Summer Singletary, Social Media and Content Marketing Strategist, focuses on content and social media marketing for natural products companies. I spoke with Summer about her approach and any advice she has for approaching marketing with a mission.

This case study is part of the free SHP Sustainability and Regenerative Practices Toolkit.

Overall Approach

When working with companies, Summer begins with developing an overall marketing strategy. She begins by asking questions. Who is the company? What is their mission? What do they want to be known for? Why are they doing what they’re doing, on a personal level, and as a brand? What kind of impact do they want to make?

Next, she works with them to develop a content strategy. She looks at how their brand voice and values are expressed and come to life through content creation. Together they create 4-6 buckets or lenses to act as guideposts for developing content. For example, product features, ingredients 101, product-based recipes, sustainability initiatives, etc. These lenses should weave in the company values. This keeps content creation strategic and makes it easier to measure impact.

Key Points in Mission Driven Marketing

  • Start with the WHY. What are your values? Your mission? What is your dream, your North Star? Pick one that people will resonate with and want to support and have loyalty to. These things help people engage with the brand and want to continue to buy the product.
  • Summer explained, “If you have a good brand, it is important to have consumer loyalty so you can steadily grow these beneficial and intentional projects that you’ve set up, whether that is in supplier communities or the people you buy bulk packaging from. There are so many stakeholders in a project, and in turn, so many people that you’re supporting. And if the company has carefully curated all of their relationships, consumers are supporting this whole life force of intentionality. And marketing is about sharing that story in a simple and digestible way and creating a shared feeling of connection and intention.”
  • Learn from high engagement or lack thereof. A content strategy lets you easily measure things. Sustainability stories typically get lower engagement than things like product recipes. Seeing that allows her to look at what was working with posts that got higher engagement and apply some of those content strategies to the sustainability stories. Perhaps different photos, copywriting style, or even shift the focus of the storyline to optimize for higher engagement.

Communicating about Sustainability

  • “Loyalty to Results.” You have to be doing the work to be able to tell stories about it. It is important to include details about progress from year to year, the kind of measurement included in Sustainability Reports. Many brands can say they are doing this work. But if it isn’t measurable, how can you be sure the work is effective? It is always worth doing sustainability initiatives, and measuring these programs can help all around, including by helping the marketing department to better communicate to consumers.
  • Tension Between Details and Making it ‘Sticky’: One goal of marketing is to make a message sticky, so people remember the essence of a brand, try the products, and hopefully like it, and share the message. And yet the work of sustainability is nuanced, detailed, and often hard to put into a simple quippy summary. There is inevitably a tension between honoring that nuance and those details and sharing them in a way that tells a good story, which requires a level of simplifying or what can be seen as the dumbing down of a story or initiative. If people buy products over and over, Summer said, they will understand that nuance over time. It is possible to share all of the story, but you can’t do it all at once. Break this content down into bite-sized chunks, through Instagram posts, newsletters, and blog posts and build toward that complexity and nuance.
  • Summer works to find the middle line through the product and sustainability, this story will be different for each brand. Find what your customers resonate with, she said. If it’s the product, try to relate the sustainability initiative in a meaningful and honest way. For example, if you are developing supplier communities or supporting farmers, try focusing on how a customer’s purchase of a certain herb or product helps these communities.
  • In putting together a marketing story, it is important to talk to everyone involved: the sustainability director, the people who do sourcing, the farmers and collectors. If it’s about packaging, talk to the people who do the packaging. It is important to understand the nuance of the whole story, from each stakeholder, in order to tell a succinct and authentic story.

Overall Tips

  • Stories used in marketing need to have the components of any good story, especially authenticity and integrity.
  • Marketers/Storytellers should be naturally curious, passionate about the natural products industry and the product in general, and also about the importance of these initiatives.
  • Hire people to do what you can’t do, graphic designers or videographers.
  • Choose quality of content over quantity.
  • Sharing stories about sustainability initiatives can be a way a brand can differentiate itself and be a deciding factor between products. But if you build your whole brand around sustainability, you had better be authentic. Your community will (and should) hold you accountable.
  • Sharing these stories can also be fun and creative! No need to be too serious. Create marketing that’s fascinating, understandable, and that sticks.

Why Does it Matter?

In closing, I asked Summer what she loved about her work. Without hesitating, she said, “I love being able to help my clients create their dream, build their companies, to change the way things are, and to make life better. And I love being creative! I love creating beauty and telling stories and having an impact and getting people to pause or reflect or think about something in a different way than they might have before.”

And then I asked what was at stake, why telling sustainability stories mattered. Again, without hesitating, she said, “Oh my gosh, we don’t have another choice. There is so much room for growth and so much need for change. And we really don’t have a lot of time. This is an industry that is making a large impact. And we have to tell these stories so people know how much they matter. We have to tell these stories more effectively. We cannot give up on the sustainability story because that is what is going to keep people buying organic, buying non-GMO, supporting the regenerative movement. If people don’t know why they are buying something, then it could be just a one-time purchase. But it will stick, if people know why their purchases matter.”

“I would love to get to the point where we don’t have to have these certifications, like organic and non GMO, because we appreciate and value food and farmers and herbs and medicine so much that we do not have to have an inverse quarantine and create all these different types of labels. A world where these standards are the norm.”

“It’d be great to trust in our agriculture system and see it is as a part of the fabric of our culture, where we just don’t accept anything less than organic, non-GMO, and equitable.”

We Don’t Have a Choice

“I think we think we have a choice because we see choices now, but we ultimately don’t. We must start making big investments in the earth and in the people that are taking care of it. The real dividends are not in endless yearly growth. They are when every single stakeholder can make a life for themselves, have health insurance, and the products give back to the ecosystems that provided the resources.”

Summer laughed and said, “I’m just thinking I’m into taking pretty photos, but I guess there’s a lot more to it for me.”

She closed by saying that we need to get to a place where people realize that these foods aren’t just good for you. “They’re good for You as a whole. It goes way beyond the individual. I think that’s a lot of what’s missing in the natural products industry marketing. Personal benefit is touted far beyond ecological. But you have to have a company that’s actually doing the work to market it. That’s the thing too.”