When we ask consumers to take action on a problem, it must be something they can control.

When we ask consumers to take action on a problem, it must be something they can control.

When communicating about sustainability, start small.

Imagine your product, offering or cause. Now imagine all the things you’re just dying to say about it: how it works, why it’s the best, why your audience should care, etc. Now think about delivering all that deep information to an audience that has the attention span of a gnat.

That’s the scenario companies face as they communicate their sustainability stories today. Audiences are lost in this new millennium of interaction, engagement and communication. Even audiences that care deeply about sustainability issues are being pulled away from messages that may be meaningful to them.

So the million-dollar question is, “How do you get your big sustainability message to your audience in a noticeable way that causes action?”

One of the biggest mistakes companies make when communicating their sustainability stories is focusing on information instead of audience.

It’s hard for companies to embrace the idea that education is less important than engagement. After all, they’ve spent a good amount of time and money gathering information about their cause, company or product. That fact compels them to quickly start educating everyone about what they’ve worked so hard to compile.

But for education to work, they’ll need the audience to have a desire to be educated first. That’s where engagement comes in.

Engage, entertain, inspire – then educate. Connect to your audience through something they understand and already buy into. Make it fun, enjoyable – even shareable.

But whatever you do, start small.

Here’s an example of how to start small with your message: If we want to create a message to consumers that causes a positive action to combat food waste, the first thing we have to do is take the fear out of this big, scary issue. So we’ll need to take our audience’s mindset from foreboding to feasible.

Here’s what that looks like: The first stat is paralyzing for a consumer. Forty percent of food is wasted in America! Wow! The reaction is, “That’s terrible – but I can’t do anything to affect this massive problem. I’m just one person.”

Add something familiar, then go smaller

If we make the problem a little smaller by revealing that the majority of food waste occurs in the home, now we’re getting somewhere. We’ve added something familiar to the big problem.

If we go even smaller by pointing out the three culprits of food waste in the home and that those three culprits end up in the same place – the refrigerator – we’ve given our audience something small enough for them to understand, and more importantly, we’ve given them control.

We’ve given them a way to affect the major issue of food waste by taking care of their fridge, and we’ve given ourselves a wide-open door to engage through this connection.

This kind of focus isn’t easy, but it’s critical if you want a positive action to take place with your product or cause. Connecting to your audience with something they can directly relate to will be a home run for your communications, and give you permission to share deeper thoughts.

Remember that your audience is more important than your information, and the best way to engage them is to start small.


Posted on

April 17, 2013

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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