Guest article

Activating sustainability: 5 ways to refresh your approach in 2021

By Callum Saunders, Head of Planning at ZEAL Creative Limited

- Last updated on GMT

Pic:getty/astockphoto
Pic:getty/astockphoto

Related tags: Sustainability

As more brands recognise the importance of sustainability, it becomes harder to stand out. Callum Saunders, head of planning at ZEAL Creative, looks at how brands should direct their messaging around sustainability in 2021.

At a time when consumer and shopper engagement with sustainability has never been higher, the need to actively communicate your credentials is no longer a ‘nice to have’. 

This shift is also moving from corporate communication to retail activation, with shopper marketing an increasingly prominent touchpoint in which to ‘activate’ sustainability.

But we face a ‘paradox of sustainability’: with more brands recognising the importance of activating sustainability, it becomes harder to stand out in a way that is distinctive and effective. 

These five pointers will help beverage marketers to consider some key foundations when developing sustainability activation plans.

1) Simplify your sustainability

Retail environments are complex places where thousands of messages vie for shoppers’ attention and shoppers are already looking to fulfil certain missions. 

Sustainability is an inherently complex and complicated topic that runs far deeper than recyclable beverage packaging: we cannot add that cognitive load onto shoppers that are already making hundreds of decisions ‘on autopilot’.

There is a clear mandate to provide clarity, ensure coherence and be concise. What’s the one key takeout that you want for you shopper? Can they instantly understand your sustainability ‘activation’ or point of view? Will it make them want to participate and engage with your brand? Simplifying your sustainability makes it something that is easier for shoppers to buy into.

2) Make it ownable

Communication needs to be simple, but activation that is distinctive is not as straightforward. 

With so many beverage brands and drinks categories ramping up their sustainability activity, it’s becoming increasingly harder to stand out. 

One example of this is the beverage industry’s focus on recyclability messaging: undoubtedly an important consideration for shoppers, but one that can quickly become wallpaper if every brand is saying the same thing.

If you desire to truly ‘activate’ your sustainability with shoppers then moving beyond a passive message is critical. Following Byron Sharp’s laws for brand growth, a distinctive and ownable ‘branded’ approach to sustainability will serve you well. 

Telling your sustainability story in a way that only you can, will stand you in good stead and help you to stand out: BrewDog’s recently banned ‘F**k CO2’​a perfect case in point.

3) Empower the shopper to ‘get involved’

Corporate social responsibility has shifted from a process of self-regulated accountability to a business ‘behaviour’ that shoppers not only expect but want to buy into. 

Shoppers are increasingly cognizant of the direct impact their purchase decisions have and are looking for brands that can help them ‘offset their impact’. 

When communicating sustainability, ensure that you make it participatory; make it tangible.  Tell the shopper what buying this product or supporting this brand will do. 

What does one purchase equate to?  How is the shopper helping the environment by purchasing your product?  The beverage category is one that is shopped with frequency: ensure that shoppers feel involved in your cause, without adding friction to the purchase process and consumer experience.

4) Recognise the ‘values-action’ gap

Whilst sustainability continues to grow in importance, it is vital not to lose sight of the other decision-making factors that beverage shoppers need to consider. 

Key shopper needs such as beverage type, format and price are all critical. Where and when will a drink be consumed? Is it for social or solo consumption? 

Even the most environmentally aware of shoppers will still need to base sustainability decisions within the context of other factors. Remember that our beliefs as consumers do not automatically impact our behaviour as shoppers: the ‘values-action’ gap. Activating sustainability on drinks brands should align with values, but also incentivise action.

5) Deeds, not words

It goes without saying, that activating sustainability should be an articulation of the actions your beverage brand or product is already taking. 

Shoppers will rightly be able to spot ‘greenwashing’, which in turn, will do more damage than good to your brand.

Amplifying these actions is a transparent and credible route into sustainability communications. Partnerships can help to lend a voice and credibility to a certain space, as well as assisting shoppers with that all-important ‘context’ that is so important. 

Remember too that retailers have their own sustainability initiatives and partnerships: aligning with these existing actions and supporting a cause will also help you to gain incremental support and space.

callum zeal creative

In conculusion, sustainability is an ever-increasing and important topic for the beverage category.  But the excitement of the opportunity to ‘activate’ sustainability with shoppers is not without its challenges.  Focusing on these core principles will allow you to establish some solid foundations, as well as laying the path for a sustainable future of brand activation.

About ZEAL Creative: ​UK brand activation marketing agency ZEAL Creative delivers multi award winning campaigns for brands including Nestlé, Kellogg’s, Arla, McCain, Dr Oetker and Warburtons. It helps bring brands to life, with campaigns that engage, inspire and motivate consumers into action at key moments on the path to purchase.

Related topics: Industry Voices, Sustainability

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