May 10, 2024 / Esther Choy

Family Business celebrates grand opening

According to Edelman Trust Barometer “Family business has always held a strong edge in trust over business in general.” But trust isn’t something family businesses can take for granted. Edelman reports that trust in family businesses has been eroding for years. A recent study saw a six point drop in trust for family business, while trust in general business is climbing. Why? Edelman sees that family businesses are not working to build trust with their customers: “Nearly 60 percent of companies do not communicate purpose externally. Eighty-four percent do not take a public stand on important issues.”

As corporate citizenship has become a greater expectation for companies, the business sector has stepped up. Yet, it can be a double-edged sword. Companies that profess their commitment to inclusion, environmental protection and other values, can be criticized for being “woke” or for engaging in “greenwashing.”

How do family businesses participate in this tricky, but necessary conversation? The answer is surprisingly simple: stories. Stories help share values and impact in context. They help inspire and recruit employees. They help connect with clients and customers in memorable and meaningful ways. Stories speak louder than jargon, louder than accolades and labels.

First Annual Family Business VISibility (Values, Impact, Story) Ranking

To understand how family businesses are communicating, we reviewed how well 30 family-owned B Corp businesses were sharing their values, impact and stories. We chose B Corp businesses as the certification process ensures the family businesses selected for review have proven to a third party that they are indeed values-driven businesses. Each business was graded on the eight point VISibility scale.

The VISibility Scale

8 Components of the VISibility Rankings

Andy Crestodina, co-founder and CMO of Orbit Media, a B Corp certified digital marketing agency, reviewed the VISibility rankings. “This is very cool…I think this is a really interesting way to evaluate companies,” he said. Crestodina was not surprised to learn that only four companies ranked Best In Class, meeting every criteria and only eight achieved the Great Storytellers level (scoring at least 6 out 8 criteria).

“Storytelling is not central to many brands. So there’s lots of missing stories. This would be one of them,” said Crestodina. “For many brands, especially in their digital presence, it’s not discussed in detail.” The majority of companies (18) met less than 65% of the criteria, showing the opportunity to improve or start storytelling.

Family Business VISibility Ranking

How To Share Your Values, Impact & Story

Business leader and author Simon Sinek suggests that starting with why, before moving through how and what, is a much more persuasive way to communicate a brand. Similarly, when a company is trying to demonstrate their values, it’s important to start with character. Most companies share their credentials and competences and fail to reveal anything about their character.

For example, your company is B Corp certified. Your ingredients are organic and non-GMO. Your ice cream flavor won a blue ribbon at the state fair. These are your credentials. The action you’ve taken to reduce your carbon footprint, the quality of your products and the integrity of the supply chain show your competence. Your character is shared through your stories. Here’s an example from one of the B Corp companies we reviewed:

Amy’s Kitchen gives an intimate story of its founders, Rachel and Andy, while sharing their values and character: “In 1987, while Rachel was pregnant with Amy and on bed rest,” reads Amy’s Kitchen website. “Andy went looking for ready-made meals at their local natural grocery store. When he couldn’t find anything organic and vegetarian that satisfied their taste buds, they decided to make their own.”

Overlaid with family photos of their first kitchen and baby Amy, the story continues: “The first dish Rachel and Andy created was a pot pie. They made them by hand, sold them locally and Amy’s Kitchen began right out of their home. They thought they would remain a small company simply making pot pies, but pretty soon handwritten letters of thanks started pouring in.”

Their family story of humble beginnings, growth through community support, becoming a leader in the organic movement, and using her grandmother’s recipes all tie back to the family’s values that food should not be manufactured, but cooked with love. And the ripple effect it had on them as family and as a business.

Top 3 Reasons Family Businesses Fail To Share Stories

1: They only share the stories internally

Though B Corp companies have put in the enormous effort to become B Corp certified, 30% of companies reviewed (8) didn’t even mention it on their website. Some companies may believe B Corp certification is more for internal communications. For companies like Orbit, B Corp is frequently used internally like a compass when the team is struggling to find the right answer. “What would be the B-corpy thing to do?” Crestodina recalled asking when his team needed to reach a business decision with no clear, right answers. The B Corp certification serves as a guide for decision making and attracting like-minded talent, said Crestodina.

2: They don’t understand the power of their stories

For others, their family stories are so embedded into the company culture that it’s hard for them to extrapolate the stories and share. When asked why family companies have such a hard time intentionally sharing their stories, founder of Sankofa Legacy Advisors, Thomasina Williams shared that for many family enterprises, stories are the fabric of their lives, their work, their intergenerational communication. They can’t see the stories themselves, because they are living the stories. They don’t stop to reflect on their stories. They understand their role in the community, their commitment to stewarding natural resources. They assume everyone already knows and understands their stories and values too.

3: Generational Divides

There is also a generational divide. Previous generations of family-owned businesses have intentionally separated their private life from their business life. Robert Pasin, third-generation Chief Wagon Officer of B Corp certified Radio Flyer, knows this conflict first hand. “My grandpa and my dad were very averse to PR. They didn’t want any media coverage,” shared Pasin. “So when we were getting ready for our 80th anniversary, in 1997, I had this huge fight with my dad.”

Pasin decided to hire a PR firm to the founding story of his grandpa coming to the U.S. from Italy in 1914 and the birth of the first iconic Little Red Wagon. Though his father didn’t want their name in the paper, Pasin went ahead with the plan. “I felt like the company was really struggling. I was looking for something that could kind of rejuvenate it,” said Pasin. He decided to go against his father’s wishes and celebrate the family’s founding story. Since the initial celebration, they’ve had several campaigns telling the family’s story. “We’ve gotten literally billions of media impressions from telling our story. I think the long-term power of brand building is incredible.”

The Takeaway

A banner describing Story Lab, a complimentary service to workshop stories with a facilitator.

Family businesses are often a force for good, with values intrinsic to the founding generation. B Lab brings together this community through their certification process, helping them to reflect on how their business processes support their values.

But with the new social demands for businesses to be corporate citizens, it is no longer enough to simply do good. Businesses must share their values and impact through their stories.

What stories do you have to tell? Whether or not you are a family business or a B Corp, you can use the VISibility Ranking to understand how well your business is communicating its values, impact and stories.

Esther Choy

Esther Choy founded Leadership Story Lab in 2010 to help others leverage the art of storytelling to create extraordinary opportunities.
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