Excerpt of Forbes by contributor Jessi Baker
The role of the marketer is evolving at pace. In recent decades, the trade has undergone a radical digital transformation and evolved from a one-way broadcast to a conversation: on top of their regular campaign cadence, today’s marketers are communicating with customers and responding to events in real-time on social media. Marketers are also weathering diminishing customer trust with messaging overhauls and influencer collaborations. And, of course, they’re no longer expected to simply sell products – the rise of purpose-led marketing means alignment with social values is fundamental to a successful customer journey.
Today, a new shift is once again reshaping the job: the shift towards sustainability communications.
Sustainability is the new digital
In a recent conversation with Sarah Shilling, CMO at UNLIMITED Group, she highlighted the importance of marketing’s new remit: “Sustainability communications are no longer a hygiene factor, but a priority factor. Many customers now look for sustainability as one of the priority filters to purchase, often over price.”
With 79% of consumers (Cap Gemini) changing purchase preference based on products’ social or environmental impact, marketers are racing to capitalise with sustainability messaging. Take Sainsbury’s, which recently retired its longstanding ‘Live Well for Less’ slogan in favour of the sustainability-focused ‘Helping Everyone Eat Better’. However, as Sarah Shilling explains, the opportunity is not without risk: “Sustainability is unforgiving. More so than price, delivery and quality. If you get your sustainability messages wrong or your promises are lies, then it’s a long road to try and claw that back.”
The result is that today’s marketers bear the burden of a significant new responsibility. They are increasingly expected to be au fait with life-cycle assessments, to know the difference between ‘cradle to gate’ and ‘cradle to grave’ and to tell PET from rPET.
Sustainability communications tips for today’s marketers
For those feeling burdened by these new demands and wary of falling into the greenwashing trap, here are a few practical considerations:
- Build your messaging on facts and proof: It might be tempting to ‘polish’ the story of your environmental impact with exaggerated claims or even unofficial ‘green’ logos on your packaging. Don’t do it. Playing fast and loose with the facts does everyone a disservice and with regulators upping the ante, you’re increasingly likely to pay the price for it. To make sure your messaging is fact-based and evidenced, you’ll need to connect with your sustainability team to understand the reality of your supply chain impact.
- Focus on where you can make the biggest difference: take a step back from what’s trending in the headlines and focus on the most relevant issues for your business. If you want to talk about how you’re lowering your carbon emissions by changing your packaging, that’s great – but be clear whether this accounts for 5% or 40% of your product’s total footprint.
- Don’t wait for perfection: Brand marketers are used to crafting perfectly optimised creative campaigns. Naturally, they might be reluctant to bring attention to an imperfect supply chain. But don’t wait for perfection: it’s important to communicate your progress. To be a climate leader, you need to set an example that others can follow, and that means communicating your journey with humility. As Milkadamia CMO, Christina Downey warns, “Customers are increasingly dissatisfied with insincerity, virtue signalling and posturing. Imperfection is OK, just be transparent about it.”
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