On their way towards sustainability marketing, many businesses are faced with a paradox:
Marketing is often perceived as a set of techniques that persuade people to buy more. Sometimes, more than they actually need. And sustainability seems to involve consuming less. How do these two go together?
For the most part, the above paradox is fueled by a cynical view of marketing. This view is alive among some consumers and even marketers. The main goal of marketing for them is to present products in such a way that they become desirable and sell well. This is only a half-truth though.
Another vital aspect of marketing is to identify the real needs of customers and meet them.
An effective business will balance the two focuses. It will be both product and customer-oriented. Sustainability fits naturally into the consumer-oriented part of any marketing strategy.
Also, sustainability marketing is not so much about consuming less. It is about being mindful and efficient in one’s living.
Global social, economic and environmental problems encourage modern people to be creative. A good marketing strategy will do exactly the same
We also need to take responsibility for the ways we do business and live our lives. As you can see, sustainability and marketing go hand in hand.
The sustainability marketing dilemma
One more problem holds back sustainability marketing from working full force:
Messages about the environment or social issues are not very engaging and entertaining. These messages tend to cause a backlash in many customers.
Sustainability messages often do not work because they sound vague, moralistic or insincere. Imagine a company that focuses on selling its products while ignoring customers’ needs. Imagine that it doesn’t seek any feedback. Then it delivers an emotional sustainability message. Will customers believe the message?
Companies may emphasize sustainability credentials while ignoring social listening and empathic brand communication. By doing so, they create irritation within their target audiences. This cancels out any advantages that their sustainability marketing could have earned them.
Make your sustainability marketing stick
Corporate communicators know that a strong brand message will have the following characteristics:
- The message is relevant to the audience
- It is easy to remember
- The message invites action
These elements create the “stickiness” we all expect from a powerful marketing message.
So, how can you create effective and memorable content when talking about sustainability?
1) Be straightforward
Make sure your readers don’t have to guess how the facts you describe affect sustainability. You need to give specific information about your actions. And then do explain the positive consequences your efforts lead to! Use numbers and be fair in your estimations.
Let’s compare the following messages:
“Our company promotes harmony and equality in communities people across the world ”
“We give $1 from every sale to local community schools. We do this to support equal opportunities for all children.”
How do you think, which one will stick with customers and affect the way they spend their money?
2) Use clear language
Complex terminology and industry-related slang can kill any message. Too many complex words in your brand communication won’t make it look smarter. Instead, it will make your message less likable and shareable.
Abstractions make it seem like you are not talking to real people. Such messages are called passive because they don’t elicit any behavior.
Some sustainability-oriented messages are too vague to be followed through. For example, the words “ecotourism” or “eco-friendly” can mean so many different things. They do not sound the same to all people. Avoid using them in your brand communication if you want your messages to stick.
Always encourage people to join the sustainability movement. But don’t use expressions that are too emotional. And don’t appeal to personal ethics! This can create a reaction that is the opposite of what you are trying to achieve.
Most people will sense manipulation in lofty statements. It’s always better to present some data and let people make their own decisions.
3) Suggest actions that can be experienced
Most sustainability-oriented behaviors don’t allow seeing the actual improvement. This is a major discouragement for people.
You want to create a sense of empowerment and commitment in your audience. To do that, suggest small experienceable actions. Keep in mind though that simply stating the options is not enough.
Back up your suggestions with impressive stats, real personal stories or compelling pictures. Your aim is to create a sense of belonging with a large community of like-minded individuals. Social proof rather than moral manipulation is what inspires changes. Your readers will want to eat cleaner or cut the use of plastic. They will turn off the lights at home to feel that they belong.
4) Celebrate progress
Explain how progress and modernization promote sustainability and improve the quality of life. This frame involves respecting science and technology while working towards a better future.
Discuss the latest research in producing food alternatives or biodegradable plastic. You will be delivering engaging content that is sustainability-oriented. Readers will respect you for your practical approach to sustainability.
5) Enjoy simplicity
There’s also another approach to creating a powerful message about sustainability. Instead of praising technology and progress, you can go in the opposite direction. There’s a popular philosophy that states that “the simpler the better”. Many people believe that going back to natural states will make us more sustainable.
Focus on the policies supporting small farmers. Write posts about eating local seasonal foods and cooking at home. Emphasize either new or traditional ways to live sustainably. Both approaches can help you build a community of followers.
6) Refer to game changers
I have already mentioned social proof. It’s is the main agent of change, Therefore, let’s now look at this frame from a different angle. You can encourage your audience to become game changers. Refer to companies, people or ideas that have undermined an existing system.
Tell your readers about the bold industry innovators. Those who have changed the social, political or even natural ecosystems. Explain how their actions led to greater sustainability.
Talk about how your business strives to spark change in a specific industry. Discuss technologies or companies that managed to achieve that. Your company may have business connections with that successful game changer. If not, just tell the story! Describe a practice, company or idea that is making a change through caring. There are businesses that stick to tradition and win.
Whatever stories you choose, strive to saw them together into a cohesive narrative. People will connect these stories with your brand in their minds. Therefore, these cases will boost your content marketing success.
This approach should be used sparingly. You don’t want your content marketing to sound negative. Sustainability involves thinking about possible negative changes in the environment. But it does not involve panic.
Speak about your company taking responsibility for the future of your industry. Or preventing negative changes in a specific area. Describe the sad consequences of keeping the status quo.
This frame is very effective in spurring action. But take it a step further and you have a negative brand message.
Don’t ever give unbacked warnings. Always suggest steps to reverse the dangerous situation. Don’t post only environmental news about pollution or poverty, or overpopulation. This can make your audience feel helpless and turn away from your content.
8) Promote health
People want to be healthy. Talk about medical issues and ways to improve health and you have people’s attention. Everything affects people’s well-being in some way. Global warming, poverty, cutting forests, there’s so much going on in the world. One can view all these as health threats.
Never give any health-related advice not approved by licensed doctors. Don’t make statements that are not backed up with facts. Make sure you focus on wellbeing and improvement. People prefer fighting for good things over beating up enemies.
9) Talk about money
And last but not least, focus your sustainability message on the economic situation. Explore industries and markets. Talk about the financial benefits of doing business in a sustainable way. Discuss smart spending and its positive impact on well being.
You can go large-scale and explore sustainable investment trends. You can go low-scale and provide tips for thrifty living. Whatever you choose, stress that sustainability is profitable in the long run.
We have moved through many types of sustainability messages. And you may be still wondering:
What exactly will speaking about sustainability do for my business? What results should I expect?
Research shows that sustainable content marketing increases business performance. It also provides good returns on investments. Include green and responsible ideas into your content marketing to boost customer loyalty. More loyalty brings more revenues.
When launching a new business or project, incorporate sustainability into its DNA. Make sure you mention it in the mission statement.
If your business already has a history, it’s never late! Add sustainable development into your brand values. Then spread the message across corporate social media channels.
Storytelling tips and tricks
Now I want to give you a few content marketing tips. They will help you present your sustainability message effectively.
The funny thing about storytelling in marketing is that you cannot avoid. Whenever you see corporate communication, listen carefully. It is your brand story being told. Even a website or a single conversation with a customer are the elements of your brand story.
Design your sustainability marketing story with care
For sustainability content, you can alter the basic storytelling elements a little bit. Here are the foundations of your sustainability story.
All your brand messages should be:
- a) empowering,
- b) respectful,
- c) authentic. These include the company mission statement and the responses to Facebook comments. Always promote hope and show the positive side of things. Never confuse being serious about your ideas with sharing boring content. And don’t get too formal in your communication!
- Make sure your customer is the hero of your content marketing story. Not your product or the company itself. Make your hero stand up to an environmental challenge that is relevant to them.
- Encourage your hero. Provide ways they can win. Create a supportive community of fellow-heroes around them. Inspire customers to get to know each other. Make them come together like an army before a serious battle.
- Educate your hero as the story unfolds. Inform them about the latest research and technologies. Give them what they need to face up to environmental challenges. Use relatable examples and metaphors to explain complex things. And remember that an image is worth a thousand words. And a video is a million pictures put together!
- Always show the big picture. Try to avoid greenwashing and moralizing. Your story should be about real changes in the environment or society. Not about shaming others. Avoid black and white thinking, don’t speculate. Never make your hero too special to be a part of a community.
- Make it fun! Use visual storytelling, humor, interactive experiences. Have your hero entertained and proud of themselves.
- Be consistent in everything you do and post on the web. Sustainability is very much about long-term planning. Before posting a single line of text online ask yourself a question. “Does this copy help my business reach its long-term goals ?”
2) Speak loud enough to be heard
Finally, some companies are too timid to reveal their sustainability victories. They don’t share them even with their own employees, not to mention customers. This is wrong for so many reasons! First of all, CUSTOMERS WANT TO KNOW.
Putting a sustainability statement somewhere on a company website is not content marketing. You can choose how open you want to be about your sustainability policies. But keeping silence is not an option anymore.
Messages about sustainability involve starting active conversations with your audience. Environmental topics are so hot! Be ready to receive many emotional responses.
Your sustainability content can become a magnet holding your customer community together.
Or it can be an opportunity missed.
Thank you for reading!
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