It is the buzz word in so many organisations that we speak with at the moment. Not just in the marketing department but from board level down, sustainability is a mantra that pervades the organisation. Shareholders, we are told, expect it, pressure groups focus on the bigger organisations and expose any particular weaknesses, customers ask questions about it. Obviously, it makes great sense to reduce waist, reduce fuel and energy consumption… but in most cases the easy pickings have already gone. Upfront costs are required to generate even greater long-term efficiency and true sustainability requires tougher decisions concerning sourcing of raw materials, supply chains, etc.

Many of the organisations that we work with are a long way down this route and are truly committed to consistently improving the sustainability of their organisation. It is a commitment from the top down throughout the company. It is the right thing to do, we as individuals and as a company believe in a sustainable world for our shareholders and for our children. But how do we make all this effort and additional cost into a commercial advantage? How do we differentiate ourselves from the competition? How do we persuade our consumers that buying our products is a more sustainable choice and, most importantly, how do we make them care enough to choose us against cheaper – even if less sustainable – alternatives.

Qualitative research nearly always shows that consumers will respond to a sustainability message, while sales figures consistently demonstrate this to be at least questionable. But this is not because respondents lie in qualitative groups, they are genuinely interested in sustainability and at that point in time have been persuaded by the message. Unfortunately, in the multitude of messages that consumers receive and in the noise and confusion of their lives these messages are missed, forgotten, or seem less relevant as they grab their weekly shop from the supermarket shelf or click repeat on their internet shopping order.

If we really want consumers to come on board with our sustainability message we need, not only to tell them about it, we also need to demonstrate these values in their experience of our product. Every time that they use, eat, drink our product they need a subtle reminder that they made a more sustainable choice. Something about the experience that helps them to feel good about our product about our – and their – values.

If your product looks and tastes exactly the same as it did five years ago then it feels no more sustainable than it did five years ago. Your sustainability message may be quite persuasive, but it is quickly forgotten if there is nothing about the product experience that confirms it.

We have worked with a number of clients recently helping them to connect their sustainability message with the consumers’ product experience. It may be a very subtle hint of a taste or a texture, brief and barely noticed, it may be in the appearance or the feel of the product. Sometimes obvious, more often very subtle, but when appropriately signposted the consumer feels that this is a more sustainable choice every time that they eat, drink or use your product. The real win is that they learn to associate this feature with the sustainability of your product and the values of the brand– which they share – then when they experience a competitive product they find that these values are lacking. Thus emphasising the sustainable values of your brand and the lack of them in the competition.