Customers are looking for a lead on how to be greener, but they won't be fooled by lip service. Follow a green agenda and explain what you're doing
Having done all the hard work it's time to focus on getting the message out. Your staff and regulars might know what you're doing, but now it's time to tell the wider world.
Translating your various sustainable initiatives and corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy into a PR and marketing campaign can really bring it to life. More importantly, as Geoff Lane, partner, sustainable development, at PricewaterhouseCoopers, points out, showing yourself to be a responsible organisation can have a major impact on the reputation and appeal of your brand.
"Companies should be seriously looking at how these issues impact on their brands, both in terms of opportunities and risks. It's more about focusing on the brand than the business itself now," says Lane.
Diana Verde Nieto, chief executive officer and founder of brand and marketing consultancy Clownfish, agrees. "If a company can align its own values with societal values, customers advocate the chosen brands," she says. But for Nieto, who also sits on the steering committee of the Chartered Institute of Marketing's sustainable marketing programme, for any marketing to be effective the focus should always be on honesty and transparency.
"Being seen to be green is no longer enough," she says. "You need to be open about who you are and what you do. Products and services also need to be good, desirable and functional."
The point is echoed by Luke Vincent, a consultant at brand agency Dragon, who warns that your plans could backfire if your target market suspects they're being "greenwashed".
"You have to do it properly and be very clear, transparent and open," stresses Vincent. "Consumers are tired of having the wool pulled over their eyes, and token gestures are likely to do more harm than good." That said, if done properly, he says the opportunities are clearly there.
Back in June, Dragon held a series of focus groups looking at consumer attitudes and behaviour related to sustainability. Consumers said they were concerned about the environment, felt guilty about their impact on the planet and felt compelled to do their bit. But they also admitted to being a bit confused as to how to go about it, and they wanted businesses to make it easier for them to do the right thing.
"For hospitality companies this is a great opportunity to start up a dialogue with your customers," concludes Vincent. "This is a really emotional subject, and if your brand can help a customer think they're making a positive impact, you're building a strong emotional connection."
Green marketing tips
- Be clear about which groups you intend to target, and identify which channels are best suited to your audience.
- Set meaningful goals, and strive to achieve them using a clear road map.
- Don't just talk about it. Make your initiatives so inspiring that your customers will do all the talking for you.
- Get out of your comfort zone and try new things.
- Choose language carefully.
- Be honest and transparent.
- Don't just tell consumers you've reduced your carbon footprint by 20%, explain it using simple comparisons.
- Keep marketing collateral to a minimum to avoid waste.
- Encourage feedback and monitor results.
Sources: Clownfish and Dragon
Mind your language
Brand agency Dragon's recent study of consumer attitudes, motivations and behaviour found that consumer understanding of the different areas and language of sustainability is "patchy". As a result, it says that using terms like "sustainable" can have a negative result because they suggest niche, high-end products and sectors such as eco-tourism, giving the impression that consumers' efforts to go greener will not just inconvenience them but hit them in the pocket.
Dragon recommends using "responsible", which it says is more meaningful than "sustainable", and "compostable" rather than "biodegradable".