tomorrow tip: How to successfully communicate sustainable brands
Updated: Sep 27, 2019
With sustainability being the buzzword in society today, many brands try to do green PR and position themselves as eco alternatives. Anne-Liese Prem, founder of Austrian communication agency tomorrow stories, explains how to stand out from the masses and get your product featured in the news:
For the past 5 years I have been actively communicating with and about eco brands: When I had my son, I started blogging about sustainable and non-toxic baby products. Brands started to reach out, asking me to help them with their communications. So I really learnt by doing! Over the years I found out what works and what does not work: Both as a journalist/blogger wanting my readers to engage with my content – and a PR pitching stories to journalists hoping they get picked. Here is what I found:
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1. Tell your (personal) story
As an „eco warrior”, your brand will almost certainly have developed out of your own need to live more healthily, more environmentally friendly, less-toxic. As many brands these days use „sustainability” to sell their products, it cannot be your USP anymore - you need to fill your brand with lots more to attract attention. And what works best to engage a community? Your personal story! If you are shy about putting the spotlight on yourself or do not want to overshare, don´t worry: You don´t have to lay bare your whole self. You can craft a great story around just the „one experience that led you to your product”, or let people know a few milestones which made you start your brand. Journalists hate product pitches, but love stories about real people. And readers prefer to connect with real people as well. You can find a good example here. y.
2. Be 100% transparent
“Be prepared to get asked some tough questions.”
This is an important point for eco brands as customers are getting more and more educated about their consumer choices. They know their GOTS-certified cotton from their KBA-linen! Your really need to do your homework on this and be super-prepared: Make sure you have detailed information openly available on your website and be as transparent as you can. Do not lie, do not cheat! Better admit the 5% non-organic bit in your product than trying to hide it. Otherwise you could face a PR-desaster (Check out this one from H&M, not good!). As an eco brand you will be under a lot of scrutiny and you HAVE TO KNOW THE ANSWERS! Make time for a brainstorming session with your team and make a list of „hot questions” customers could ask. It always good to have them handy when a customers asks on social media and you can react quickly.
3. Know your claim
Another mistake I have seen sustainable brands make is „too many messages in one”. They are paraben-free, gluten-free, vegan, etc. etc. The list goes on. While it is important that you state your product details somewhere (see above), do not go overboard in your PR texts. Better focus on one (maximum two) messages in one text. If you are for example a non-toxic, organic-cotton, locally made, etc. etc. baby product, concentrate on the sourcing of your organic cotton in one press release and on your local manufacturing and your local staff in another one. Like this you will also have a series of stories to keep people interested in your brand!
4. Invest in amazing PR photos.
Sounds pretty straight forward, but unfortunately it is not standard for eco brands. In fact, I found that lots of brands in this segment do not understand a) why good pictures are so important and b) what kind of pictures are needed to get into the press. They concentrate on the product development process and think the eco message of the product is enough to get them noticed. But in today´s visual world images make or break a brand. If you do not have beautiful, print-ready pictures, a journalist won´t blink an eye. How to find out which photos you need? Start with your customer, find out which magazines/blogs they are reading and what style of photos are used there. Go on the search for a photographer and brief her/him with those examples. You can find examples for great product photos aplenty here.
5. Bad news is good news for you.
Tune into the news on TV or social media, eco topics are a constant shocker: From wildfires to plastic in the oceans, from floods to toxins in your body, we are bombarded with sad news about the state of our planet daily. So I say:
„There has never been a better time to change the world for the better than now!”
If your brand has what it takes to provide change for the better, you are a winner! Putting your brand into context and crafting your PR message around a tough topic makes your brand more relevant than ever. Customers everywhere are looking for healthy, non-toxic, environmentally-friendly options and if you can solve their problem for them you are in! I have seen Facebook posts and press releases perform much better if they talk about the brand in context with the bigger issues society is tackling right now. See some great examples here or here.
6. Use experts and testimonials to talk about you
A midwife loves your baby lotion, or a mum on Insta is raving about it? Let them do the talking for you! Ask them if you can use their quotes as testimonials - if they love your brand most people will love to talk about it. Think about your next product development: Maybe you can win someone exciting to be the spokesperson for your next product? And I am not talking about celebrities or influencers here: It can be a doctor, a earth scientist, a tree hugger. Or someone with a very different edge to give you credibility in a different market. Combined stories make for an even more interesting story! See this story here of an organic beauty brand venturing into high fashion.
7. Think beyond sustainability
Which brings us to our last point: Do not pigeonhole yourself by „seeing only green”! The market is full of eco brands and it is simply not enough to sell organic T-shirts or an eco version of bedlinen anymore. When I got into the green lifestyle market here in Austria and Germany 5 years ago, sustainability or „Nachhaltigkeit” was still a small niche and you could attract lots of attention with a simple product like an eco deodorant or a chapstick with natural ingredients. Not anymore! Also, there is too little „flesh” to the tech story behind your product: Even you are using new materials made in the lab, they need to be really, really sexy and crazy innovative to be worth a story, because we have seen it all by now! So try to make it more by incorporating your personal story (see 1.), by choosing a specific aesthetic (see 4.), or by getting interesting people (and I am not necessarily recommending influencers, but more on that in another future post) to use your product and talk about it. Get some ideas on how to do this from this sustainability trailblazer.
If you are an eco brand and would like to get more advise on how to plan your communication actives, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.