Innovate and inspire – an optimistic guide to marketing success post-COP26

By Maddy Cooper, November 2021. 12 min read. Posts

Sustainability is the new digital. It’s the new critical success factor for marketing transformation. Marketers have to get on board and adopt sustainable strategies – fast – or risk losing relevance and even being shamed by consumers for not doing enough. And as COP26 Glasgow draws to a close, excuses for brands to ignore the climate challenge are quickly melting away.

Data-led, consumer-centric storytelling is our thing at Brilliant Noise, and sustainability is one of the vital pillars upholding and driving everything we do. We know that real sustainability is about action. So, in a world polluted by empty pledges, greenwashing, and virtue-signaling that consumers can smell a mile off, only those brands with the boldest and most authentic sustainable stories will shine through.

Recently we went to The Marketing Society’s online event, A Global Conversation: The Fight Against Climate Change – COP26 Special. As we work towards B-Corp status, we can’t and won’t shut up about the importance of sustainable marketing and sustainable brands.

After hearing how marketing leaders from some of the world’s biggest brands are looking and planning ahead towards a more sustainable future, we’ve been chomping at the bit to share our observations and insights from these vital conversations in the marketing community. Let’s get into it.

Conscious brands make conscious consumers (and vice versa)

The smartest brands put consumer insight at the heart of everything they do. And sustainability is no exception. As marketers, it’s our responsibility to deliver what the customer wants without harming their future.

As consumers demand more and more accountability from brands, we have to listen, but we also have to lead that change. The gap between the needs of the planet and the needs of your consumer has to close. It’s vital to our survival.

Know your power (and use it) 

What you’re selling and how it’s produced is fundamental to your sustainable story. Sure. But consumers won’t be inspired to act or make you part of their sustainable journey without education and inspiration. And whose job is that?

Shouting through that limitless void between the product and the consumer, yours is the voice of action. In any organisation, it’s a marketer’s priority to speak on behalf of the consumer and their needs. Your influence runs deep – both internally and externally – so it’s your duty to get creative, drive that need, and lead that change.

Take the risk or risk irrelevance

Matthias Bloom of Coca-Cola had an inspiring story to tell. Notice anything different about Sprite lately? For 60 years, the iconic green bottle may have generated huge brand value, but it held a lot less value for the microeconomies of bottle collectors in the South Pacific region, who re-sell them as part of local initiatives. 

Matthias convinced the cautious team to give up the green in favour of clear PT that’s more recyclable, more supportive of the microeconomies, and, therefore, less polluting. Surrendering something fundamental to your brand might be a big risk. But the best and boldest marketers know that, with the right story, explaining to consumers why you’re making ethical changes will increase purchase intention. Big time.

This year’s COP26 agenda and the ongoing sustainability challenge aren’t all doom and gloom. It’s a chance for innovation, optimism, and leadership. Smart sustainable strategy is about taking and owning the risk now before it materialises on its own over time. With increasing uncertainty ahead, no brand can afford that.

Vikram Krishna of Emirates NBD put it plainly: “only those organisations that have a clear view of how they see themselves in society, and how they’re able to balance out the interests of their commercial needs with the impact they have on the environment, will have a natural advantage in the form of pricing.” The message is clear. When the flow of capital is moving towards sustainable initiatives, you need to make sure your brand wins the market advantage.

Are you sustainably certified?

We’re nearing the end of our journey towards B Corp certification at Brilliant Noise. It hasn’t been easy (and nor should it be) to qualify for that level of recognition. But is it worth it?

A few panelists pointed out that most consumers just don’t know enough about these sustainable credentials to care. Maybe the B Corp stamp will become a final point of decision-making, but could it ever be the main purchase driver?

If you ask us, the best sustainable marketing strategies are all about educating consumers and being a trusted, accessible voice of authority when it comes to new ideas, products, and certifications. As sustainable brands, it’s our responsibility to make sure our hard-earned credentials are understood and converted into awareness and true brand value.

Ultimately, it all comes down to intent. Actions lead and pieces of paper follow. So, if your intentions are towards truly sustainable business practice for people and the planet, then this will shine through. Trust us.

It’s your problem

Encouraging consumption got us into this mess, right? So how the hell are marketers going to get us out of it?

We learned at the event that Coca-Cola have a few ideas. Instead of just admitting they were part of the pollution problem, they decided they wanted to be part of the sustainable solution. As well as an internal strategy to improve the recycling value of their sustainable packaging, they’re now an implementation partner of The Ocean Cleanup, helping with funding and action to intercept plastic pollution from the 1000 most emitting rivers.

Partnerships like this are often (quite rightly) accused of greenwashing and virtue-signaling. But they also give brands the opportunity to put themselves in a vulnerable and accountable position while cleaning up their mess. It’s the right thing to do.

It’s not too late

Marina Maciver of Scottish Enterprise had a lot to say on the value of transparency. And we couldn’t agree more. It doesn’t matter where you are on your sustainable journey – it’s about being honest and communicating with consumers about where you’ve come from and the goals and progress you’re making now.

Don’t lose out to disruptive brands who are doing it faster just because you may not have it all figured out right now. Just. Get. Started. And take your consumers with you by telling them what you’re doing to get better. 

COP26 and what it stands for may have made sustainability a hot topic right now, but it’s here to stay. 

We’re a marketing transformation agency that specialises in sustainability. So, wherever you are on your journey, we’re keen to chat through your sustainable story and how we can help you use your voice and values for better, bolder marketing.

Get in touch today to start building more meaningful connections with consumers this COP26 and beyond.