3 ways to tell your sustainability story with impact
Sustainability is more important to business success than ever before.
It has become today’s defining concern for both customers and investors. In a recent survey, nearly two-thirds (61%) of consumers said they expect brands to have clear sustainability practices. Similarly, investors are prioritising sustainability and ESG (environmental, social, governance) criteria when awarding finance.
Businesses are recognising just how critical sustainability is to their future growth.
“Our own sustainability positioning is intertwined with our ambition to be a trusted strategic partner to our customers,” says Ashish Babu, CMO – Europe & UK at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
However, communicating a business’ sustainability messaging and activities can prove a challenge, for two reasons: the high noise levels around ‘green’ initiatives which cut across almost every industry sector, and ever more cautious, questioning audiences, including your customers, partners and investors.
How do you overcome these hurdles and tell sustainability stories that will make an impact with your target audiences?
The answer, in three steps, is:
- show evidence
- be honest and human
- get social media-savvy.
Show don’t tell
As companies build communication strategies, the challenge is bridging the gap between the stories they want to get across and what audiences will engage with. With internal pressure to promote announcements independent of their news value, it is easy to fall into the trap of selling rather than storytelling.
To avoid this slippery slope, it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of your audiences. Would you avidly read the latest press release about a minor product enhancement or a technical certification? Very likely, the answer is no.
The key is identifying genuine stories and letting them speak for themselves.
With ‘greenwashing’ a big concern to the public, it is also critical that actions and communications always align.
“Sustainability should be an integral part of a brand’s narrative,” says Ashish Babu.
“Actions, however, speak louder than words. The sustainability messaging alone is not enough and could even have an adverse effect. That’s why tactics such as thought leadership, personal viewpoints and case studies are so compelling – it prompts the audience to draw its own conclusions but to also engage and participate.“
Crucial to winning your audiences’ trust and attention is telling honest, genuine stories. This means not glossing over the ups and downs your company may have encountered and acknowledging gaps that you still need to fill. Few of your peers will have the ‘entire package’ at this point and being honest about your learning curve will only reinforce your authenticity and credibility.
Although some of your audiences are businesses or public agencies, they are made up of people. A person in a business setting is still a human and responds as such – emotionally rather than rationally.
Research from Google shows that B2B customers are even more emotionally connected to their vendors than consumers. That’s likely because the impact of making a ‘wrong’ purchase is much greater, and B2B buyers need to trust suppliers implicitly.
Making stories relatable at a human level is therefore crucial.
Giving the company a human ‘face’ can also foster an emotional connection − for instance by selecting an in-house ‘sustainability guru’ to become the figurehead of your campaign.
Sweat the content and arrest the scroll
To extend the reach of your story, it’s advisable to ‘sweat the content’ by adapting it to different platforms, reusing and repurposing it. Instead of just writing a blog, for example, create a range of assets for a range of digital channels – infographics, slide shares or podcasts are just a few examples.
A content ‘package’ such as this can also be used to go beyond digital channels, crossing into media, investor and other influencer relations.
Social amplification offers an opportunity not just to promote your story, but to open a conversation with your audiences, adding to your connection with them. However, given public sensitivity around ‘greenwashing’, a strategy should be in place for dealing with negative reactions.
And finally, stick with it: nothing is worse than a hive of activity one month and radio silence for the next three.
About the author: Andrea Willige is a Senior Writer at Formative Content who specialises in sustainability and clean energy initiatives. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.
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