Our ability as marketers to encourage brand engagement in the traditional sense is fading fast, so brands must continually build interest and trust through authentic messaging. That’s why I’m left scratching my head when I see many eco friendly brands still overselling themselves by saturating the marketing with buzz words such as “pure” or “natural” without supporting data. Simply put: there’s often a gap between their talk and their walk. According to the latest “Green Gauge” survey from global research company GFK, consumers are growing ever more skeptical of green claims: 22% of consumers aren’t sure about the accuracy of environmental claims and 10% don’t know how well companies carry out their environmental responsibilities.
How can brands maintain authenticity at every level while staying true to their brand promise? Consider the following four tips:
1. Targeted communication: Today’s customers want companies to get to “know” them and send them relevant green communications that are in sync with their specific wants and needs. These insights provide the opportunity for marketers to create and deliver targeted content to their customers and even find new, proven ways to engage. What motivates these individuals—energy and cost savings, health and well being, social or political concerns, environmental issues? Or is it a need to be seen as trendsetters by adopting green behaviors? For example, while many companies send out sustainability reports, Microsoft created the Microsoft Green Blog, to facilitate discussions about the company’s environmental initiatives and other improvements in environmental technologies. It also created a more approachable method of connecting with customers through a Twitter handle, @Microsoft_Green.
Note: In a future post, I’ll address specific green audience segments such as cultural curatives, Millennials, LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability), naturalites, and drifters, and how deeper knowledge of their lifestyle preferences should drive your content strategy.
2. Authenticity and honesty vs. “flash”: Choose marketing language carefully, avoiding supercharged adjectives that make your organization appear to be boasting about sustainability. And, make sure that the message is timed properly to sync with actual execution of these initiatives, so they make perfect sense to stakeholders.
Avoid eco activities such as recycling or green packaging if they are unrealistic to execute. In fact, such claims can backfire and have an adverse effect: i.e., “greenwashing.” People appreciate and respond to honest communication. Whether you’re marketing to a B2B audience or consumer, telling your story in an open, honest fashion will build trust and loyalty. For example, McGraw-Hill created the Environmental Management System outlining its commitment to the environment and their strategy for managing the company’s impact on it. The report clearly admits that it does emit green house gases and waste, but that it works closely with its property management company to minimize the impact.
On the flip side, Huggies Pure & Natural Diapers combined environmental buzz words with packaging that suggests nature and sustainability with only vague mentions of the actual changes made to the product that don’t really add up to a whole lot of green.
3. Constant evaluation and change: Audiences evolve and change and so should your content strategy. More green companies are leveraging analytics to build accurate client profiles and create customized communications programs that help customers reach their goals, such as energy saving, recycling, organic lifestyle, etc. This sends customers a clear message that your organization “understands” and cares about them, helping to build loyalty while strengthening one’s market position and driving ROI. Ford Motor Company keeps an archive of its past and current Sustainability Reports available for public viewing. In each report, the company outlines its ongoing progress and commitment to creating vehicles with more sustainable materials, reducing green house gas emissions, and changing the way it interacts with the environment.
4. Consistency and commitment to the cause: If your organization has made a sincere commitment
to sustainability, show it both internally (among employees and advisors) and externally. Share your plans and communicate your support of such initiatives clearly and thoughtfully without bragging. Patagonia created a website page dedicated to educating the public about their green initiatives. It outlines their supply chain, their donations to grassroots environmental organizations, the environmentally friendly fabrics used in their products and their ongoing 40-year commitment to the environment.
Today, brands without substance behind them will falter. Conversely, those that enable their constituents to discover their value will prosper. Marketers no longer need to capture their audience, but should embrace ways to engage their customers in dialogue.
What techniques does your organization enlist to position itself as authentic?