- 92% of people turn to family and friends for advice when choosing products. They believe their suggestions more than ads.
- 88% of consumers believe online reviews as much as they believe suggestions from the people they know.
- 74% of people recognize the value of word of mouth. They claim to believe the recommendations of influencers and fellow-consumers.
Take a look at the stats above. They show why businesses cannot ignore the power of green word of mouth when shaping their green marketing strategies.
What is Word of Mouth Marketing?
Word of mouth marketing is all about starting conversations about your brand or product. It is about giving people natural reasons to talk, not throwing data at them.
In fact, word of mouth can happen without any effort from the company’s side. People may be sharing their actual experiences with the product and doing reviews on their own initiative.
This uncontrollable aspect of word of mouth creates risk. If a brand is careless, negative conversations may take place. But do you know what is even worse than negative word of mouth? Silence.
Why is Green Word of Mouth Important?
WOM is different from advertising because the actual content of these conversations is up to consumers. Marketers can only create an opportunity for a dialogue to take place. They can also try to turn the conversation into the desired direction. But that’s about it.
So, is relying on word of mouth for brand marketing safe? No.
Is it easy to manage word of mouth? Again no.
But why is it still worth the effort?
Here are the reasons:
- Chances are that world of mouth about a brand is already happening even is the brand is unaware of this.
- People don’t believe marketers anymore. They have become immune to contradictory marketing messages.
- People enjoy talking to each other more than listening to brands and even Instagram influencers.
- Word of mouth is a relatively low-cost strategy, and it works long-term. After a brand earns a good reputation among consumers, it can cut the advertising costs. In other words, at some point, people will be talking about the brand on their own initiative.
- WOM makes it easy to target certain groups of consumers. It happens naturally. People share their thought with their closest friends and family. So, the news spreads faster within particular social groups.
General Word of Mouth Techniques
Most popular techniques of word of mouth marketing include:
- Creating a buzz around a product through social media and influencers (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
- Shaping viral messages and getting them shared through social media.
- Creating communities around a brand. Communities help to share information, boost conversations and promote customer loyalty through them.
- Sending out product samples to influencers and gathering reviews.
- Creating conversations through entertainment campaigns and events (both offline and online).
- Corporate blogging on the company website and social media.
- Motivating satisfied customers to share the message about a product with referral programs.
We all know these tricks. How are they applicable to green word of mouth?
Green Word of Mouth
Sustainability marketing happens when companies invest in environmental and social improvement. The next important step is to let their consumers know about it.
Companies engaged in sustainability marketing shape their processes and resources differently. They provide benefits for stakeholders AND enrich external natural and social environments.
Sustainability marketing is a process, not an end goal. It is a commitment to be aligning company values to long-term environmental goals. A sustainable marketing strategy recognizes that the business operates in an ecosystem. This ecosystem has limited resources and environmental issues to be tackled.
How can a brand use the power of word of mouth to enhance its sustainable marketing?
To answer that question, we will focus on three aspects of sustainability conversation:
- The topic
- The message
- The participants.
What Kind of Information Should a Company Share?
There are four sustainability-related topics it can rely on to get people talking:
- People want to know whether the materials used in production can be recycled.
- Is the production process efficient in terms of energy consumption?
- Is the particular product less harmful to the environment than the competing brands?
- Does the production benefit the local community? Does it promote social justice and equal opportunities?
- People want to know whether the distribution involved optimizing capacity usage.
- Were the vessels used for transportation eco-friendly? Also, which fuels were used? Maybe liquid natural gas or low sulfur diesel?
- Or were the shipments delivered by railways or sea vessels?
- People need to know that all the information they receive about the product’s environmental qualities is realistic.
- Consumers will want to see the product as part of a green lifestyle they can choose for themselves.
- Is the company ready to invest in environmental causes outside of their immediate sphere of interest?
- Do the brand’s promotion activities support diversity and equal rights? Are the brand messages directed to all social and ethnic groups?
- Does the price for the product include sustainability-related costs?
- Why is it still worth for customers to pay more for a greener product?
- Is the price fair and affordable to all social groups? Is there a policy in place that makes a product more affordable for certain categories of buyers?
- What will happen if a company shares this information with the audience successfully? What happens when people accept a green message as truthful and worthy of sharing?
It is a concept that reflects a special sense of fulfillment people have when they buy a green product from a brand that is friendly to the environment. Green satisfaction mostly stems from a combination of green promotion and green pricing. It is not a final goal of sustainability marketing, though. After getting green satisfaction people will move on to developing green loyalty.
This term refers to the willingness of customers to stick to a brand based on its environmental and social values. That’s where all green marketing is heading at. Green loyalty goes hand in hand with word of mouth. This is so because consumers who are loyal will be talking about a product on their own initiative. That’s how you get a cumulative effect from your word of mouth efforts.
What Kind of a Sustainability Message Will Keep People Talking?
What is the first thing you come up with when you need to remember something? How would you share a piece of information with friends?
I bet you will not be presenting a report to them, not even a Powerpoint presentation.
You will be telling a story.
So, the main task of a green word of mouth strategy is to turn all the green facts into stories. People love to tell each other stories. What will they be like? Let’s see.
The “Background” Story
This story communicates the history of your brand. You need to explain why the company has come to care about sustainability. People prefer brands they can relate to. Providing background information will create more trust.
You need to show that sustainability is one of the deep values your brand has developed. Let people know that it’s not a fad or marketing trick. It is best to make this kind of a story as personal as possible. If possible, you should make your company CEO or other brand leaders the main characters. What makes them personally interested in sustainability?
- Who mentored the main characters? What circumstances influenced them most?
- Do they have a personal history of victory and failure in the context of sustainability?
This type of story is not about sharing historical facts. It is about having developed strong values within a company. You can talk about green production or green pricing as an attitude your brand has grown into with time.
The “Pragmatic” Story
This is one more type of a story that is aimed at gaining trust with your audience. You will again be explaining why your brand is into sustainability but from a more pragmatic side.
You need to make it clear what benefits your company gets out of its sustainability strategy. Be very specific about them. When people hear about a brand investing in social or environmental causes, the first question they ask is “What do they get in return?”. If you don’t give answers to that question, people will assume the worst.
- How does your sustainability strategy benefit your company?
- What will your company gain when your target audience takes on the sustainable lifestyles you’re offering them?
It’s hard to believe in total selflessness when it comes to big corporations. Make your motivations clear to the public, and people will not feel duped by your sustainability marketing.
The “Future” Story
This story will inspire people to join in with your sustainability goals and vision.
Sustainability is all about the future, so share your plan of making this future better. Talk about your sustainability targets, successes and what your brand is headed to in terms of sustainability.
It is important that the targets are practical, attainable, and relatable. If you want people to share your vision, describe the end goals of your strategy.
Is it a new packaging technology? A low carbon emission production line? A new public school in your community?
- What contribution will your brand make into fighting climate change? What’s your stand on reducing waste or protecting forests?
- What will happen when more people will join your brand in its efforts? What impact can every new customer make?
The “Opposite Argument” Story
This type of story starts with refuting the presupposition people may have about your sustainability strategy. It will go like this: “Some may argue that promoting women’s rights in the workplace in our industry is not so important, but we believe the opposite…”. This technique also allows making strong arguments about smaller sustainability issues.
Overcome negative preconceptions with a surprise. Show your audience an unexpected perspective on a problem. For instance, everyone may expect you to emphasize ethics and values when talking about sustainability. Don’t do that. Start with discussing the economic benefits of your strategy.
Most importantly, validate the opposite point of view first before you refute it.
The “David vs Goliath” Story
This one will be about the underdog fighting against a much stronger opponent. Your company is the protagonist, and a huge environmental problem is the Goliath you stand up against. This type of story helps motivate people to join your sustainability strategy while not seeing immediate results. Talk about your company taking small steps to overcome global warming.
How will these small victories disrupt the status quo?
Describe the smart solutions your company has come up with to stand up to environmental issues. People need a hero that is brave enough to fight the good fight and humble enough to acknowledge his limited resources.
The “Big Change is Coming” Story
This story is about the big developments coming. They may relate to the world economy, technology, or communities. You can share your anxieties about the future of a certain ecosystem and talk about the negative changes you anticipate. Or you can describe the latest developments in the packaging industry.
Here you will explain how new tech solutions will change the market forever. The idea here is to share your brand’s unique insight and be recognized as a sustainability expert. Walk the thin line between talking about people’s anxieties and giving them hope for a better future. Also, make sure you get clear about your company’s role in the big change if it is a positive one. If you were making negative prognoses, explain how your company helps to minimize the damage.
Who Will Take Part in Your Sustainability Conversation?
Now let’s talk about influencers. Word of mouth strategies rely on finding and engaging opinion leaders. Influencers will share your sustainability story with their audiences. They are constantly communicating with the public, receiving feedback, and answering questions. This keeps the WOM going.
There are many international and local organizations dealing with sustainability issues. Partner with them, so that they publicly recognize your brand’s sustainability strategy. Hosting and sponsoring sustainability-related events can also help to create buzz.
Secondly, the CEO of your business can act as a sustainability influencer. The task is to create a lively dialogue with consumers through their social media platforms.
Thirdly, you can look for other opinion leaders who are experts in sustainable development. Also, think about influences who are very relevant to your target audience even if they have nothing to do with sustainability. Find them and start a conversation. Motivate influencers to speak publicly about your company’s sustainable strategy. Their audience is likely to follow your brand.
The Role of an Influencer in Green Word of Mouth
Whatever option you choose, here are the functions of an influencer in boosting green word of mouth:
Great influencers are able to understand the business-related part of your sustainability strategy (shareholders’ interests, financial goals, etc.). They will connect it in their minds and speech with external stakeholders’ agenda. External stakeholders are the local community, ecological organizations, etc.
Influencers can create a balanced conversation where everyone is on the same page. They will translate the language of business into the language of the environment. This is an art of creating shared meaning between contexts. Without it, any sustainability conversation will fall apart. As a result, our WOM strategy will fail.
Sustainability WOM is very much about listening to what people are already saying. After you’ve heard them, you can bring something new to the table. Sustainability topics are generally very emotional. So a great influencer will be neutral but emphatic.
Great sustainability influencers are the agents of change. They can lead people with their message. People can relate to them and identify with them. Great influencers can spur people’s behavior in a certain direction. But they never play on emotions like guilt, fear, or shame. Sustainability influencers should also be able to generate pathos about a certain cause. The trick is to do that without getting the audience anxious or fearful.
Timberland’s director, Margaret Morey-Reuner, shared their sustainability story in her interview. After a lot of customers research, they saw how their target consumers were making their choices. If price-wise and quality-wise two competing products were equal, people bought Timberlands. They acted like that because Timberland shoes are believed to be “greener”. So, the company plans to get all organic in its production by 2020. Right now, they are researching materials AND capitalizing on a “pragmatic” sustainability story.
Freitag is a handbag brand that is winning at green word of mouth marketing with their story. In 2013, it’s founders decided to make their production sustainable. They also sought to promote fair trade and equal opportunity.
However, the journey towards a greener production line was not easy and all. The brothers made a documentary (a trailer here) about their quest for sustainability. They were searching for degradable materials and green production methods. Now their “Background” sustainability story has become a powerful marketing asset.
And here’s one more example of green word of mouth strategy that is genius. Heineken released a sustainability report in 2016. In order to get their young target audience talking about it, they partnered with a Dutch rapper. The rap star communicated the information in a video. What a wonderful example of “translation” done by an influencer!
I hope you liked the post! Feel free to share your thoughts about sustainability WOM in the comments!
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