To connect with socially aware consumers, you need to operate in a socially responsible manner

The value of honesty and genuine communication should never be overlooked when marketing to savvy consumers, writes Sefiani senior consultant Julia Hoy.

The world is now aligning behind the idea that for a sustainable future, companies need to set net-zero carbon emission targets. As companies roll out their target announcements, the world is watching to see which ones act to meet their commitments, and which use it as a front to continue with business as usual. There is huge appetite from stakeholders – from shareholders to partners, employees and consumers – to understand what companies are doing to make a positive difference. The challenge and opportunity for companies is to meaningfully engage their audiences on their sustainability journeys.

Sustainability does not work without transparency

Just because everyone is doing it, does not make it easy. The ambitious targets set by many companies require them to forge new ground, take risks, invest in R&D, collaborate and occasionally fall short. Talking about the challenges and the lessons learned will rarely make an organisation look like it has failed so long as it demonstrates its commitment to keep trying. A failure acknowledged can actually help a brand build social capital – as in the case of Charity Water, an organisation that decided to admit one of its water drilling projects failed after one year. The head of Charity Water openly conceded defeat and came back with a plan. When the team returned to drill a few months later, so many more people had become invested in the story and were willing them on to succeed.

Even the hurdles that are less forgivable, like Nestle’s ‘sustainably sourced’ cocoa beans that had come from farms using child labour, can be mitigated for better outcomes when organisations are honest, human, and demonstrate a willingness to do better.

What consumers want

It is not news that across the world, people prefer to purchase products and services from brands that reflect their own hopes for a better future. Many brands with the best intentions fail to resonate and connect with their audiences, but the ones that do, tend to have four things in common:

#1. They’re optimistic: According to a study by Greenbiz, videos positively depicting nature’s beauty and innovative climate change solutions were 50 times more effective at driving views than negative messaging or even a combination of positive and negative. Brands that call out the challenges in sustainability can leave audiences feeling disenchanted, unempowered and small.

The H&M’s Conscious Collection, which uses products that contain at least 50% sustainable materials, consistently delivers content that is positive and inspiring, helping audiences feel like they can be part of the solution.

#2. They’re about ‘we’, not ‘me’: Brands can miss the mark by getting caught up with sharing a positive story without stopping to consider the consumer relevance. This is why so many companies have a bank of content from activities that has never been properly used. The mistake is twofold: firstly, a disconnect between brand and social action and, secondly, forgetting to answer the question ‘what’s in it for my audience?’. Some examples of brands that have done a good job of aligning social actions to brand purpose and telling their stories in a relevant and engaging way include Gillette’s #TheBestMenCanBe, addressing toxic masculinity, and Ariel’s #SharetheLoad campaign.

#3. They keep it simple: To engage consumers on the concept of circular consumption and the role of consumers in that process, IKEA created disassembly instructions for their best-selling furniture. The instructions aimed to help customers repair, reuse, resell and recycle IKEA furniture, delivering an important message in a way that is fun and on-brand.

#4. They are honest: Brands need to do what they say they will do. Unilever’s soap brand, Dove, committed to build body confidence in young people, and to do this, they have so far reached 62 million young people through self-esteem workshops. This has given Dove a powerful platform to develop award-winning campaigns, like Real Beauty Sketches, that break through the clutter, come across as genuine, relevant and meaningful and drive brand purchase and loyalty.

The value of strategic communications to a company’s sustainability activities and social action should not be underestimated. With the influx of companies stepping up to the plate to make public commitments and build reputations as good corporate citizens, it will be interesting to see which companies succeed in meeting the demands of increasingly savvy audiences.

Julia Hoy is a senior consultant at Sefiani.


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