At the founders’ meeting last week, Taylor Pipes gave a presentation on content strategy and the art of storytelling. Telling the story of your business is an important, yet often overlooked, form of marketing. Taylor outlined that the three key points of brand storytelling are transparency, empathy, and understanding a diverse array of buyers’ needs.
Transparency is one of the most important aspects of my business, but the topic of ethical manufacturing is a difficult one to touch on. In the toy industry, the use of exploited labor is unfortunately common, as is the use of materials that contain chemicals that are detrimental to the health of the consumers, the factory workers, and the environment. To me, it is important to use materials that are both mindful of the environment as well as the people who produce and use them. When sourcing materials for making plush toys or greeting cards, I look for materials that are either organic or are the most eco-friendly options I can find. I also research the sources to find out where and how they were made. This can often involve dozens of emails and phone calls just to verify a single product. With the pervasive use of green washing (deceiving customers about the environmental benefits of a product by using misleading advertising or unsubstantiated claims), relying on labels or the contents of a website is often not sufficient when trying to determine how a product is made.
Ethical consumerism is a fast-growing trend, but to mainstream customers, portraying your brand as “ethical” can actually be off-putting. There was a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research titled “Willful Ignorance in the Request for Product Attribute Information” that showed that customers who are aware that a product was manufactured unethically will generally choose not to buy that product. However, if given a choice, customers would choose to not know the labor practices used to create a product in order to avoid a potential moral dilemma. The study showed that the avoidance of negative emotions, especially anger, appears to drive willful ignorance in regard to how a product was manufactured. The study also found that people who chose to be willfully ignorant of how products they purchased were made would often subconsciously compensate for the guilt they felt by denigrating ethical-minded consumers.
This is a difficult obstacle to overcome for businesses, such as mine, that want to include information about ethical manufacturing in telling their story. To be completely transparent in how my products are made inherently involves some discussion about the common practices used in toy manufacturing. In learning how to best tell my story, I first need to figure out how to educate potential customers about ethical manufacturing in a way that does not evoke negative emotions.
If you’d like to read more by Jenny Maj, check out her full blog at http://fluffmonger.net/handmade-organic-stuffed-animals.
 Ehrich, Kristine R and Irwin, Julie R (2005). Willful Ignorance in the Request for Product Attribute Information. Journal of Marketing Research, Volume 42 (Issue #3), pp.266-277