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How to realise the full potential of sustainability marketing

Companies have an opportunity to enhance brand value by building sustainability strategy into their marketing strategy. However, these activities can often be gradual and fail to harness the full opportunity sustainability brings to business.

As well as protecting societies and natural resources, a joined-up sustainability strategy helps make customers more loyal and improves your brand identity.

A host of research backs this up, including a

2020 study from Catalonia University

which showed a strong and growing link between sustainability scores and brand equity value.
In the age of authenticity and transparency, consumers reject brands that neglect sustainability. They expect companies to show understanding and concern on matters such as climate change, carbon footprints and employee welfare.

This has intensified as Covid-19 accelerated consumers’ awareness around wider environmental and social issues.

Consumers and investors are also wary of greenwashing, which means claiming false or superficial environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials. Greenwashing can quickly damage or destroy trust in your brand.

Communicating detailed, concrete and joined-up ESG efforts and outcomes as part of your marketing strategy can quickly grow it. 

The problem is 62% of executives say they are not ready to communicate their actions on ESG, according to a

2021 study by Barkley and Jefferies

Many marketers also lack the skills to help their leaders achieve this.

2021 research by the Chartered Institute of Marketing

shows 40% marketers do not have a relevant sustainability marketing qualification but would want one.

Marketers are falling behind the needs of consumers, 60% of whom want companies to turn ESG talk into action.

Substantiation of ESG stories is the key thing consumers look for, with evidence of impact against goals. 69% of consumers said they will endorse a brand if they show they are acting on their values. And 66% would support a company if they prove their socially and environmentally responsible actions.

Consumers also want companies to show a joined-up brand across your value chain, from how you treat your people to your products and services, and how you tell your story.

Integrating and measuring sustainability 

To maximise the long-term positive impacts of your ESG strategy, your company needs to integrate it into your core business activities. This enables you as a marketer to connect your ESG goals with the company’s vision, mission and practices and better describe your brand values to end customers. As your clients see this focus, they will support you and your business further. But designing and implementing a sustainability marketing strategy has not always been easy.

With the plethora of sustainability factors and criteria available, it may be challenging to decide which topics to focus on. But you do not need to address every aspect of ESG. 

You can focus on issues that integrate well with your company’s values, goals, industry, and customers. You can then hone these critical areas and amplify your message. 

How to build ESG into your brand 

The 2021 EQ Shareholder Voice survey showed 82% of shareholders think companies are responsible for communicating about ESG but 43% feel they are not doing it enough. 34% also report intense frustration when a company they invest in behaves unethically.

Conversely, where they notice positive action, customers will reward those brands with loyalty; Barkley and Jefferies showed that 60% of consumers are willing to spend more on sustainable brands, and research by Futerra shows 88% of all consumers want brands to help them live more sustainably. 

One key way to prove and market your company’s sustainability efforts is to communicate its strong ESG scores. This builds brand credibility. 37 of the 50 top-performing brands in the S&P 500 index of US companies scored above median on ESG measures.

As a marketer, these scores are essential for demonstrating your values in areas such as corporate citizenship, environmental responsibility, ethical management, and treatment of employees.

Stories are important too, so showcase improvements in areas such as labour conditions, employee diversity, and giving back to the community. Also consider taking a stand on environmental and social justice issues to strengthen your brand further.

To gain competitive advantage, you must help your company build an approach to ESG, including policies and outcomes, that is proactive and integrated. Here are some ideas for achieving this:

Rally around purpose

Keep your promise at all touchpoints. Purpose-based brand strategy is too big for any one function to tackle alone. 

To create a consistent narrative, all functions and leaders must cooperate closely. Then translate your purpose into values and goals that guide communications, operations, people and product development. 

Explore brand values 

Consider how your corporate values may need to shift under the ESG lens and construct messages that feel right for and authentic to your company. 

Redefine your mission statement 

Aligning your entire mission around ESG may not be necessary. But creating an ESG-specific mission statement helps articulate your company’s commitment to these issues and helps set the tone. 

Establish strategic goals

Next, build your ESG values into your strategic plan. Setting and communicating ESG goals, and how you plan to deliver them, shows your business is accountable to investors and consumers. 

Assess and share ESG performance

Investors and consumers want to know about your ESG practices and will research them. Be ready with answers. 

Use assessment tools such as those from EcoVadis, a sustainability ratings provider for all types of company. EcoVadis helps you share your performance with your stakeholders, and monitor performance of your upstream value chain.

Use results-driven stories 

While ESG is a priority, your performance is still the key factor in investment decisions. Highlighting the direct connections between sustainability and business performance, including financial returns and risk mitigation, can support your marketing efforts. 

Use proactive, values-driven success stories with articles written by experts in your company; employee testimonials – and ESG data and outcomes in infographics. 

Make this content easy for stakeholders to find and understand. Keep the content informational, not promotional. If you include a call to action, it should benefit society, not your company. According to the Journal of Advertising Research, customers will only care about your ESG messaging if they do not see it as promotional. 

Make your story authentic 

Your ESG marketing efforts must extend beyond blogs and public relations to ensure your story is authentic. Customers and investors must believe the values and goals communicated are embraced and strategically weaved into your organisation’s fabric. 

One way to grow a robust corporate sustainability culture is engaging employees. Involving and empowering employees in ESG goals and campaigns builds internal loyalty and promotes success.

Consider partnerships to grow and amplify your message. For example, you could join your marketing efforts with other companies that have robust ESG initiatives to help advocate for and promote each other. 

Sustainability marketing – a powerful contribution

Sustainability marketing plays a central role in driving a more sustainable future. As a marketer, you need to look at everything you do through a sustainability lens.

The post-pandemic move towards sustainability is seen almost as a ‘once-in-a-century’ invitation to step beyond strategy into honest storytelling. To engage in ways that connect emotion and passion to action. To collaborate with your stakeholders and help to create a brighter and better future for consumers and business.

But only those who can prove their authenticity and values will have a story worth telling.

With the joined-up and integrated strategies described in this article, you can achieve this while also realising the full brand potential in your ESG practices. It should be a powerful contribution to the long-term success of your company.

Want to learn more about how to develop your marketing?

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