We’ve been thinking a great deal about how businesses talk about sustainability this week. We came across a great article by Christine Arena in Fast Company called 6 Ways To Make Brand Sustainability Resonate With Consumers. A brief overview of Christine’s article is below.
In essence Christine argues that marketers make their communication too complex, negative, dry and don’t ask their consumers to support their sustainability efforts. Ultimately, she argues, sustainability should not be about compromise, but about improving quality across all the business’ products and services, as well as the operations required to develop, manufacture, distribute and market them.
1: Market better, not greener
It’s time to start emphasizing concepts that consumers can easily relate to. At Toyota, for instance, the sustainability conversation hinges on quality. The company’s unique approach to quality – called “Kaizen” – translates to improved design, procurement, production, logistics, vehicle performance, and environmental impact. In short, a better end-product and user experience.
Sustainability issues are inherently complex. But the brands that have inspired the most positive behavior change resist the urge to over-communicate. They boil complex issues down to simple platforms that people can easily relate to. For example, Nike “builds a better world.” Zappos “delivers happiness.” In these cases, the promise is clear. People get it, trust it, and want to be a part of it.
3: Be positive
How many times have you seen an ad on TV showing a ravaged ecosystem, starving child or abused animal–and changed the channel? That’s a natural stress response. Humans are programmed to avoid what is uncomfortable, so why put sustainability-related messaging in the downer category? Instead, more brands should do what Obama did in 2012. He didn’t hinge his message on guilt or fear. He said: “you are the change.” He made millions of frustrated people feel personally empowered, and won them over.
4: Ask for it
When Credo mobile launches an environmental or political campaign, it doesn’t leave people hanging. It closes the deal by driving them to take immediate action. In 2012, Credo prompted 20,025,512 people to sign petitions, write emails, make calls, and send letters. And it proved an important point: if a communication is designed to promote positive behavioral action, it is much more likely to do so. More brands should think about what they need consumers to do to support their sustainability efforts–and then ask for the desired response.
5: Show, don’t tell
It’s unreasonable to assume that consumers will translate sustainable attributes into benefits that matter to them. More marketers need to visibly demonstrate how green products make a real difference to people’s lives. For instance, at Plum Organics, the packaging does the talking. Not only does it contain some of the healthiest baby food available, but its stand-up pouch, secure spout and rounded edges give parents a safer and more convenient “self-serve” option, while kids get more control over their eating experience. Benefits like these drive repeat business.
6: Lighten up
What if more brands made sustainable consumption fun? A few years ago, Volkswagen asked this very question. Its contest, The Fun Theory, challenged local thinkers in Stockholm to make games out of healthier, safer, or more environmentally friendly choices. The ensuing piano staircase and bank bottle arcade machine demonstrate that creative and lighthearted approaches engage many more people to take sustainable actions than standard, drier ones.