Storyshowing vs. Storytelling in Natural Products Transparency

If you’re like me, you find yourself at a lot of industry events and meet a lot of people. You exchange names, job titles and stories. You laugh. You bond. You leave. At the end of the night, you’ve made some new friends. After so many events over the lifetime of your career, which of these new friends stand out? Which ones become lifelong friends, not just “industry acquaintances”?

We’re in an industry where most people are not just doing good work, they are striving to change the world, to transform the health care system, to improve planetary and personal and health – this means that we all already have something in common that connects us. (More on that in my upcoming report on Esca Bona.)

But for me, the people I remember best and tend to feel closest to are the ones who I connect with on a deeper level, who’ve shared something of themselves beyond the surface level and have been vulnerable.

In a word, they are transparent — and that is why I am drawn to them.

So, what can this personal tale impart to you and your company? Let me show you.

Good Storytelling is Really Storyshowing

Have you ever seen a movie or read a book where the plot is driven by exposition – just “telling” the story? A powerful writer “shows” rather than “tells.” For example, “Joe was a good and honorable man” is telling. “Joe gave his life’s earnings to The Hunger Project, and stood by his friend who had lost his youngest son to cancer” shows with specificity how Joe was good and honorable. The former tells you how you should feel, while the latter shows you the character’s actions, leaving you to decide how you feel about those actions.

There is transparency in the latter, while there is a degree of “just trust me” in the former.

Now let’s apply this to natural products companies and the idea of transparency.

Showing Transparency

Many companies are struggling with being seen as transparent. In an effort to latch onto the perceived popularity that comes with being transparent, they mistakenly waste time and money saying that they’re transparent instead of investing time into being transparent and simply letting those actions speak for themselves.

One of the best known examples of this is our client, Gaia Herbs. We often talk about the “Meet Your Herbs” transparency platform we created for them, but today, we’re going to talk about some shining stars in other industries: Panera and Timberland.

Food As It Should Be

Panera is setting a great example for turning honesty and openness into transparent actions. It started with a promise: that by the end of 2016, Panera will only serve food made with natural (good for you) ingredients at an affordable price. Their secondary promise is to provide complete transparency on calories, enabling customers to make healthy or decadent choices in their meals. This freedom of choice is important because many people (myself included) sometimes just want to eat the chocolate cupcake for lunch, even though we know it’s not the healthiest option on the menu.

Did they spend money to tell this story? Yes, of course. But they also allowed customers to experience for themselves that this promise was actually being fulfilled. First they published their list of “no-no ingredients” (150 items they would no longer include in their food, like “Aluminum Calcium Silicate/Bentonite” and “Triacetin/Glycerol Triacetate”). They then released their food policy, which is a roadmap of milestones for their accountability on continuous improvement to their menu and to their supply chain. They also opened their kitchens up to customers to see food being made, and of course, to sample these new, clean items.

Green Index

If making a commitment to environmental sustainability for your own company is noteworthy, helping develop an industry-wide standard is truly commendable. That’s what Timberland has done. They created a set of standards for themselves that would significantly reduce the impact their products made on the environment, from creation through consumer sales. Areas they judge themselves on include climate impact, chemicals used, as well as other materials used.

Then, working closely with the Outdoor Industry Association, they turned those standards into an index that other companies could use to rate their own processes. This indexing then became product labeling, so that consumers could actually see how their shopping choices impacted the world around them.

Again, did Timberland invest in marketing to tell this story? Yes. They also created opportunities for consumers to get involved with the process of maintaining and improving the indexing categories that Timberland had created. In Timberland’s “Voices of Challenge” forum, companies vulnerably discussed the difficulties of meeting increasingly high standards of sustainability — and the public was welcome to attend and participate. Making your consumers a part of your auditing process can build a level of trust that no amount of data or marketing can.

Be Transparent

These are just two companies who turn their promises of transparency into transparent actions. If you want to join their ranks, I have some advice for you: stop telling people that you are transparent — show your transparency, and your customers will do the telling for you.