Marketing and Comms
#SB14London:
Why Brands Should Be Talking Sustainability

What if 15 of the biggest Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies decided they really wanted to change the world? How would they go about communicating their sustainability commitments to the millions of consumers they need to persuade to live more sustainably?

At present, even though FMCG companies are starting to understand the need to explain sustainability directly to consumers, they continue to put most of their communication efforts into their Sustainability and CSR corporate sites — an obvious destination for NGOs, shareholders and academics but not the first place the general public go to get information.

So what’s the best way for them to affect consumer behaviour change? The obvious answer is through their brands — specifically utilizing the millions in marketing and advertising dollars that these companies already spend to persuade consumers to buy their products.

Traditionally, brand managers have steered clear of talking sustainability through brands because it was assumed consumers just don’t care. That sentiment may well be changing. A recent Nielsen study found that 55 percent of global online consumers across 60 countries said they were willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to sustainability. When it came to those much sought-after Millennial consumers, they represented 51 percent of the total surveyed who said they would pay extra for sustainable products and 51 percent of those who check the packaging for sustainable labelling.

Specifically we focused on brands that had a prominent Facebook page as a barometer for potential consumer reach — 195 brands in total. Why Facebook? Well, for better or worse, it remains the biggest online channel that brands choose to engage social media audiences. Whatever you think about the value of a Facebook "like," the big brands continue to invest in Facebook and try to create a tangible connection with consumers.

The result of this research is Sustainly’s Big Brand Report. What it shows is quite sobering for anyone who believes companies are succeeding in communicating what sustainability means to their consumers.

Big Brand Report

The lost opportunity to talk to consumers becomes more apparent when you appreciate the size of the audience these brands command. Together, the 195 have a combined Facebook audience of over 749 million people. That’s the number of people who have liked the brand pages and, hence, receive updates from the brand. However, the 74 brands that communicate sustainability through Facebook reach just 304 million people — hardly chump change but still just 40 percent of their potential total reach. And of those 304 million, more than 50 percent are “reached” by four brands that really stand out for their sustainability marketing — Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Dove and Nescafé.

Each of these brands, in its own way, shows how it’s possible to be informative, entertaining, transparent and authentic when talking sustainability. And the engagement they get from their Facebook community on these issues shows that consumers really do care about the sustainability stories that lie behind the brands … as long as they don’t mention the word “sustainability”!

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