Over the past few years of working with impact-driven startups, I’ve seen the same problem come up time and time again: Most impact entrepreneurs aspire to communicate about sustainability.
They usually take two paths – too social or too scientific – and given that we are at a crucial time in the fight against climate change, it is a huge problem. So here are some tips to improve your communication as an impact-driven founder.
First, let’s start by laying the groundwork. Today’s impact-driven startups will continue to lay the foundation for this McKinsey & Company calls it “impact economics”.
Companies like Tesla, Beyond Meat, and Oatly are just a few examples of the beginnings of the next wave of disruption. A wave of disruption based on the opportunity that sustainability brings.
And this wave of disruption is progressing. In fact, some experts believe low-carbon solutions could replace carbon-intensive technologies in 70% of the economy over the next decade. Bain & Company suggests that “The sustainability revolution is unstoppable” and if the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that we must act preventively to avoid disaster.
But to get there, I think they need to leave behind their social (negative) and technical (fact-based) tendencies and tell better stories about the possibilities that sustainability challenges bring to building a better future.
So what can we do about it? We reframe sustainability as an opportunity.
No one ever asked Negative Nancy to dance
Far too many impact-driven startups continue to communicate sustainability in a negative tone. They talk about what we owe Stop do – steal, eat meat, drive, use plastic, etc. – rather than communicating opportunity this impact creation brings with it.
In turn, they hold back their own growth. For example, this challenge can be seen in sentences that follow this line of thinking: “We only have 10 years to save ourselves from climate change… buy our product” and it’s just not effective.
This line of reasoning has its origins in the glory days of charity and philanthropy. To incite action (make a donation), nonprofits often evoked emotions of fear.
Just think of the images of polar bears on slowly melting ice cubes or starving children during the East African famine of the late 1990s. The customer’s promise was direct action delivery and customer benefit. was the feeling that accompanied the gift.
However, as the way impact was produced on a large scale began to shift from charity to entrepreneurship, these messages have remained the same. This is a problem because:
- Investors don’t invest in solving global challenges, they invest in companies that can simultaneously create impact and profits
- Customers don’t buy a product because it solves a global challenge, they buy it because they have a job to do and a product does that job while creating a positive impact
- Partners and employees don’t join your cause because of an issue, they join because you have a vision for a better future and can help them achieve it
When impact-driven founders send negative messages, what they show investors, clients and partners is that they haven’t left the days when impact was transmitted by a company. charitable organisation.
This raises major red flags in the for-profit world in terms of founder’s mindset, attitude towards key players in business development such as marketing and branding, and the ability to attract and retain talent. key talents.
Educating the masses is a dumb game
Additionally, negative messages are simply ineffective as they attempt to “educate” the masses rather than presenting a focused vision of the future, tangible value, or emphasizing benefits to customers.
Essentially, by targeting the majority before innovators and early adopters, impact-driven startups get ahead of themselves in the process of adopting their innovation. Why? Because innovators already want an impact.
They don’t need to be convinced that climate change exists or that there is too much plastic in the ocean. They are well aware of the challenge and they are ready to make changes … the only thing is that they do not know How? ‘Or’ What.
As an impact-driven startup, it’s your job to show them how to get there.
For example, imagine you are walking down the street and someone stops to tell you that you should change your superannuation to a fund that has disengaged from fossil fuels. Even if you agree, your reaction will likely be one of disdain or boredom. “Why are you talking to me” and “why should I trust you?”
But now imagine you have a good friend who tells you the same thing at a barbecue. Do you want to hear them? Maybe hear more than what you need to do? Maybe even the Why? When a message comes from someone you know and trust, you are much more likely to be receptive than skeptical.
The preaching to the choir is for the Sundays of yesteryear
This challenge is further compounded by the fact that many impact-driven founders have scientific, academic, or engineering backgrounds, and as a result far too many impact-driven startups are preaching to the choir.
Many of those who dedicate their lives to solving the biggest challenges of the day are undoubtedly some of the sharpest tools in the shed (I’m looking at you TU Delft), with backgrounds in engineering, science or academia.
However, the vast majority of your customers, unless you sell directly to other sustainability-focused companies, operate outside the sustainability bubble (the echo chamber of green lingo). And potentially, their level of sustainability literacy is different.
You can recognize this trajectory with the boot slogans that read something that looks like the following:
We are a multidisciplinary AI-driven innovation ecosystem leading the systemic transition to an inclusive circular economy of the planet through Industry 4.0 technology.
When I read that my brain starts to implode… BUT WHAT ARE YOU REALLY DOING?
The Green Slang route is a classic trait of the impact-driven entrepreneur – it’s a complex topic and you want to show that you’re qualified.
However, this often causes us to talk to our peers at the expense of our target audience. Essentially, we let our own egos get in the way of effective communication.
How to win in this new driven landscape?
Just like the Dutch at the start of their golden age or Silicon Valley at the turn of the millennium, those who invent the technology of the future are the ones who will move forward.
But adoption takes time, and sustainable technology is in its infancy. The best way to attract new partners to our ecosystem is to show them the possibilities, not the challenges.
We reach a tipping point in society and it disrupts or is disrupted. If people don’t resonate with what you’re saying, convincing them is redundant. Let them discover that history isn’t kind to latecomers and focus on communicating your perspective on the future to innovators and early adopters.
To win in this new landscape, impact entrepreneurs must abandon the days when impact was produced by charities and nonprofits, and their scientific backgrounds, and embrace their entrepreneurial side – to present sustainability as an opportunity.
Published March 23, 2021 – 09:42 UTC