How Sustainable Communications Can Help You Survive the Recession – 4/29

Sustainable life media logo jpeg There is a tangible opportunity for brands that create effective
sustainable communications to stand out in a crowded market. But up
until now, the communications industry has not helped to build trust
between business and consumers, especially when it comes to
communicating sustainability. 

Posted Apr. 29, 2009
By Diana Verde Nieto, Sustainable Life Media

Consumers are now increasingly demanding that the brands they
interact with are environmentally and socially responsible; globally,
79% would prefer to buy products
from environmentally responsible companies. And this burgeoning
movement of conscious consumers isn't only to be found in wealthy
Western economies; consumers in emerging markets such as China, India
and Brazil are even more engaged than their peers in Europe and the US.

Responding to the sustainability agenda creates competitive
advantage for brands that actively communicate with consumers on the
issues that matter to them. Moving from passive, one dimensional
communications to active engagement adds real value because it enables
the brand to deliver a service beyond the products they sell; helping
consumers to reduce their environmental impacts. But this can only be a
credible strategy if the brand can demonstrate a real commitment to
responsible business and sustainability. Environmental and social
messages are simply not enough.

In a global market that's being hit hard by an economic downturn,
it's no surprise that it the focus for most marketing is value. In such
a crowded market, where every brand is pushing the value message,
competitive advantage will come from differentiation. And in this
context, sustainable communication offers real opportunities for
enhancing brand equity. The brands that master it will be better placed
to ride out the recession and poised to capture sizeable market share
when it ends.

So what is sustainable communication? It's about dematerialisation;
increasing the emotional value of brands while decreasing the physical
resources that are used in creating their communications. And enhancing
the emotional value of your brand engenders loyalty and trust, which
are both highly valuable assets today.

Sustainable communications is not about turning brands green
overnight, or using natural or typically "green" iconography in your
communications. In fact, this approach can lead to accusations of
greenwash, especially if you're in the automobile or petrochemical
sector. Instead, it's about creating compelling communications,
underpinned by fact, with a clear call to action for consumers.

There is a tangible opportunity for brands that create effective
sustainable communications to stand out in a crowded market. But up
until now, the communications industry has not helped to build trust
between business and consumers, especially when it comes to
communicating sustainability. Consumers are sceptical and confused –
recent research from Forrester shows that as many as 77% of them don't
believe the environmental claims made by brands. GfK-Roper reports that
64% want third party verification of green claims. Confusion and lack
of trust are among the main reasons why consumers do not buy
sustainable products.

At the same time, the market context is changing because digital is
transforming business dynamics. The power of search is incredible;
consumers can find anything, anytime, anywhere and they are actively
seeking information about the brands with which they interact. There is
simply no longer anywhere to hide. But companies are missing
opportunities to tap the interactive potential of the web, provide
transparency and engage with a wider consumer base. That said, it is
estimated that over the next 12 to 18 months, 60% of companies will move to digital marketing activities
in order to communicate more sustainably. And it will save them money,
too, because digital offers real time measurable data on the
effectiveness of campaigns, thereby improving efficiency and marketing

So what does it take to create sustainable communications? At Clownfish,
we believe there are four principles, which conveniently fit into 4
C's: credibility, clarity, consistency and conversation. Putting them
together in a creative solution will help to regain the trust of

Credibility: this means no more fluff. Communications have to be
underpinned by robust, verifiable technical data. This may not sound
exciting, but it's important, because sustainability communications
without substance are being singled out by NGOs and are even being
banned; in the UK, the ASA ruled 19 ads should be withdrawn for making misleading green claims in 2007, a rise from the 10 banned in 2006.

Clarity: clear, genuine, authentic messages promote transparency,
and research shows there is a positive correlation between transparency
and trust. This means that instead of making vague statements about
being "eco-friendly", touch points need to be tangible. 88% of
consumers have a positive association
with the concept of energy efficiency, while only 61% feel the same way
about "green". Eco-labelling, while sometimes helpful, does not always
provide clarity. When Boots, a British retailer, surveyed its consumers
after labelling a range of shampoos with its carbon footprint, they
found that 28% didn’t know that a product's carbon footprint was related to climate change.

Consistency: sustainability is not a trend. In fact, at Clownfish,
we believe it's the business model for the 21st century. Sustainability
is systemic, and not about tackling single issues, and as such,
principles should be applied consistency across business processes.
Companies need to develop long term sustainability strategies that are
matched by rigorous business discipline, and create a movement, not a
campaign. Consistency is also important in the sense that messages must
resonate with the company's existing voice in the market place.

Conversation: in the old world of the Mad Men, the brands that won
were those that told the best stories. But digital is changing this and
in the new world, the brands that win will be those whose consumers and
other stakeholders tell the best stories. It used to be a one way
narrative, and now it's a two way conversation. Tap the interactive
potential of the Internet to engage your critics as well as your fans,
get penetration into the bloggersphere and create a clear call to
action for your consumers.

But remember that ultimately (and this is coming from a
sustainability communications consultancy), what you do is more
important that what you say.


Diana Verde Nieto is CEO of Clownfish, a sustainability and
communications consultancy founded in 2002 that helps companies realize
sustainability opportunities in their products and processes and embed
sustainability at the heart of their brands.

No Responses to “How Sustainable Communications Can Help You Survive the Recession – 4/29”

  1. Thanks for re-posting this Kara
    The SB09 conference will be discussing these topics and many more.
    Feel free to follow me on Twitter and I’ll keep you updated 🙂 @mvellandi

Leave a Reply