Choose Your Words Carefully

by , Dec 9, 2013, 9:26 AM
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“It’s complicated” is not only the name of one of my favorite romantic comedies, but it’s the conundrum facing everyone trying to integrate messaging about their efforts to do good into their marketing.

There’s not enough room on your package or time in your commercial for in-depth descriptions of your efforts to attack social problems. Simplify too much, however, and you may be attacked for failing to be transparent. 

Be too subtle or humble, and your message won’t stand out.

Publishing a thoughtful report is important, but chances are it will be read only by a small group of people ardent about the issue or your brand, graduate students and activists. 

Stonyfield Farms founder Gary Hirshberg knows this territory well. Speaking recently at a Sustainable Marketing conference, he described the bind Stonyfield finds itself in and how critical it is for the company to get its communications right to succeed the extremely competitive yogurt market. 

Hirshberg started his presentation with an enlightening and extremely depressing presentation on environmental threats to the health of people and the planet. Then he described Stonyfield’s yogurt industry-leading commitment to using natural ingredients and reducing its carbon footprint. 

The company’s dilemma is that only the most ardent green consumer would do the homework necessary to discern what distinguishes Stonyfield from other yogurt makers making vague, unregulated “natural” claims. There’s tremendous consumer confusion in the marketplace. It’s increasingly tough for Stonyfield to maintain its market share when competitors can undercut it on price because they do not pay premiums for organic ingredients.

To try to combat that, Stonyfield has studied “devoteds,” its core consumers, people who are passionate about eating right. The research revealed that Stonyfield needed to hit those folks over the heads with messaging about what they would not find in their yogurt. That’s why Stonyfield’s yogurt packaging prominently features an image of a sign that says “No toxic pesticides used here.”

The company has a lot riding on the impact of that little sign and associated marketing. “The only way we can cut through this is to be very direct,” Hirshberg said. “Organic alone is not enough to restore us to double-digit growth.”

The realization that “language is incredibly important,” as Hirshberg put it, may be obvious to classical marketers, but it’s a revelation for many who come to the world of cause marketing from the cause side.

To that end, I’ve assembled a year-end collection of insights into the art and science of effectively communicating causes. May it help you do well by doing good in the year ahead.

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