CSR Stories
Marketing Content Strategy

Moving Beyond Vanilla CSR Stories: How Symrise and Investis Brought Sustainability to Life

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Brands today are using CSR stories, details about responsible supply chain management, and socially friendly policies to differentiate their position in the marketing—and storytelling is helping them do so in unexpected ways.

Consider vanilla: It’s at the heart of perfume blends, adds a splash of unforgettable flavor to your favorite cocktails, and contributes to the comforting smell of home baked cookies. Yet, have you ever stopped to think about how it’s grown, harvested, and processed or what kinds of impact companies have that work in the industry? Not only is this story interesting from a social and environmental point of view, but it’s essential to how one company—Symrise, a world-leading fragrance and flavor company—does business.

The company worked with Investis, a global firm that helps large companies hone their digital communications to a range of audiences, to tell that story in an effective way and move beyond the limits of a single annual CSR report that few people would actually read. The Symrise story dives into the mysteries, agricultural landscape, production processes, and greater global significance of vanilla. Through an arresting mix of video, infographics, and thoughtful text woven together, they provide a new model for companies to consider: How can you tell your brand’s CSR stories in a way that captivates a wide range of audiences?

Bringing CSR Stories to Light in a New Way

Your company’s environmental, social, and corporate social responsibility efforts matter more than ever before. As Forbes recently reported, the changing state of global affairs is taking sustainability in a whole new direction: “[C]ompanies won’t just uphold their commitments to sustainability—they will be at the forefront of global progress like never before.”

Audiences—from investors to customers—are paying attention to the footprint that companies have. Buyers, especially millennials and gen Z, would rather do business with companies that do social good than those that are purely focused on profits. However, they’re looking for more than just the story of how your company sponsored the local soccer team or recycles your kitchen goods. Smart, sophisticated audiences want to understand how your company is making the world a better place and how these commitments shape the way that you do business.

Consider the Symrise project above. One of the world’s leading fragrance and spice companies wanted to create an experience that would help different audiences understand the history, social, environmental, and business implications of how they work.

“Vanilla is a product which is extremely difficult to grow. It’s all hand pollinated. There are very few places in the world that vanilla can actually be grown, one of which is Madagascar. Symrise invests time and effort in caring for those communities and the habitat in which vanilla grows. There’s a big social responsibility angle here for which they have rightly been commended and have won a number of awards for their work in Madagascar. The vanilla story is based around showcasing the extent to which vanilla is used but also the responsibility with which they take the manufacturing and farming,” says Neil Roberts, Investis Sales Director, New Business, UK and Europe.

The way that companies communicate is an essential part of making meaningful connections, notes Roberts. “We’re living in a world of digital scanners. People don’t spend huge amounts of time looking at and reading web pages. They want to be engaged immediately through the content that they’re reading or listening to. The Symrise vanilla site is designed to draw people in and allow them to uncover the whole story in a way that keeps them interested.”

One of Investis’ core capabilities is helping clients break out of static modes of communication, and that shift helped shape the vision for the Symrise vanilla site. With continuous, digital-first, and interactive coverage, they’re able to help brands showcase CSR stories in interesting and meaningful ways. The Symrise vanilla project highlights a number of different strategies for telling sustainability stories. Let’s take a closer look at how to apply some of these ideas to your own brand.

harvesting vanilla

Image attribution: Peter via Flickr

How to Bring Your Own CSR Stories to Life: What You Can Learn from Symrise and Investis

Focus on the narrative arc of your business

The organizing premise for the Symrise project focuses on an end-to-end exploration of how vanilla is grown, processed, and distributed. Consumers increasingly care about how you do business—and that extends to the way you treat employees, how you source materials, and whether you manage a responsible supply chain. It’s easy to look at CSR or environmental commitments as an add-on to your company’s larger business.

However, your audiences want to see how good business practices differentiate your brand and shape the way you do business. Symrise explores this by looking at business impact in a variety of interesting ways, with interviews across the supply chain and highlighting data that supports the story line. Whether you’re reinvesting in the communities where you source raw materials or providing state of the art safety training and gear for you workers, show how the story you’re telling is relevant to your business, customers, and the market.

Bring concrete examples to life

CSR stories can fail to make an impact when they’re not concrete. For example, simply saying that you have an environmental focus means less than your entire team volunteering at a recycling center for a day or taking a stand on environmental standards as part of responsible supply chain management. Symrise centers its story on vanilla, which is a concrete project that audiences use every day and then structures the story in a way that teases readers with the mysteries behind its production. By focusing on something that’s concrete, you provide a clear anchor to tell the story and show the impact in a larger context. Every time a viewer reaches for vanilla beans or extract, they’re going to revisit some part of the Symrise digital vanilla experience.

Don’t overlook the power of dynamic data and storytelling formats

One of the things that Investis and Symrise have accomplished with the vanilla project is the powerful use of dynamic data. For example, they highlight the company’s 7,000 direct partnerships with farmers and the 700,000 seeds they’ve distributed to help with tropical reforestation.

As the visual trends in content marketing become more prevalent, data is an important part of telling that story. Data visualization helps consumers, investors, and other audiences quickly understand financial information, as well as different factors around the impact of social initiatives. The vanilla project includes a mix of custom graphics, infographics, videos, images, and text. Data visualization and moving the story toward a digital-first, dynamic mode of storytelling is key to capturing the attention of busy audiences who may be browsing on their mobile phones or tablets.

Put environmental, social, and responsible supply chain discussions in the context of consumer connections

Ultimately, everything a brand does is to serve their customers. For Symrise, their commitment to the way that they deal with all aspects of their supply chain and the communities where they work is both a central value of how they do business and a competitive differentiator.

As a brand, there’s a larger meaning and impact behind your CSR and other initiatives that ties back to your customers. Skyword CEO Tom Gerace has raised a rallying cry about the importance of brands to fill connections. When you consider the state of the world, it’s easy to lose faith. By showcasing how your brand has a positive impact—such as how Symrise gives back to Madagascar in a variety of different ways around environment, social progress, and healthcare—you can help restore some of that faith and strengthen your relationships to people in the process.

Brands today are being measured on more than just the profits they generate. As Symrise and Investis have demonstrated, the way that you tell the stories about your social impact is crucial. Not only does it shape perceptions of your brand as a whole, but it can deepen your relationships with customers as well. Look critically at what you’re doing, how it impacts your business and customers, and find an engaging way to bring that story to life.

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Featured image attribution: Pkhun via Wikimedia Commons

Liz Alton is a technology and marketing writer, and content strategist, for Fortune 500 brands and creative agencies. Her specialties include marketing, technology, B2B, big data/analytics, cloud, and mobility. She's worked with clients including Adobe, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Twitter, ADP, and Google. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an MBA. She is currently pursuing a master’s in journalism from Harvard University.

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