November 26, 2020

7 Experts Discuss How They Are Creating Sustainable Brands

by Laura Harker

Sustainability isn’t too far from customers’ minds these days. With 68% of US internet users believing product sustainability to be an important decision-making factor, it’s become something that brands can’t afford to ignore anymore.

While many brands will have already considered ways to make their products or services more eco-friendly, what some don’t think about is their marketing. Not only can sustainable marketing help to open up your brand to some wider target audiences, but it can inform and encourage consumers about the benefits of sustainability. Converting consumers to greener purchasing preferences could motivate them to switch to your more environmentally-friendly brand.

Some brands find that they struggle to get their sustainable marketing off the ground. It’s more nuanced than regular brand marketing and will require a bit more in the development and planning stages. But it doesn’t have to be that hard for you.

In this article, we’ll go over our best tips for starting out in sustainable marketing as well as seeing what other brands have done to incorporate green practices into their branding.

Commit to Sustainable Packaging & Recycling

These days, plastic is out and reusable, recyclable packaging is very much in.

The demand for sustainable packaging has grown over time, from 49% of consumers saying they would pay more for it in 2011 to 57% in 2018. The numbers show that customers are actually happy to put their money where their mouth is, as over 50% of the same audience has actively reduced their plastic usage over the past 12 months.

Sourcing sustainable packaging is something that the swimwear brand Triffid Swim has done, according to Emily Amor:

We have gone to great lengths to incorporate more environmentally friendly practices into our business processes wherever possible. One way we've done this is through sourcing sustainable packaging materials, including compostable mailing satchels, twine, and recycled paper, as part of our commitment to our brand ethos. So as a customer, you immediately see these reflected in our website and social media messaging, and as soon as you receive your order in your hands.

Start by using more sustainable packaging and this point should naturally make its way into your marketing message and be picked up by consumers.

This is also something that Shari Aubrey, owner of boutique chocolate brand Fiamma Life has discovered:

Even as a start-up business I'll always pay a premium for sustainable packaging and use this to subtly educate in the process. I'm a big believer in beautiful gift boxes not just for effect but to encourage re-purposing. But otherwise, I proudly use recyclable pouches, home compostable mailers, etc. It is a process, and you do good, better, best - but there are new products hitting the market all the time if you stay abreast, that make a difference. I'm super excited for example, that I've just purchased compostable food handling gloves and tape!

Sure, sustainable packaging may come at a premium, but with most customers willing to pay that bit extra for it, then it is certainly worth the switch away from plastics. And, as Shari explains, it also gives you the chance to educate and persuade consumers to move away from their former plastic habits.

If you think that your customers might need a bit more of an incentive to get behind your sustainable packaging, why not take a page out of beauty brand Lush’s book? Their recycling policy gives customers the chance to exchange their used pots and bottles for a free face mask. All customers need to do is wash the used containers, take five of them back into a store so they can be sent away for refilling, and the customer gets the face mask as a big thank you.

Customers love incentives like these, no matter how small they may be. What’s more, they have a very good chance of leading to some positive word-of-mouth marketing on social media.

Work with Sustainable Companies and Partners

Of course, being a sustainable brand isn’t just about your own efforts—you also need to consider how sustainable all the other companies are that you work with.

This is something that Shari Aubrey, owner of Fiamma Life, is all too aware of:

I use Sendle as my courier, as not only do they meet most of my delivery needs but they are Australia's first carbon-neutral courier company. What I always tell people about these decisions, is if we use the Sendle example, they are one of the most affordable companies so it meets my budget needs, but if you do a little research you can choose to support actively sustainable companies with your spending - and that's brilliant. It doesn't even have to cost more in some cases.

The fact that it doesn’t have to be more expensive to work with other sustainable brands should be good news, as it means there’s no extra cost to be passed onto consumers.

Not only is it good news for customers, but sustainable brand partnerships can also hugely benefit the companies involved.

Just take the German soup brand Knorr as an example. It set up the Knorr Sustainability Partnership Partnership Fund. The fund aims to help all of Knorr’s suppliers so that they can continue their mission to be environmentally-friendly. The whole idea behind this is that Knorr’s suppliers can launch new sustainability projects and practices without worrying about the financial impact.

Lila Ong, from the vegan indoor plant brand Ceroote, explains how her partnership with other local sustainable brands is beneficial for each of the organizations involved:

We partner with local businesses to divert spare packaging from landfills. Our boxes may not be shiny new. They may even have someone else's branding. But we believe in the power of reusing and it is a small sacrifice to make.

So, even though the Ceroote packaging might not showcase its own branding, Lila has found that the benefits of teaming up with other local businesses far outweigh this. And as 76% of the Millennial and Boomer generations would be influenced by a brand reducing its waste, it shouldn’t matter too much what this greener packaging says on the outside.

Build a Sustainable Brand Story

Once you do start incorporating sustainable practices into your organization, it’s imperative that you build a brand story around this.

Someone who has already done this successfully is Anesley Clarke, Owner & Director of B2C Furniture.

At B2C Furniture, our mission is to provide our Australian community with timeless, enduring furnishings, whilst offering excellent customer service. We make substance and style affordable by directly sourcing furniture from trusted manufacturers, cutting out the inflated mark-ups of the ‘middleman’.

Anesley goes on to explain the reasoning behind his decision for a sustainable brand marketing message:

The reason I made a conscious decision to focus on sustainable hardwood timber because it ensures each customer receives the highest value products, whilst empowering our community with sustainable consumer habits and reducing the damage "fast furniture" has on our precious planet. We relay this message to our target audience primarily via our website. But it is also captured in all our digital marketing channels including email marketing and social media. Sustainability is no longer a buzzword. It is an integral part of life and necessary to future proof our planet.

Currently, many different brands across various sectors are now adding sustainability to their marketing message. The Swedish furniture giant IKEA is one great example.

The brand has recently developed a sustainable strategy that covers various environmental matters. This ranges from using less water to replacing all of the lightbulbs in its stores with LEDs. IKEA has promoted all of these sustainable initiatives widely, and so far it looks like to be having a positive effect on consumers. It’s believed this new marketing message has led to a 58% increase in sales.

Whatever you do when it comes to telling your story, do not indlulge in greenwashing; it will erase all the good you have done in terms of sustainability.

Be an Educational Brand

Being sustainable should take your brand so far, but you’ll find it also pays dividends to try to educate consumers as you go as well. This is something that Jordan Wilkes, owner of Australian sustainable fashion retailer Stride, has learned:

The majority of my content is informational in that I'm providing valuable insights on the issues my target market cares about - tips on how to be more eco-friendly, stats on the human rights abuses of the fast fashion industry, etc. Alternatively, a lot of my competitors are merely TV commercials - basically all of their content is transactional and focuses on pushing a product to get money out of their customers.

I do something different with my email campaigns and welcome series. Over 75% of my email content is not promotional and instead, educates my audience on the topics they care about.

It makes sense to lean more on education-based marketing, as many consumers give the cold shoulder to any branding that is purely promotional. 30.1% of US adults use ad blockers, so there’s a good chance that promotional online ads aren’t even getting to them. Of the 69.9% who don’t use ad blockers, 51% believe that websites should be ad-free.

By using some form of educational marketing—whether that’s white papers, eBooks, or case studies—you’ll find it easier to cut through all the promotional noise and hit your target audience with facts and stats that they want to know. It will inform them of the benefits of sustainable brands and will further cement their sustainable reasons for choosing your brand.

Focus on Sustainable Email and Social Media Marketing

Another way you can get your brand’s sustainable message and mission out to customers is by following the example of Australian brand Cartridges Direct. Steven Lord, the brand’s marketing manager explains what their aim is:

Our Mission? To ensure 100% of all supplied ink cartridges are recycled through preferred channels. It can take up to 1000 years for ink cartridges to decompose and by achieving our mission, for every 100,00 ink cartridges we can stop from entering landfill, we will cleanse the earth of the following: 40 tons of reusable plastic; 1 million liters of wasted oil; 9,569 kgs of reusable aluminum; 862 million kgs of co2 emissions. The recycling program is totally free for customers.

What was the best way for the brand to inform their customers about this? Through their email campaigns and social media channels:

We publish regularly via social media and email marketing to our existing customer base (approximately 100,000 subscribers). Once we are completely happy with the processes of the program, we plan on activating paid social marketing with video content on sustainability.

It makes sense to try to get the message out this way. 50% of the world’s population is now on social media, so that’s a lot of people that your campaign could hit. Sure, not all of those individuals are going to see your Facebook posts or tweets, but there’ll still be a large pool of people who will make up your target market and will be interested in any sustainable news.

Similarly, a lot of consumers can be exposed to email marketing campaigns. 73% of millennials prefer to hear from businesses this way and 78% of marketers have seen an increase in email engagement over the past 12 months. As emails are also super easy to forward, it’s also a handy way to get some extra word-of-mouth marketing going about your sustainable brand.

Know How to Reach Your Audience

Of course, social media and email marketing won’t gain any significant traction if you aren’t too sure how to reach your audience. You might end up sending tweets and emails into a vacuum where no one is paying attention!

Jamie Kay, Co-Founder of theotherstraw told us how his brand hones in on the right audience:

Our primary target audience consists of our next Gen group. They are Gen Ys and Gen Zs who are passionate about climate change and sustainable living. They have some sort of tertiary education and are very much involved in issues around climate change and related issues.

We mostly reach this target audience through Instagram. Promoting our ethos and sustainability policies in our messaging is key. Once someone enters our funnel, we promote our story and sustainability initiatives. As an example, our retargeting Facebook Ads might include our commitment to giving back and being a 1% for Planet Member, providing 100% carbon-neutral delivery service or our zero waste shipping policy. We want to ensure they can trust us and know that their purchase from us is helping provide a better, more sustainable future for all.

As Jamie shows, one of the most important parts of finding your audience is knowing where they hang out. In the case of Gen Y and Gen Z, it’s Instagram. However, if you were targeting an older generation, such as the Baby Boomers, you’d be better off targeting them on their favorite platform, Facebook.

Devise a Solid PR Strategy

PR is another great way to target an audience. The Sydney co-working space Workit Spaces has found this to be especially effective for them. Laura Tien, the brand’s Digital Content and Partnerships Associate explains how they’ve tackled PR while also keeping sustainability at the core of their message:

We've been trying to share the importance of sustainability in our business when working with external publishers. We'll continue to push this message externally as well as in our own publications and internal communications.

Here’s an example of the kind of PR that Workit Spaces has been chasing. On the face of it, it might just seem like a shoutout in an online publication, but it creates one extra place for their target audience to find the brand online. And that link to the Workit Spaces website will help to improve the site’s SEO. The more external links leading to your site, the better. Eventually, the improved SEO will move the site into the top 5 organic results, which account for 67.6% of all clicks.

Final Thoughts

As 88% of consumers want brands to help them make a difference with environmentally friendly purchases, it makes sense to want to jump onto sustainable marketing. And by using educational methods to help create a solid sustainable brand message and story, it should be entirely possible to do so. Working with companies that hold similar green values and policies, and highlighting the use of recyclable packaging should also have a place in your advertising. And do not forget to work on PR campaigns, as well as email and social media marketing strategies that help you find the right audience.

As soon as sustainable marketing is implemented, it shouldn’t be too long before your brand’s name shows up as the new bright star amongst the sustainable target audiences. Your sales and revenues should hopefully follow suit!

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