Tone down your green claims if you want to ramp up your business

The phenomenal rise of the conscious consumer and explosion in businesses and brands re-positioning themselves as ‘purpose-led’ is all well and good, but the increase in incidences of ‘greenwashing’ is creating doubt in the minds of consumers as to how authentic some of these companies really are.

30 January 2024 | 5 min read | ESG
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

If you want to attract new customers or clients and build your brand as a product or service provider of choice, you may need to play down your B Corp and green credentials first. Here me out on this.

Go to your news feed on LinkedIn and it will likely be filled with some businesses repeatedly promoting their purpose-driven credentials. This is to be applauded, but equally advised against.

That’s because such public relations statements and stories are no longer ‘disruptive’ like they were when Clearly became a B Corp just in 2021. Today, they are the norm.

LinkedOut

There are some companies I have stopped following on LinkedIn, and I’ve even disconnected from their CEO, purely due to the amount of content they create and share about their values and all the sound ESG initiatives they and their people are involved in.

It is overkill, over-egging the pudding, and it puts me off wanting to engage with them. Am I alone in this? Seems not.

Indeed, like me, your customers are increasingly being exposed to a growing number of businesses equally determined to share their green and social impact credentials with the world.

Although well-intentioned, these businesses could actually be pushing potential customers away because they are deploying the wrong ESG comms strategy.

To illustrate this point, look at what’s happening in the plant-based market.

Environmental benefits vs product benefits: Who wins with customers?

Plant-based meat sales have reportedly seen a double-digit fall over the last 12 months, and one study suggests that the overt focus on the environmental benefits of choosing plant-based meat has negatively impacted demand in the market.

The University of Edinburgh ran a series of mock advertising campaigns promoting the benefits of eating plant-based meat. One set of adverts focused on the environmental and health benefits of doing so, and the other set concentrated just on the health benefits.

Given the rise of the conscious consumer and explosion in purpose-led brands coming to the fore, logic would have us assume that products or services with a sustainable ‘hook’ would fare well. But the opposite is true.

Those ads promoting the environmental benefits of choosing a plant-based product as the main message performed poorly compared to those that centred solely on the benefits to consumer health. Why?

Premium price perception

There are two things at play here that businesses banging their green drums need to take note of.

First, there is a perception that customers must pay a premium for sustainable products and services. This is certainly the case when it comes to plant-based and organic produce, where price parity with non-planet friendly produce is some way off.

So, if the messaging contained in a business’s PR and advertising is heavily focused on its green credentials, it therefore follows that customers assume the business charges a premium for its services. At a time when customers are watching the purse strings, this could send them into the arms of a competitor.

Second, there appears to be a lot of yelling and telling. We have said numerous times before that although B Corps are fully onboard with the need to be a ‘better’ business, there are many more who don’t agree or have yet to be convinced.

Customers are exposed to you, your competitors, the government, and the media telling them they must be more sustainable, and they must do more for society.

While businesses going to town and proclaiming their green credentials might think they’re appealing to customers (because research shows that customers are increasingly drawn to conscious businesses), the message being received often translates as:

“This business is clearly very purpose-driven and seems to only want to attract customers of the same ilk. We do care too, but we’re at different stages of our journey. We might not be the right fit for one another.”

The repeated “Partner with us because we’re purpose-driven” message needs to be thought through. Reality is that some businesses – people – resent being told what they need to do, and the more this message is banged, the less interested and harder to win-over they become.

Take a look at our ESG Communications service.

The solution?

Businesses need to rethink the way they talk about what they do in their ESG comms and how they engage their customers so they can appeal both to those already onboard with their quest to be more responsible and others who remain rather nonchalant about the whole thing.

When I see a business talking of nothing other than their purpose and ESG initiatives on social media and in the media itself, it makes me question just how in tune with their customers they really are.

As a business owner, I engage with numerous suppliers because they help me to meet the challenges and overcome the pain points that Clearly have. If these suppliers are purpose-led too, that’s great. But it isn’t the reason for me to engage them.

We need to stop saying ‘purpose before profit’ because no business can ever deliver on its purpose without generating profit.

Talk about the great things you are doing, but do so in moderation. Your purpose should be the added value of doing business with you, not the primary reason for it.

Get this right and your influence in shaping customer purchasing decisions and encouraging ‘the others’ to want to be a better business too, will be greatly enhanced.

Time to get your ESG communications clearly understood get in touch.