How to Communicate Your Brand’s Sustainable Credentials Online

Passion Digital Passion Digital 28/10/2021 6 minutes

We all know that sustainability is front of mind for brands and consumers in 2021 – and rightly so. We’re being told on television, on social media and in the press that it’s our collective responsibility to save the planet before it’s too late. Many brands have made great strides to lessen their environmental impact, from their products and packaging to their processes… but what is the best way to communicate this to customers in a fast-paced e-commerce environment? 

For eco-driven companies with green messaging at their core this is relatively straightforward, but for some brands it can be a complicated challenge to unpack. If you’re a cheap and cheerful e-com business driven by volume of sales, do customers really care that your team went on a tree-planting excursion to offset the company’s carbon emissions? If you’re operating in a luxury market, does the fact that you use recyclable packaging deserve more attention than the exclusive, top-quality materials used to make the product? 

When it comes to messaging there is always a hierarchy of information, and working out where sustainability comes in that hierarchy is key to communicating your eco-credentials successfully. When it’s hard to find the right place for sustainability in your optimal user journey it can be tempting to leave it out altogether, but then you run the risk of customers assuming that your silence on the topic equates to inactivity – or worse, indifference. 

Here’s the process that I would use to develop a messaging strategy for one of my clients.

1. Know the Attitudes of Your Target Market

It’s easy to assume that everyone cares about the environment and that all customers want to hear you wax lyrical about your company’s sustainable policies, from your paperless invoicing to your cycle-to-work scheme. However, we only have to glimpse at some audience research to see that environmental attitudes can vary considerably depending on your target demographic. 

When asked whether they would rather pay more for an eco-friendly product or pay less for a non eco-friendly version, around 60% of the audience in GWI’s Core Survey – made up of hundreds of thousands of people across 47 countries – said that they would choose the eco option. 

However, when we drill down into the responses by country, we start to see some interesting differences. Responses from the UK are slightly down compared to the world average, with 53.7% of the audience saying they would pay more for an eco-friendly product. Spain, on the other hand, had one of the highest ‘pay more for eco’ responses at 69%. In The Netherlands, which we may expect to have a strong eco conscience, only 49.5% of the audience chose the ‘pay more for eco’ option.  

The more we split the data – by age group, gender, household income, education level and so on – the more nuanced the picture we can build of your audience’s preferences. If you’re appealing to highly educated, high income females in the 25-34 age bracket living in Spain, for example, environmental issues are likely to feature highly on their radar and should be built into your core sales messaging. If, for whatever reason, your research indicates that an environmental message won’t resonate with your target audience, it can take a back seat in the sales journey.   

2. Order Your USPs

When you’ve done your audience research, sit down with a piece of paper and write down five of the key selling points of your business. For example, you might highlight:

  • British-made products
  • Fast and free delivery
  • Family-run business
  • Only the highest quality materials used
  • Award-winning product range

This is a good exercise in honing in on the important pillars of your messaging strategy. If none of your USPs are explicitly environmentally focused, think about how your eco credentials can permeate them. For example:

  • Reduce your carbon footprint by shopping local: All of our products are proudly made right here in Britain
  • Free next-day delivery using 100% recyclable packaging
  • We’re a family-run business with a heart and a conscience – we aim to be carbon neutral by 2030

This isn’t about changing your USPs, it’s about shifting the perspective to give them a sustainable angle – but only if it’s true. Don’t fall into the trap of ‘greenwashing’ your eco efforts by making generalised or sensational claims about your environmental impact or preaching more than you practise. 

If one of your core values is your commitment to quality materials and you only use a specific type of marble from a quarry in Mongolia… that’s perfectly okay! Don’t try to hide the fact that it racks up air miles or that the process used to extract it is energy intensive because consumers will see through it. Instead, you might want to highlight its superior quality in the sales copy and choose a different arena – maybe a blog post – to justify your reason for choosing it while communicating how you are offsetting any environmental damage caused as a result of your business.  

3. Understand the User Journey and Where to Place Your Messaging

Concentrate on your key user journeys and consider what touchpoints a customer will have with the brand before they make a purchase. Very often brands will have all of their eco credentials listed on an ‘Environmental Impact’ page on their website that languishes in the footer and gets very little traffic. If your message is important enough to convince customers that they should purchase from you, make sure it gets in front of them at the right time.

You might want to consider placing eco messaging in the following places:

In your ads

Think back to that audience research – do you think any of your audiences would respond well to the eco angle? If so, make sure that you lead with copy and creative that showcases your sustainability. If other audiences are less likely to be convinced straight away by the eco angle, show them ads that highlight a different USP first. Once they are in your funnel and aware of your brand or product, you could serve them sustainability messaging as part of the consideration phase. 

On product pages 

Product pages do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to converting a customer, which means that eco messaging can easily be muscled out in favour of other purchase triggers. To reduce clutter in your most valuable selling space, why not have a set of icons that quickly and efficiently convey the eco benefits of a specific product?

On your social media feeds

Social media is often an important touchpoint in a user’s journey as they get a feel for the brand’s ethos, product range and angle. There is loads of potential to include environmental posts in your content calendar, whether highlighting the sustainable aspects of your products, showing the steps your business is taking to be a greener workplace or tapping into awareness days such as Zero Waste Week. (Or Unblocktober, just like Passion is doing this month!).

4. Consider Your Customer-Facing and Investor-Facing Messaging

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have a page on your website devoted to your sustainability policies, you just can’t rely on customers seeing it before they make their purchasing decision. Standalone information pages are an important way of stating your intention – planting your green flag in the ground, as it were – for investors, potential new hires or anyone else with more than just a passing interest in your brand. 

Pulling all of your sustainability credentials and policies into one resource on your website can be really useful for brand building. Make it a pleasant reading (or viewing) experience rather than expecting users to wade through text-heavy policies. You can point people towards it from elsewhere on your website with a simple directive:

“Want to find out more about how we’re working to reduce our carbon footprint? Read more here.” 

As before, remember to be careful of greenwashing and try to keep it positive – this is a large and scary topic that holds the danger of straying into the apocalyptic language of ‘crisis’ and ‘destruction’. Identify the small steps you’re taking and the larger strides you plan to take to travel in the right direction rather than dwelling on the problems and the long way to go until they are fixed.

You’ve Done the Doing… Don’t Be Afraid to Do the Talking

If you’ve made a conscious effort to make your business more sustainable, you have every right to be proud and want to share that with your customers. With a little bit of planning you can implement a messaging strategy that incorporates your eco agenda without overwhelming your other USPs. 

Is your audience research outdated or your messaging strategy muddled? Get in touch with our Insight and Strategy team, whose expertise transcends all of our channel specialisms – or check out our blog for more advice on all things digital marketing.