Consumers find green certifications confusing and can't easily differentiate between products and brands, says research findings by SCA and Harris Interactive released in June 2012. In addition, the study found that although consumers are buying fewer green products because of the recession, 69% of adults are buying green products and services even during hard economic times. “Very few consumers understand environmental messages,” says Jennifer Engle, president of jke marketing and communications, an agency focused on sustainable practices. “Either they have problems with the terminology and vague phrasing or there’s just not a connection made between the company and the audience.”
These findings represent both a challenge and an opportunity: How does an organization differentiate green products and programs from those of their competitors to get a slice of that 69%? By creating effective green messages. With that in mind, Engle offers four tips for closing the green information gap:
1. Make sure your message is clear and positive. Writing a message with a phrase such as “doing this will reduce your carbon footprint” seems somewhat nebulous. On the other hand, saying “every time you do this you can save $5 on your energy bill” is concrete and positive. If your audience “gets” your message, they are more likely to buy into your brand and share the idea—big pluses.
2. Make sure your message is relevant and meaningful to each group of stakeholders. You want whatever you’re sharing to trigger positive connections. Once those connections are made, hopefully you’ll also ignite new actions in addition to those previously mentioned. For example, “made from recycled materials” is fairly meaningless. To spark greater buy in—and different, more sustainable behaviors—consider, “If you use tubeless toilet paper for a year, you will save four pine trees.”
3. Make sure your message is believable. Don’t make claims you can’t support with raw, hard data or facts. Most consumers are skeptical of grandiose claims, especially when they come from big companies. (Also, keep in mind the stain of greenwashing.) You can’t clean up all the water and air in the state or the U.S., but you can try to improve your corner of the world by doing this, this and this. You’ll be even more credible if you share regular updates.
4. Make sure your message is memorable. It should elicit an emotional response that people will want to talk about and act upon. Whether you come up with a catchy tag line or slogan or involve your employees in the project, remember we are a visually-oriented society, and photographs and videos can support and enhance strong messages—making them even more unforgettable. Finally, whenever possible and appropriate, have fun with your messages. Although many environmental issues are serious ones, stakeholders enjoy having good times while doing good things.
For more on CSR communications strategies and tactics, get the PR News Corporate Social Responsibility and Green PR Guidebook, Vol. 5.
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