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Don’t Just Check the Box. Craft a Clear Sustainability Message that Builds the Brand.

Illustration of Sustainability

It’s a single word that holds a lot of weight, especially for marketing professionals. If handled well, marketers will be revered for a job well done. If handled incorrectly? It opens the company to a potential PR disaster.

As a marketing professional in today’s world of manufacturing, you’ve been told that sustainability must be an essential part of your overarching marketing strategy and brand identity. Or you’ve seen it in competitors and identified a gap in your own marketing strategy. Regardless of where the need originated, executing successful sustainability messaging takes more than just a social media post every so often in support of the latest local or global initiative. If that’s the wrong way to go about it, what is the right way?

In this blog post, we unpack our approach to craft brand-centric sustainability messaging that resonates with your loyal customers and builds your brand – not hurt it.

Identify, Refine, Rally, Broadcast

Picture of ideation session

A company must start with the fundamental basics and create sustainability messaging in a way that resonates with its audience. Whether directed towards your customer, vendors, or distribution partners, if you create sound and truthful messaging holistically around your brand, then it will inspire others to do the same within their own organization.

We propose taking these steps:

  1. Identify what your company is already doing or looking to do in the near future that will showcase your commitment to sustainability
  2. Refine your sustainability messaging based on a series of internal conversations and develop internal and external platforms
  3. Rally your team around your sustainability vision and use their excitement to fuel your external messaging
  4. Broadcast your team’s vision to the general public with brand-centric sustainability messaging

In the following sections, we’ll take a deep dive into each of these four steps and how manufacturing marketers can take action towards creating a well-crafted, brand-building sustainable messaging strategy.

Identify Existing Initiatives

Person looking at manufacturing documents

First things first, lay the groundwork. Establish what your company is currently doing for sustainability initiatives, as well as what they envision doing in the future. Once you’ve had those conversations and identified the initiatives, you’ll have the information to start asking yourself how to put a marketing message around it.

Identifying where you are as an organization is going to take some detective work. To get started, here are some tips on who to include and how to investigate:

Schedule conversations with company leadership

Conversations with ownership and your executive team are critical to getting clarity on the big picture of your company’s sustainability goals. During this meeting, consider asking questions such as:

  • "Where do you see the company’s sustainability goals in five, ten, or fifteen years from now?
  • “Are we engaging in current manufacturing activities that qualify as green or environmentally impactful?”
  • “Have any sustainability promises been made to the public in the past?”
  • “What steps are we taking to fulfill those promises?”
  • “What sustainability initiatives CAN’T be made public (yet)” Are there any areas or topics that you deem off limits?
  • “Is there an area of focus in sustainability our brand should hone in on? If not, why not?

Ultimately, you want to uncover the high-level information around your brand and its sustainability goals that will act as your foundation as you continue your investigation deeper within your organization.

Read More: Changing The Way Your Leaders Market Manufacturing

Create a “Sustainability Committee” with Key Team Members from Various Departments.

Your team members across other departments and disciplines are probably one of the most underutilized resources in manufacturing marketing efforts. But they have unique perspectives that are invaluable when crafting an on-brand sustainability message. Get input and insights from key stakeholders across departments such as engineering, production, operations, IT, sales, and logistics, and consider asking questions such as:

  • “What questions about sustainability are you commonly asked when talking to prospects or current customers?”
  • “Have you been eliminated from bid opportunities due to the lack of sustainability initiatives?”
  • Do our products have any defining features that are in response to an environmental goal or requirement?
  • “What sustainability initiatives are in place in our processes throughout the manufacturing facility? Do you see room for improvement?”
  • Are we tracking sustainable trends through internal data or IT systems?
  • “What sustainability initiatives really resonate with customers or vendors right now.”
  • “How do you respond when asked about our company’s environmental responsibility stance?”
  • “What sustainability goals do you care about the most in your role? Does that transfer to technical personas at the customer level?”
  • “What types of marketing tools can support you when you’re having sustainability conversations?
  • Do we vet our vendors, suppliers, or logistics partners using any sustainability criteria?
  • “Have you observed or heard customers mention any competitors who are excelling in this area?”
  • “What key organizations or resources do you reference for the latest in manufacturing sustainability?”

Ultimately, marketing needs to lead this committee and facilitate healthy conversations, and maybe even a debate, to uncover how this team's responses align with what you’ve researched and observed to date. Are there inconsistencies? Does it match your previous findings? Where do team members across departments not see eye-to-eye? Use this committee as a catalyst for additional conversations or market research and tuck away any nuggets of knowledge you pick up along the way.

(You’ll also see why these conversations are helpful once we start talking about the Rally phase.)

Conduct competitor research

Let’s be clear. Nobody likes a copycat. The goal of competitor research is NOT to copy their sustainability messaging. However, dedicating time to uncover at competitors are focusing on and how they’re approaching it can be valuable to ensure you are producing unique sustainability messaging and supporting assets.

If you do run across an idea you like, save it and brainstorm how to repurpose the concept using your unique tone, voice, and vision.

Don’t cut corners with the Identify stage. Yes, it’s lengthy. But the information gathered in this stage will help ensure that your sustainability messaging is relevant and communicated in a way that resonates with your audience.

Remember. Healthy debate is good, and great ideas will come as a result of having these conversations with diverse perspectives represented.

Rob Hawse

Co-founder of Crafted Agency

Refine Your Sustainability Messaging

Person presenting from a laptop

Now that you’ve completed the research, both internal and external, now is the fun part – refining your messaging. Why refine? Well, it’s likely your internal resources have flooded you with information and talking points, but does it line up with the state of the industry and the external message you want to portray in the marketplace? The answer is likely no, it needs to be refined.

And if you are not starting from scratch and have past marketing assets around sustainability, be sure to resurrect them with a new fresh perspective and in-depth understanding of your brand, internal aspiration, and customer priorities.

Feeling overwhelmed? Consider taking these steps to get started:

1. Prioritize Sustainability Goals

I know what you’re thinking. “All aspects of sustainability are important.”

Well, yes and no. While there is no shortage of admirable sustainability initiatives, there is a shortage of your company’s time and resources to tackle them. As a company, you should prioritize your efforts based on your brand and customers – and of course, what is realistically obtainable

What does that look like?

Consider automotive manufacturing giant, Volkswagen. Their Drive Bigger campaign is condensed into the mission statement:

“When we drive something bigger than ourselves, we change the destination.”1

Within this mission, lies commitments to electric vehicles and its role in energy efficiency, carbon neutrality, and raw material preservation - all relevant causes to the automotive industry.

Your conversations with sales will be critical for prioritizing topics prospective and current customers are regularly asking about so you can push those higher on the list.

2. Button Up Sustainability Messaging Around Priorities

Take the time to digest all the information from the Identify stage and differentiate them by internal and external initiatives and if necessary, break down the messaging by different roles of who will receive it. Does your customer’s C-Suite need to hear it one way, while the distribution sales teams need to hear it another way for it to resonate? Do your due diligence to go as granular, or as high level, as you need to get the message across to your key audiences. What this will look like should be unique to you and your brand, so following the data is extra critical at this step.

Going back to Volkswagen’s Drive Bigger campaign, they’ve condensed their stances into succinct commitments ranging from:

  • 2050. Our goal is nothing less than 100%
  • 2028. Electricity is exciting
  • What we leave behind is just as important as what we put on the road

Even without the supporting text, it’s understandable what these commitments are. 100% carbon neutrality by 2050, accelerate excitement for electric vehicles by 2028, and the importance of sustainability initiatives. They’ve established their priorities, buttoned-up their stance, and kept individual deliverables in alignment with the main message of “Drive Bigger.”

3. Give Your Messaging a Personality

Now that we’ve prioritized, let’s get personal.

Start by thinking through your company’s sustainability personality. This will play a huge role in putting a consistent voice to your efforts. If the concept of personifying your company’s messaging, here are a few questions to get the creative juices flowing:

  • If it walked into a party, what is it wearing? Is it 15-minutes early and buttoned up in a three-piece tux? Or rolling in 15-minutes late with jeans and a T-shirt? Happy medium?
  • Is it outspoken and confident, or reserved?
  • How does it approach and engage with other people?
  • In one word, what is the lasting impression that your message should leave?

While this exercise may seem trivial, and almost strange, at times. It’s critical that the voice behind your sustainability messaging is consistent and aligns with your brand identity. Give your messaging a defined personality, tone, and voice and document the results so it can be used across departments when discussing sustainability.

Discover: Brand Foundation: Where Most Manufacturers Miss the Mark

4. Condense Messaging Down to the Most Important Idea

In Step 1, we provided the example of Volkswagen’s mission statement,

“When we drive something bigger than ourselves, we change the destination.”

Coming into Step 4, this is a prime example of distilling messaging down to the most important idea. In this instance, Volkswagen needed a statement that could envelop its multiple sustainability initiatives – carbon neutrality, electric vehicle accessibility, and energy generation.

Using familiar industry vernacular, Volkswagen crafted a captivating, brand-centric statement that spoke to not just their high hopes for a cleaner future but could expand out to their community and philanthropic initiatives that anyone reading would want to get behind. When you scroll through their content, you can see how all the different elements tie back to this main message – Drive bigger.

Now it’s your turn. Spend some time brainstorming your MVP statement. Take your time and don’t rush the process. Remember, all future initiatives will branch out of this idea, so make it count.

5. Build An Inventory of Assets Supporting Your Messaging

In order to start circulating your messaging, you’re going to need assets. Take some time to build an inventory of tangible, supporting assets that help you get your message across. Potential assets could include:

  • Brochures
  • Presentations
  • Social share posts
  • Press releases
  • Edits to brand guidelines
  • Logo
  • Imagery
  • Sales tools
  • Sound bites

While the above list is just the tip of the iceberg, use it as inspiration to identify what you and your company need to communicate the messaging in a clear, concise, and consistent manner. Finally, evaluate which assets would help you successfully launch internally in the Rally stage (coming next). Those may include traditional soft launch assets like an employee newsletter or updated brand guidelines. Depending on your specific internal requirements, you may also want to complete external assets like brochures or sales tools for the internal soft launch as well. Remember, you are gearing up for an internal presentation during the Rally phase that will require internal buy-in and blessings before circulating with customers.

Rally Your Team

Team meeting to discuss manufacturing sustainability messaging

Once you’ve taken all the steps to refine your messaging, you’d think the next step is to make it public. But no. As suggested in the previous paragraph, the next part of crafting a well-established sustainability message is to take it internally. Circulating the messaging internally before it hits the general public is important because it gets your teams aligned on your brand and initiatives, giving them a unified voice that helps eliminate confusion once customers get their eyes on it. The conversations you had internally in the Identify stage can help in this stage as other team members can feel a sense of ownership over the refined messaging as they see their voice and opinions speckled throughout it.

In addition to internal alignment, sharing it exclusively with your internal teams first instills an excitement that will eventually spill externally as they go out and engage with customers. Consider your team as brand ambassadors. Whenever they interact with your distribution channels or potential customers, they enjoy having new values and talking points to share. As marketers, you play a major role in giving them a reason to be excited about the work your company is doing to positively impact the planet. Here are a few tips to help rally your internal team:

  • Send an internal email from management with the reasoning and importance
  • Create an internal contest that encourages participation and great prizes for ways to improve or carry out the program
  • Order apparel or apply patches to existing uniforms that identify the new sustainability initiatives
  • Make employees part of the story with additional interviews and photo capturing of their daily routines to use within marketing materials

How to Uncover Your True Competitive Advantage Through ‘Living Your Brand’

Address Questions or Feedback

Like all people, team members just want the opportunity to be heard and involved. An “open door” period after the messaging has been released internally (and before it goes public) gives teams an opportunity to digest it and ask questions or provide feedback.

Provide Pre-Written Supporting Assets

All the excitement in the world doesn’t buy more time. Help your team share the news with pre-written social media posts, infographics, web pages, or other quick pre-generated tools that they can use to facilitate conversations with vendors, distribution, customers, prospects, or even prospective hires makes it easy for them to share their excitement externally.

Rallying your team around your messaging turns them into evangelists for the cause and will help show the entire organization’s dedication to making a change, not just checking a box off the list.

Rob Hawse

Co-founder of Crafted Agency

Broadcast Your Message

Putting together a plan to broadcast manufacturing sustainability messaging

Last, but certainly not least, take that internal culture you’ve established and move it externally to the defined audiences.

Be honest, transparent, and most importantly, ensure external messaging ties back to your brand. It’s this tie to your brand that ensures customers you aren’t “greenwashing”2 just to get their attention. If every sustainability initiative ties back to your brand and its values, even if it’s a small one, and it's portrayed in a realistic manner, your customers can get excited with you.

In the early stages of the release, monitor social platforms and be prepared to answer questions or comments from customers to show your engagement and willingness for continuous improvement if they point out something worth revisiting.

Make a Superior Brand One-Tier Higher with Articulate Sustainability Messaging

With all the tools and software out there, broadcasting the message is the easy part. Crafting a brand-centric sustainability messaging takes time, methodical research, and did we mention time? With a topic as important as sustainability, this isn’t something you want to rush through. Trust us. The investment will be worth it in the end.

Evaluate where your company is at in the Identify, Refine, Rally, and Broadcast process and pinpoint areas to improve or sharpen communication in this area. We look forward to seeing what you come up with.

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