Getting Past 'Doing The Right Thing'

A lot of sustainable companies truly operate with conviction. They’re buying better ingredients; exceeding industry standards for quality and safety; doing the right thing by employees; and spending more to reduce their impact on the environment.

Their behavior isn’t driven by the market, or because they think it’ll win over new customers. It’s just the way they do business. It’s “doing the right thing,” as we’ve heard time and time again, and to these companies, there is no other option.

After a decade working with such principled brands, I’m still startled when people outside the natural and organics industry become exposed to these ideals and effusively gush about what they learn. What has become somewhat commonplace to me working in the heart of this industry is still novel in the mainstream. 

People are interested. 

Of course, your product has to work or, better yet, be truly remarkable. But once expectations are met, most people are interested in learning more. Give them a reason to believe, a story to share and a way to connect on a personal level and you’ll build brand loyalty.  People are curious about all the things that fall under the corporate social responsibility (CSR) umbrella, from the fair treatment of employees to the practices employed to care for the environment.

Like Untangling a Hair Ball

Often, the challenge for marketers does not lie in finding the stories, but telling them. Brands get paralyzed by their own humility, not wanting to sound too lofty, their fear of exposing areas that aren’t so ideal in the process of sharing good, and the allocation of precious marketing dollars to promote good deeds instead of product. Plus, social responsibility stories can be complicated to tell and often cover a lot of gray, somewhat political territory.  It’s hard to satisfy everyone. 

Where to begin? Here are five recommendations for shaping your story. 

1. Consider what role you want sustainability to play in your branding. Are you a mission-driven brand where it’s central to everything you do? Or are your commitments limited to a special initiative or two, but will still help differentiate your brand? The volume of communication should map with your level of commitment and alignment with your core values.

2. Embrace your flaws. There will be people in your company who won’t want to share anything because they think there is still much left to do. Consumers just want to know you’re trying. Sure, they’ll push you to do better, but being transparent builds a lot of credibility. Consider sharing your aspirations and goals, and what you’ve already done to get there. 

3. Engage people in what you believe. Revealing your CSR commitments can be as simple as including a mention on your packaging or as clever as rewarding consumers with free product or cause donations for pledging like-minded behavior in their own lives, such as biking to work or establishing backyard wildlife habitats. More complex tools – digital maps, QR codes, videos, etc. – can invite consumers to explore for deeper meaning on supply chains, quality standards and environmental commitments. 

4. Build patterns of recognition. CSR isn’t a one-time communication initiative. It’s a drum you have to keep beating. The venue may change and sometimes the tune, but you have to be consistent for the melody, if you will, to stick. There are two ways to succeed on this front. One is repetition – finding as many ways and channels to get your messages across. The other is embracing a “no dead ends” philosophy, linking from your advertising to your packaging to your website and so on. 

5. Collaborate and associate. Don’t go it alone! In the world of sustainability there is power and influence in numbers. Share your story on speaking panels, apply for awards and align with causes that connect your brand with like-minded peers that will increase awareness and introduce what you’re doing to new audiences.

The bottom line is that people aren’t just buying a product; they’re buying the passion and beliefs that go into making it. With consumers rewarding brands that align with their values, taking time to build more meaningful connections is good for business. 

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