COMMUNICATIONS – Seven ways to communicate in an age of authenticity

6 September 2016

Last week’s SBN’s conference included expert insight for success in an age that demands honesty and transparency in business. Here’s what we learned.

People want to know the good being done by the businesses they buy from, work for and invest in. According to Colmar Brunton’s Better Futures report (2015), 31% of New Zealanders will ‘choose sustainable’ more often in the next year. 64% will pay a bit more for sustainable products. And 74% want to work for a company that’s socially and environmentally responsible. More than half of millennials have ruled out working for an organisation because of its values or ethics (Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016).

Meanwhile, 71% of consumers can’t name a brand leader in sustainability. People want to know about the good businesses are doing.

To succeed your business needs a positive purpose at its core. You have to be able to prove it. And you must express it in everything you do.

These two themes of purpose and proof weaved their way throughout SBN’s conference. Communicating in an Age of Authenticity took place at AUT Business School on 31 August. Here are our top learnings, together with some of our favourite quotes from the conference.

How to communicate in an age of authenticity:

  1. Identify your purpose

Having a purpose has become increasingly important because of massively rising levels of transparency. There are plummeting levels of loyalty to brands, so you need a raison d’être. Why does your business matter? Your purpose should be part of your organisation’s DNA and it must link to your business strategy. Be part of something that’s more than just a boring business!

Stuck for inspiration? Check out the purpose of some of these New Zealand businesses:

NZ Post: Nothing gets in the way of delivering what people care about

Air New Zealand: Supercharging New Zealand’s success

Z Energy: Solve what matters for a moving world

Dulux: Adding colour to people’s lives through the transformational power of paint

“In a competitive, disruptive world, it’s not enough to be great, or doing good; businesses have to matter” – Dom Thurbon, Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Karrikins Group 

  1. Don’t be full of s**t

Be honest and transparent – about your failures as well as your successes. You have to walk the talk, and do it with integrity.

“Authenticity comes from having a core set of non-negotiables” – Jamie Sinclair, General Manager Strategy and Finance, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Whai Maia Ltd

  1. Tell inspiring stories

Consumers want to hear about your purpose and the stories behind it. So live your values from the inside out and share them.  People connect with brands through stories, so having a story behind your product can help sales. Blunt Umbrellas, which produces umbrellas designed to last, identified its purpose as stopping the throwaway culture. It weaves this into all its brand stories to boost the value of its products.

“Purpose is nothing if your organisation doesn’t live it” – Jacqueline Farman, Founder, The Purpose Business

  1. Every step matters

You may feel like you’re failing 99% of the time, but stay true to yourself as your efforts will amount to something. Lots of small steps eventually lead to step changes in the system.

“The system that we will create will never have existed before” – Niki Harre, Associate Professor, The University of Auckland

  1. Measure your progress

Make data meaningful and look for ways to make improvements. Proof doesn’t involve ticking a box and moving on. It is a process.

Identify which metrics to measure. What is material to your business? Hot spot analysis can help prioritise issues and stakeholders to focus on.

 “If proof remains stable over time, you’re going backwards” – Jeff Vickers, Senior Consultant, thinkstep

  1. Prove it

Choose how to best report your sustainability progress. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach – different methods suit different organisations. Options include:

  • Life cycle analysis. For example, thinkstep applied this to David Trubridge’s lighting business. It showed that he could expand his market overseas by shifting his business model to lighting kit sets.
  • Third party certifications, which give indisputable proof of your sustainability credentials. Check out Enviro-Mark Solutions.
  • A middle path, striking a balance between avoiding greenwash and avoiding excessive diligence. This might suit smaller organisations with lower budgets. Check out offsetting with Ekos.
  • The Sustainable Business Network published a Performance Report for 2015/16, reporting on the outcomes and outputs of our work.
  • Bringing data to life in creative ways. Method Design Studio created an interactive infographic to share Wynard Quarter’s sustainability data. How you communicate data can make a difference.

“What do we lose when we turn sustainability into an exercise of checking boxes?” – Kate Kearins, Acting Dean, AUT Business School

  1. Finally – Make a fuss!

Stand up for your values. It will make a difference, even if you don’t see the fruits of your labour immediately.

By Fiona Stephenson, SBN’s Communications Manager and one of the MC’s of the conference.

Thanks to the speakers for sharing their wisdom and insights and thanks to our sponsors for all their support.

Look out for videos of the presentations, which we will be sharing soon.

Conference sponsor lock-up 20162