Storytelling for Purpose-driven Businesses – How to Create a Narrative that Engages

Patagonia, Warby Parker, and Burt’s Bees have one thing in common:

A purpose-driven narrative.

They've mastered the art of connecting customers to their mission, transforming everyday purchases into powerful stories of impact.

In this article, you’ll learn exactly how you can craft a compelling brand story that not only resonates but also drives real-world change.


In today’s uncertain economy, purpose has become much more personal. The expectation on brands has never been higher. According to a Havas survey, 72% of consumers are tired of brands paying lip service to helping society. Now, more than ever, companies and brands are expected to do more for their customers while making a difference in the world. And consumers are ready to vote with their feet. Havas reports that if 75% of brands disappeared they wouldn’t even bat an eyelid. 

What is a Purpose-Driven Brand?

A purpose-driven brand strategy prioritizes the bigger ‘why’ of the brand beyond the product or service they provide. Increasingly, the bigger brands are adopting this strategy to varying degrees - from purpose-understated to purpose-first, to purpose-driven. Taking the time to consider your bigger purpose in the world and how that drives your decisions, seems to be a necessity in a world where transparency and authenticity is prized.

Successful purpose-driven brand marketers today are those who can communicate their why by harnessing the superpower in their marketing arsenal: their brand story.

Understanding the power of story

Since the beginning of time we've been creating meaning and connection, passing down information and sharing values and truths through story. Storytelling is a fundamentally human way for us to connect to one another, to ideas, to our imagination and the unknown.

It’s no secret, then, that the Hero’s Journey is the most popular storyline in Hollywood films. It satisfies our intuitive affinity for the elements of a compelling story. We are hardwired for story.

Neuroscience backs this up. Researchers have shown that parts of our brain light up when we watch or listen to a story, firing synapses that release feel-good hormones, like oxytocin when the hero is on top, or cortisol (fight-or flight) when they’re not.

Traditional business has employed brand storytelling as a strategy for decades through advertising, PR and social media. But mission-led businesses that can successfully embrace and utilize their story about the concrete action they are taking to change the world for good are well placed to build the trust and meaningful connection that moves today's audiences to take positive action.

Crafting Your Story

Whether you’re reviewing your brand story for a brand or website refresh or looking to create a campaign, here are some key points to consider, with examples of brands who have led the way, and some takeaways:

1. Identify Your Core Message 

Clarify the purpose and core values of your business. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What is the big transformation that you want to bring through your business? 
  • What does that look like for your customers and the beneficiaries of your service and the world? 
  • How closely does it align with the service or product you offer? 
  • How can you demonstrate your commitment and measure your progress?
  • What are your values and how do they show up in your business? 
  • Can you tell the story of this in your touchpoints with clients, beneficiaries, collaborators and contractors, supply chain?


Don't Buy This Jacket | Patagonia

The question most socially conscious business start-ups have is what story to lead with: the business or the social impact? Patagonia is an excellent example of a brand that does both. Their Don’t Buy this Jacket campaign, first run on Black Friday in 2011, confronted head-on the conflict between their profit goals and their commitment to environmental responsibility. In a straight-shooting tone they challenge customers to think before they buy, acknowledging the high cost to the environment of producing a jacket. The message seems counter-intuitive but is backed by a pledge to work towards environmental sustainability. It's a compelling and credible message that employs a brand voice that is consistent across all their messaging: direct, educational and trustworthy.


  • Shape the future you want to see. Take inspiration to communicate your own ever-evolving story of how you interact with, and as a part of everyday life, the changing seasons and the different challenging circumstances, and your vision for the future in a personal authentic way.
  • Understand your audience and what’s important to them, and re-align it back to your purpose.

2. Make the Hero Part of  the Cast of a Bigger Story

Purpose-led brands that can make their customers the hero in their impact story by making them part of a cast of characters in a larger story, are ahead of the game.

Warby Parker

As a disruptor of the eyewear industry in 2010 by cutting out the gatekeepers and providing affordable, fashionable glasses, Warby Parker’s purpose fits perfectly with their customer-first business model. The ‘Buy a Pair, Give a Pair’ page shows the direct impact of purchasing a pair of glasses by making socially conscious customers the heroes of their impact story. 


  • How can you put your customer in the driver’s seat of creating change? “The whole story begins with you” shows how the customer triggers the action to create impact. Warby Parker is a partner in the process, making it easier for them to do so.

  • Showing the how of the direct link between the purchase and the result is a powerful way to tell your impact story, that rewards the customer. The use of images of beneficiaries as relatable characters reinforces the impact.

3. Structure Your Story for Maximum Impact 

Whether your business has been around for a minute, or for decades, it’s never too late to make the most of your origin story. 

Burt’s Bees

Another leading purpose-driven brand, Burt’s Bees, makes excellent use of their founder story of swapping hectic city life for a simpler one in the 1980s. A classic brand storytelling arc of how iconoclasts Burt and Roxanne wanted to do things better before ‘sustainability’ was a buzzword (Setting), the problem they wanted to solve for others who wanted to give back what they took from nature (Conflict), and their solution of creating products from the surplus beeswax from their honeymaking business (Resolution) is deftly woven into the brand story the Burt’s Bees story for a new audience.


  • Your brand story is not static. Revisit it regularly and think about ways to leverage the classic founder story in a way that’s fresh and engages a new generation of socially conscious consumers.

  • Make good use of your tone. I love the way the founder story keeps the slightly dry Maine country, no-nonsense tone of the founder story. You can imagine the storyteller chewing on a weed as they speak. When it comes to the online shop, there’s a shift to a more upbeat tone that targets the needs of a Gen Z audience.

4. Put Your Values Up Front

Consumers today prioritize authenticity, transparency and expect companies and brands to lead change. Whether you’re leading with purpose, or your purpose is part of your business’ social responsibility, you need to demonstrate your commitment to what you stand for.


By structuring their impact story around their values and how they drive their commitment to sustainability, nutrition and transparency, Chipotle distinguishes the brand from their main competitor, Taco BellTM. They were the first national restaurant brand to commit to using only responsibly sourced meat, and they cite this as a demonstration of their commitment to goals on local and organic produce. 


  • Show, don’t tell. Use your story to show your commitment, not just communicate.

  • Avoid jargon that's overused and does not resonate with your audience. They cleverly unpack ‘Being Real’ to connect more deeply with a broader audience by avoiding the ‘sustainabllity’ buzzword.

  • When you align your purpose-led mission with your brand values and the values of your customers, you can build a tribe of loyal customers that cuts across economic and social barriers.

5. Use Emotive Language to Connect and Persuade 

Brand emotion is a key to creating a deeper connection and building trust and loyalty, and there’s no better way to do that than through story. One of the ways that you can inject emotion in your brand story is through the language you use to enroll your would-be customers as clients and ambassadors for your brand.

Love Your Melon 

In their mission statement, Love Your Lemon employs emotive language, such as ‘battling’ and ‘simple goal’ to describe their commitment to supporting the fight against paediatric cancer. The focus is on the vulnerable child, who is battling cancer, and the simple goal of putting a hat on every child engaged in the fight. The target audience - most likely mothers - know that they are making a change that is possible and concrete.

  • Understand the words that trigger the right emotion in your target audience. Do your research on the language that resonates with them today. The cultural shift around ‘battling’ and ‘fighting’ cancer rather than ‘struggling with ’ and ‘suffering from’ is a subtle one that views them as fighters, not victims.
  • Show what’s possible. The use of ‘simple goal’ gives people a sense that, while it may not be in their power to cure cancer, it is possible and doable to put a hat on a child battling cancer.

6. Do one thing well

Hiut Denim

Hiut Denim Co. is a story of a town that used to make jeans and stopped after 40 years of sewing. Then one day the founders said screw it, let’s do it again. And here they are making jeans again.


  • Do one thing well: They make jeans. They only ever make jeans. No other products. No other distractions. This helps Hiut focus their resources on making the best possible jeans.
  • Don't be average: Be great at what you do. Life is short. (Hiut Jeans make a great pair of jeans.)
  • Craft a clear brand manifesto: explain your core philosophy (do one thing well); Explain what you do; Explain why do it; reiterate your core philosophy. (see below)
Brand manifesto example

Leveraging Different Media for Your Story

The effective use of visuals is another powerful way to convey your message. Video is the most immediate and persuasive way to engage the emotions of your audience and bring them on a journey, but a well-placed image can be equally powerful alongside copy. Photos of beneficiaries can bring customers closer to the impact, although it’s important to consider the sensitivities and ethics of this. 

Incorporating storytelling in your marketing strategy at key points in the customer journey can build the know-like-trust factor, engage and inform them and enroll them as ambassadors of your brand. Think about how you can include this across all your platforms and channels, including your emails, newsletters, social media, blog etc.

In conclusion, it is clear that in an era of increasingly conscious consumerism, the purpose-driven business who can engage and support their customers in their bigger vision for the world has the advantage. If you want to make a tangible difference in the world - either for wellbeing of your clients and customers, or on global issues impacting the world - you need to reframe what that success looks like for you.

The key to successfully engaging a savvy audience is to double down on your impact and brand experience by fully embracing the power of your brand story as a central part of your marketing strategy.

So, is it time to unearth your big purpose as part of your brand story? Engage our team to see how the StoryBrand framework can help uncover your brands clear story.

More StoryBrand Insights.