Sustainability has increasingly become a marketing imperative for businesses. Globally, about 85% of people say that they've shifted their purchase behaviour to be more sustainable, which indicates that it is a critical part of how brands engage with consumers and determine their purchase decisions, said Liz Caselli-Mechael, head of digital and content, AVP (Global) at Nestlé, who was speaking at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's Content 360 conference. She added that there has been an increasing willingness to pay a premium for sustainable products across many countries, which only increases as the demographic gets younger.
Futhermore, a recent study titled "No Planet B" revealed that even though many consumers believe businesses can make more meaningful changes on sustainability and social factors than individuals or governments alone, 75% are fed up with the lack of progress made by businesses to-date. Close to three in four (74%) respondents also said they would be willing to cancel their relationship with a brand that does not take sustainability and social initiatives seriously. Echoing Caselli-Mechael's views, 89% said that they would be more willing to pay a premium for their products and services if organisations can clearly demonstrate the progress they are making on environmental and social issues, along with 87% and 86% who said they would work for and invest in such companies respectively.
To that end, Caselli-Mechael shared four main steps brands need to follow in their sustainability marketing journey at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's Content 360 conference.
1. Follow the ABCs
When trying to position your company as a sustainable brand of the future, brands must keep in mind the ABCs: Authenticity, boldness and consistency. According to Caselli-Mechael, these are three key principles that will make brands’ sustainability communication credible and engage the right audience.
To foster authenticity, brands should ensure that its sustainability promise connects to their brand promise and purpose.
Additionally, when building brand partnerships, companies should also take a long-term approach and align with firms that have a similar purpose in mind. They should ideally avoid flash in the pan campaign partnerships. “When it comes to doing the hard work of becoming more sustainable and regenerative on the ground, no company or brand can do alone...We really lean on partners, no matter what component of sustainability we're focused on,” Caselli-Mechael said. She added that such partnerships further bring authenticity when brands communicate and bring some of those sustainability principles through in a marketing environment.
Boldness also requires a brand to break out of their comfort zone. Brands should take a perspective, a stance and an action on sustainability that speaks specifically to their audience and the brand, even if it is something not everyone would just agree with. Caselli-Mechael said this also doubles up as an opportunity for brads to understand the competitive landscape. While there are certainly some elements of sustainability that standards brands should be meeting, when it comes to executing real sustainable activations, brands should “bring through elements that are unique, that force forward a conversation holistically in the industry”. This would fare better than “checking the box” or doing what is really necessary and expected from all brands.
As for consistency, Caselli-Mechael says the problem arises when brands try to cover many areas. This results in them moving from topic to topic, without building consistency in their communication focus. “It can't be a one off or one month a year that that sustainability activation kicks in. It has to be something that shows up consistently everywhere and your brand has to drive that consistency. That's what will really make what you are doing sticky and memorable for your consumers,” she explained.
2. Bring a human voice to your communications
In classic marketing, the product tends to be the hero in any storyline. However, when speaking about sustainability, brands need to make their communication more compelling by adding in a human factor. For instance, Nestlé markets its coffee brand by incorporating its actual team and employees into its sustainability message. Its marketing includes stories around sustainability told with real employee voices from West Africa, the US, Middle East and Brazil. This helps consumers connect to those behind the scenes helping to bring the product into the hands of the consumers.
3. Go beyond pre-sales
Actions around sustainability, explained Caselli-Mechael, also shouldn't just stop at the pre-purchase stage. Consumers should also be able to experience the company's initiatives post purchase - for example when unpacking a product. Caselli-Mechael explained that the goal is to leave consumers thinking about what goes into the product they have purchased, every time they use or consume it. She added that there are two main components that come through when marketing sustainability through a product.
The first is to celebrate the backstory of the product. Incorporating the full journey of the product, and all of the value and care that goes into it, will create a lasting relationship beyond just transaction. As such, consumers can garner appreciation for those involved not just in creating the product, but also the positive impact made on the planet and community. Furthermore, this also allows consumers to play an active role in the journey through their purchase and in turn, play a role in creating a positive impact in the greater ecosystem.
4. Find the real ambassadors
Brands should also look for advocacy and ambassadorship through the less trodden paths, shared Caselli-Mechael. When working with influencers, and content creators, brands need to go beyond the “aesthetic and glossy version of sustainability” to build social proof of real action and impact. Brands need to amplify these real voices and identify where they already have advocates – such as employees and consumers – and equip them with product knowledge, and experiences that are really sustainability centric.
Caselli-Mechael said, “We're increasingly disconnected from how our food or our products are produced. Think about how you're bringing a sustainability narrative [to life] and how you can create more closeness between the consumer and that experience?”
Moreover, advocates also feel more empowered when brands hand over the content reins to them and allow for user generated content. However, with many unfamiliar with the brand or its sustainability practices, there can also be a level of risk involved. To counter this, a brand can give their advocates the opportunity to visit a farm or farmers that were involved in making the product If an advocate is able to experience the brand’s sustainability first-hand, they are then able to further encapsulate the brand's efforts in their own words, she explained.
Lastly, brands can encourage these advocates with incentives and recognition to show them that they are valued and their contributions are recognised - even if that is not necessarily where brands’ highest quantitative digital impact is.
I think working on the substance of sustainability requires extra care for that relationship - not just where your biggest blockbuster numbers are, but for all of your partners and those who engage with you throughout that process.
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