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How to Communicate Sustainability at a Brand Level

SB ‘15 London’s third and final afternoon kicked off with a colourful session with Matthew Yeomans, founder of Sustainly, a knowledge consultancy and advisory platform based around bringing together the worlds of sustainability and communications.

Yeomans discussed the results of Sustainly’s The Big Brand Report: How 175 Major Brands Do and Don’t Talk about Sustainability, which looks at if and how brands are talking to their customers about sustainability. The workshop revealed what is and isn’t working for brand-level social media communications.

10 years ago, companies, the government and the media had power in terms of sharing information. Now customers are more connected and informed – which, as Yeomans pointed out, “has led to a changing framework of how companies and customers interact both online and offline.”

He stressed that it is even more critically important for any brand to instill trust in its customers. Scandals spread faster as customers are holding companies to account on issues. He highlighted examples of Kit Kat’s use of palm oil from endangered rainforests in Indonesia, and consumer pressure that led to the end of LEGO’s long-standing collaboration with Shell.

“How do companies rebuild trust to stay relevant?” is a major question every successful company should be asking today, as well as how to demonstrate transparency, community and authenticity in their communications, so as to build trust with their customers.

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“These sound like the pillars of sustainability and how to communicate it,” he pointed out. “Sustainability becomes a crucial pathway to winning back that trust.”

The biggest FMCGs influence our lives daily. “If the companies behind them are as committed as they say they are to being sustainable, then imagine the power they have to change the world,” Yeomans argued.

Of the 175 companies examined in The Big Brand Report, 109 of them do not use Facebook to talk about sustainability. One of the main reasons cited was that “people do not like to discuss serious stuff on Facebook.” The 175 brands have a combined total 758 million Facebook users following them - a huge potential audience to influence change.

Yeomans demonstrated how different brands such as Dove, Pepsi and KitKat use social media tools such as Facebook to discuss their sustainability efforts. This platform creates a two-way conversation with customers. He used examples to show how the real people on Facebook do engage with brands on sustainability issues, which shows that people do care about the topic.

Rather than using the word sustainability, many brands are discussing issues that are closer to home, such as health and fitness, friends, family, nature, security and food - issues that affect people on a daily basis.

Yeomans presented examples of smart ways brands are talking about sustainability-related issues and demystifying the subject via their social media accounts - using their communications and marketing to create a better understanding of what sustainability means.

Doritos & “It Gets Better” Campaign

Doritos raised awareness about LGBT rights by selling rainbow-coloured crisps in support of gay and lesbian victims of bullying. The campaign went viral on Doritos’ social media pages and all the money raised from the limited edition packets of Doritos was donated to the LGBT charity.

Ben & Jerry’s & Join The Climate Movement

A Ben & Jerry’s video (below) demonstrated the effects of climate change by using a metaphor of melting ice cream which they promoted through Facebook and other social media.

“To make it work and resonate outside the brand, it has to resonate with an audience that is not used to hearing the technicalities,” Yeomans explained.

Hellmanns’ new squeeze bottle has an inbuilt sustainability story, as the campaign shows the amount of waste is reduced from the bottle’s design. “This is how we are going to see a lot of communication about sustainability moving forward in the future,” Yeomans said. The campaign makes sustainability easier to understand, more relevant to the brand and there is a seamless connection between the two.

All of the examples Yeomans presented back up their work with action.

“When you are doing good work, you’ve got a good story to tell. If not, no one will trust you,” he concluded.

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