Sustainability marketing: tactics for your business

Alex Willcocks, founder and MD at digital agency Engage, discusses why businesses should invest in sustainability marketing.

Alex Willcocks, sustainability marketing

What is Engage and what does it do?

Engage is a results-driven digital agency, which partners with ambitious brands, including Jet2, Heineken and Yorkshire Tea. We are a full-service agency that solves business challenges through the delivery of innovative digital solutions. The digital solutions include website design and development, e-commerce, content marketing, SEO, and PPC.

This blend of creative, technical and performance marketing creates value and accelerates growth. When combined with our obsession for delivering quality, we call this “attention to digital”.

How can brands become more sustainable?

There are many ways that brands can become more sustainable. Businesses should consider becoming a ‘Certified B Corporation’. It is an organisation which is voluntarily certified every two years for their social and environmental performance. This generates a framework to help balance profit requirements with the planet. It also enables access to a network of other like-minded businesses and provides a key sustainability credential to showcase in marketing activity.

Securing an in-depth understanding of the environmental impact of your supply chain is essential. It can also support a brand on its road to becoming more sustainable. We need to ask ourselves questions on transparency, carbon footprint and knowledge of sourcing. This ensures that business can achieve required changes and environmental optimisation.

Brands should also consider supplementing their data and external marketing with internal training and education. This can lead to a cultural shift amongst employees and more significant movement towards sustainably conscious leadership.

Why should businesses invest in sustainability marketing?

There are many benefits that business can gain from investing in sustainable initiatives and disclosing sustainable credentials. Companies that proactively make sustainability core to business strategy will drive innovation. They will engender enthusiasm and loyalty from employees, customers, suppliers, communities and investors.

Investing opens businesses up to financial opportunities. It enables them to gain market share, increase stakeholder engagement or attract investment. In addition, it allows to  efficiently manage and mitigate risks to corporate performance such as disruption to operations and supplies. Inaction can risk significant negative financial impacts and slower growth than competitors who actively invest in and marketing their sustainability credentials.

How can businesses best showcase their sustainability credentials?

Avoid posting across multiple internal and external channels for different brands, audiences and purposes. It can lead to inconsistent content, limited visibility, duplication of internal effort, and complex user journeys. Sustainability hubs are an excellent option for brands keen to invest in marketing. A centralised, user-friendly hub facilitates engaging content aimed at all audiences, which provides clear insights into a brand’s eco-friendly efforts.

Furthermore, sustainability hubs combine rich and engaging content with a simple UX journey. This means all stakeholders can understand a brand’s sustainability journey. Therefore when managing general processes, it is essential to use that verifiable and auditable analytics and platforms.

How can sustainable practices make businesses stand out from the crowd? 

Customers today have their pick of competitively priced, high-quality products and services. Adopting a visible and positive stance on the issues of environment, social, and governance (ESG) that is authentic and aligned to consumer values is a powerful differentiator, especially in increasingly crowded markets. Businesses wanting to stay competitive for years to come will benefit from acting swiftly to retain a loyal customer base. They will attract top talent, especially amongst younger generations of customers and employees.

How has COVID-19 impacted consumer interest in sustainability?

Coronavirus has focused our minds on helping to create a better, fairer, healthier, less destructive world. It impacted consumer shopping habits across all sectors, mainly clothes and food.

A 2020 global survey by management consultancy firm Accenture found that consumers “have dramatically evolved”. About 60% reported making more environmentally friendly, sustainable, or ethical purchases since the start of the pandemic. A study by research group Kantar said that since Covid-19, sustainability was more of a concern for consumers than before the outbreak. At the same time, 65% of global respondents told a survey by pollsters Ipsos Mori “that climate change must be prioritised in the economic recovery after coronavirus”.

Soil Association Certification’s ‘Organic Market Report 2021’ revealed the UK’s organic market had a 12.6% growth in sales in 2020 – the sector sees the highest growth rate in 15 years. Your website says that sustainability is a better way to more significant profits. What are some exciting statistics you found out that back this up? Sustainability is a proven way for a brand to become even more profitable.

A new international study by Unilever revealed that a third of consumers (33%) are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good. Study shows that 8 out of 10 customers are happy to pay up to a 20% premium for products and services delivered through sustainable practices. We have even seen the public take action when a brand does not align with its values. Insights company Kantar found that more than 77% of Brits have switched, boycotted, or avoided brands because of their environmental policies.

Unilever also estimated that a €966 billion opportunity exists for brands that make their sustainability credentials clear – clearly, there are significant benefits to investing in sustainability marketing. Sustainability does not just appeal to consumers either. A study by SHRM found that morale was 55% higher in companies with a strong sustainability program.How does sustainability create value for a business?

Sustainability creates value for a business in several ways, particularly when it comes to solving business challenges. A good sustainability strategy that is also marketed effectively improves customer acquisition and retention and strengthens stakeholder relations. It increases attractiveness to investors, creates a competitive advantage in a crowded market, and attracts and retains talent.

The University of Oxford reviewed the academic literature on sustainability and corporate performance and found that 90% of 200 studies analysed conclude that good ESG standards lower the cost of capital. 88% show that good ESG practices result in better operational performance, and 80% show that share price performance is positively correlated with good sustainability practices.

Engage has developed two digital sustainability marketing solutions. Can you tell us about them?

The first of our solutions is sustainability hubs. Our bespoke hubs provide engaging content that is easy to consume on many devices, including phones and desktops. Our hubs tell a business’ sustainability story. We support organisations in deciding what they want to say and how this can be housed in a cleverly designed system and framework.

We also produce interactive annual reports, particularly useful when presenting to shareholders, potential investors, and other key stakeholders. Our reports let sustainability efforts shine through by using rich content which can be shared across social platforms.

What steps should businesses take to start their sustainable journey?

Starting a sustainability journey does not need to be a challenge, and businesses can take numerous small steps. Business leaders should consider what is currently being done within the company to improve sustainability and understand pitfalls. Once these have been identified, it is much easier to determine what needs to be improved and how this can be achieved.

Consider stakeholders, employees, and customers – what do they want from the business, and how can you meet their wants and needs? As I have mentioned, investing in sustainability marketing enables businesses to reap the benefits and showcase credentials to attract customers, investors, and new talent.

What plans does Engage have for development over the next year or so?

Covid has undoubtedly influenced our growth strategy. We are currently focussing on developing a new proposition that directly addresses business challenges in a post-Covid world. Our propositions require a clear vision for the future and an actionable plan of how we will get there. They also require significant ongoing investment in the current team and management to grow our skills and capabilities.

Moreover, we may also explore acquisition to accelerate the in-housing of new skills and capabilities, allowing us to deliver new work streams efficiently and effectively. Our ultimate aim is to double the size of the team and grow to a £10m valuation in the next five years.

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