14 May 2012
What can corporates do to communicate their sustainability credentials to a consumer audience?
Consultant | Read all George's posts
This was the question that confronted me at the very end of the Responsible Business Summit 2012. It's always the quick chats in the breaks that provide the most interesting moments at conferences. I was taken aback slightly because it hit the nail on the head for what was buzzing around on the day.
Indeed, there are no simple quick fixes – each industry and even company has its own issues to deal with, so it would be foolish to be drawn into detailing a prescription on what to do – three spoons, two times a day, for four weeks – that type of thing.
But the question hit a nerve. I think the best approach is to articulate some challenges or questions that should stay close at hand to ensure the right course is taken – five questions in fact:
- Are you are truly sustainable or green? It was openly acknowledged in the final session of the second day that no one actually is. I was impressed and pleased with its honesty. It is actually liberating, because from a communications stand point, the journey becomes the focus, not the commitment to the end goal (which is there and will happen, but is far enough in the future to make it feel abstract and well, flaky).
- Are you treating sustainability like it’s a trend? Communicators work with trends. It seems sometimes that trends are the lifeblood of a communications strategy borne from a broadcast mindset. Let the trends step aside and simply tell your story. Ask yourself ‘what is the emotion that is going to touch people individually and directly?’ and get started from there.
- Have you integrated your sustainability strategy into your brand and business? If your brand positioning does not allow for sustainability you can’t even begin communicating effectively in this space. It will feel like an add-on because frankly it will be. Get your sustainability journey into your brand position (in a unique way). This is not simple: sustainability is easily drawn into ‘for the good of society’ arguments. Brands are about making promises that can be (and are) affirmed with every touchpoint, to every individual. Use simple, specific promises that tease out an emotional response from the message recipient.
- Do you make your issues appear complicated? It’s a bit like science in that the issues are multi-faceted and can be misleading. There is always another view that can counter and ruin you carefully crafted messages. Be clear about the problems in your business, be honest about them. There are always obstacles – celebrate when they are overcome.
Is your language tired? The main problem with communicating the sustainability message to consumer audiences is one of language. PLEASE avoid terms like sustainability, social responsibility or being a corporate citizen. People put your message in the box marked ‘boring until something goes wrong’. Look at it through a different lens. Fran Leedman (Jaguar Land Rover) had some interesting comments to make on credible space corporates can take – either
- The transparent information provider and educator
- The product/brand innovator
- The partner sharing ideas and actions, or
- The collaborator for good.
But I am sure there are many more. You need to send a signal that the business is actually doing something different.
Finally, you can talk until you are blue in the face (sorry, green in the face) but without the business actually doing something you'll be standing still. Now, get out there and use a bit of creativity to deliver your message, or lose competitive advantage. It's that simple.
Any statements made in these blog posts are the views of the blogger and do not necessarily represent the views of The Group.