website that matched those food pantries that had a need for specific food types with organizations like Starbucks that that had excess food. Getting the word out started by calling thousands of individual food banks and beginning the task of compiling an authoritative list of every organization in the country that provides food to the needy. The story spiked the scope of Means, resulting in 500 new partners.

Among the Other Stories

Brandon Dennison, who started the Coalfield Development Corporation, provided jobs and career paths to people in Appalachia who had little hope with the coal mines shuttered.  His organization builds energy-conserving homes, installs solar panels, does homeworking and craft-related endeavors, and grows and distributes agricultural goods.

Steve Stone, the minister of a Methodist church in Memphis, learned that an Islamic mosque and community center was to be across the street, put up a welcome sign the next day.  Over time, the church shared facilities, events, and beliefs. Less than 3% of Stone’s congregation left, and the rest felt stronger in their beliefs than before.

The Upstanding story exposure did not just happen. It was managed by a communication program that included the Starbucks mobile app, in-store Wi-Fi, a notice on tens of millions of cup sleeves, the use of the 60 million fans on Starbucks major social outlets, paid digital advertising, and the use of partners that had a fit with one or more of the stories.

Final Thoughts

What’s the lesson? Find topics that your audience is passionate about, get involved as a partner, and use real stories to communicate and comment. You don’t need to have your brand involved directly. The Upstanding stories did not mention Starbucks, but the audience made the connection and understood that it was an outgrowth of who Starbucks really is.

Learn more about how Prophet helps brands create strategies that echo their passions.