In a world where shoppers are hyper-aware of social and environmental issues, brands must adopt sustainable practices to remain relevant. According to Susan Ward, sustainable marketing involves promoting a brand or aspects of a brand that offer sustainable products or services in a way that is positive for the environment and company.
We examine the current state of sustainability in digital marketing as well as share the best green marketing practices with examples from leading brands.
The Rise of Eco-Conscious Consumerism
Like it or not, consumerism is the backbone of our society and every digital marketing effort that goes with it. However, there has been a definite move for customers wanting to support brands that embrace sustainable practices. The desire for sustainable options has increased since the onset of the pandemic with a PwC survey confirming that more than half of customers believe that they are more eco-friendly now.
Challenges for Sustainable Marketing Efforts
Although many customers say they’re willing to support sustainable brands, not many put their money with their mouth is. This is what’s known as the “intention-action gap”.
Another major drawback for green marketers is the negative associations that often go together with sustainable products. Many shoppers view sustainable options as not working as well as other options which contain harsh chemicals – this is especially true for cleaning products.
The third and greatest challenge for companies is the issue of greenwashing. Greenwashing is labeling a brand, product or, campaign as more sustainable than it really is. This ‘tricks’ the customer into supporting a company or buying a product that they believe is being environmentally responsible, when that is not, in fact, the case.
Changing Shopper Behaviour
Sustainability is a competitive differentiator for brands who want to set themselves apart and market to a younger target audience. However, IBM notes that it’s not only the younger generation who are environmentally conscious, as nearly 6 in 10 customers are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact.
Customers no longer only look at what a product can do for them, but question what it can do for society and the environment. They seek companies whose mission aligns with their values and will choose to be loyal to those brands in the long run.
How to Implement Green Digital Marketing Tactics with Examples from Leading Brands
Since sustainability is such a vast and potentially contentious issue for brands, we’ve outlined 5 ways companies can begin their green digital marketing journeys with examples.
1. Start Small
Unless sustainability is a brand’s unique selling point, it’s best to take it one step at a time. Transforming an entire business from end to end is not feasible, so it’s recommended that companies take small strides towards positive change. Even if that’s switching to energy-efficient lightbulbs in the office or offering recyclable packaging.
Lego is a fantastic example of a company that started its sustainability journey brick by brick – quite literally. The Danish toymaker has been transforming since 2018 when they released green trees. We mean green in every sense of the word, as these toys are made from sugarcane. Since then, the company has made strides towards only using green packaging. Their most recent sustainability campaign is their ‘green’ instructions for kids. These instructions show users how to take apart already owned and built Lego creations to make green objects and structures.
2. Embrace Partnerships
Another way to start small is to partner with established and well-known sustainable brands. Partnerships provide mutually beneficial ways to create publicity and positive associations for companies. They are an ideal way to inspire trust and brand loyalty.
For example, South African jewellery brand, Dear Rae, supports the I AM WATER Foundation through their collection Ode to the Ocean. 5% of the profits from these jewellery pieces go to this organization. This practice increases customer satisfaction as shoppers feel like they are contributing to a worthy cause and helping the environment while treating themselves in the process.
3. Appeal to Emotions
Sustainability and climate change are emotionally loaded topics for most people. And, as most good marketers know, emotions are one of the most powerful things you can leverage to sell products and services.
That being said, companies that use negative emotions such as guilt, also known as ‘green guilt’ may, in fact, push customers away. Furthermore, as people become more desensitised to climate issues, ‘green guilt’ is becoming less and less effective. A better emotion to play on is hope. As previously pointed out, customers want to feel like they’re making a difference through their purchases.
Jeans retailer, Levi’s’ ‘Buy better. Wear longer’ campaign illustrates how brands can communicate their environmental message while inspiring and uplifting potential shoppers. The campaign lays out the facts but also highlights how Levi’s is transforming the fashion industry.
4. Provide Evidence
Today’s shoppers are more skeptical than ever before due to greenwashing, making it imperative for brands to provide evidence of their eco-friendly practices. Customers’ desire for transparency and traceability has led to a rise in what’s known as eco-labeling. Eco-labeling is the use of symbols given by an outside organization as a stamp of approval of their practices. Common examples of eco-labeling include the Leaping Bunny and Fairtrade label. According to a survey by IBM, 71% of respondents said that they were willing to pay a premium for brands that offered traceability, showing that eco-labeling can help build brand trust and loyalty.
An example of a brand that’s getting sustainability in digital marketing right is luxury denim retailer, Triarchy. Since its relaunch in 2017, the company has focused on using eco-friendly materials and recycling wastewater. Not only have they adopted these sustainable practices, but this brand has also used a third-party platform, Green Story, to verify their claims. This information is available to customers via their website where they are also encouraged to reach out and ask any questions related to sustainability.
5. Get Customers Involved
The concept of refillable products is nothing new (think back to milkmen and refillable bottles), but it’s making a massive comeback. This strategy reduces packaging waste, encourages return customers, and allows shoppers to participate in the returns process.
Renowned beauty and body products retailer, Lush, is one of many brands employing this tactic. Lush is known for the ‘naked’ packaging of most of their products (65% to be specific) however, this does not include body creams, lotions, and hair conditioners which are packaged in plastic pots. Although these pots are made from BPA-free plastic, Lush also encourages customers to return them to stores in exchange for free face-masks or an amount off their next purchase.
Sustainability in digital marketing might be a trending topic but it’s certainly not a fad. As these eco-friendly brands have shown, employing green marketing strategies can enhance customer experience, increase brand loyalty, and most importantly ensure customers take care of the environment.