The power non-financial data has to influence the long term success of an organisation cannot be underestimated. In the age of big data, businesses are increasingly looking at how they can harness the vast volumes of data they produce every day. Huge developments in Internet of Things data collection devices, data storage, 4G internet and sensor and GPS tech has helped fuel the amounts of data being collected but also our ability to capture it and use it.
In this article I want to look at how sustainability processes and policies based on data can be translated into an overarching brand narrative that will help drive trust and loyalty to your company.
Big Data: Big Opportunity
So what exactly is sustainability data? Well at a macro level it might be the volume of carbon your entire company creates, including that used by your suppliers and partners. At a micro level it could be something as simple as the energy input and output of a given manufacturing process or the location of your employees in the supply chain at any given time.
There are a lot of things sustainability data might be used to do:
- Optimise energy consumption used in certain manufacturing processes
- Identify efficiencies in the supply chain leading to lower fuel and manpower costs
- Reduced raw material used in the supply chain
- Inform R&D, helping to identify inefficiencies in product design and either correct or address in future iterations
This raw data can help your organisation become more sustainable and as a result more efficient and profitable. But crucially it also helps your organisation become more accountable and this is vital to creating a powerful brand image.
A Holistic Approach
Data can be an unruly and often unreliable beast, which is why it pays to ensure your collection and interpretation of it doesn’t exist in silos across the wider business. Your data must be timely and accurate for it to have an impact on your wider business functions. This requires a holistic approach where data is collected across numerous business functions, standardised and imported into a single sustainability management system.
But how does all this data play into your wider brand image? Well this comes down to extending your corporate social responsibility policy to incorporate your corporate marketing strategy. Tying PR to CSR means creating a brand narrative that appeals to your target consumer base and make no mistake, your consumers are putting more onus on what companies have to say about their own sustainability practices and how they are addressing the environmental impact of their company.
As far back as 2010, a survey from Burson-Marsteller looked at 14 different industry sectors and found that 75% of consumers believed in the importance of CSR and a whopping 70% were willing to pay more for a product from a company that took it seriously too. Given that this survey was conducted only two years after the financial crash, it shows how much stock consumers are willing to put in environmental credentials even during a global recession.
From CSR Data to CSR Storytelling
Of course, it’s not as easy as presenting your customers with the hard data. You might very well be able to show how you’ve made a 5% saving in energy efficiency across manufacturing processes A, B and C but to the average consumer this will mean nothing.
The point is to create an overarching brand story that your data can quantitatively support and give credence to. This entails using the headline figures in your data and giving them context. So to cite our example above, if we can show how a 5% energy saving is directly impacting the carbon footprint of your entire organisation, then it is relevant to the brand story. The trick is to not get caught up in the detail, but focus on the bigger picture.
Let’s look at some tactics to consider when creating your brand story.
Establishing new inter-departmental relationships
Sustainability data modelling and interpretation can often feel fairly specialised to those outside of the business function under the microscope, but it’s important that it doesn’t remain sealed off. It’s important that relationships are established between the marketing department and business functions in which progress can be communicated and translated into brand strategy.
Finding your brand personality
Working out what kind of brand personality you are is an exercise any aspiring brand needs to go through and will require an insight into how people perceive your company. One way to approach this is through the concept of brand archetypes, but whatever type of brand personality you establish make sure you are consistent. This can present challenges if your company has a particularly light hearted or playful personality, as it’s vital you don’t undermine the gravitas of your CSR.
Putting it all in context
It’s no good if your message consists of figures and explanations but fails to put any of this in context. Consumers won’t genuinely appreciate the language of business but will want to understand how your efforts and achievements relate to the real world. Often this can be as simple as explaining your data in relatable terms (for example the average American produces enough C02 annually to fill 5 hot air balloons).
Understanding your consumers
Appreciating who your audience are is the first step in any well planned marketing strategy. It’s worth noting here that your audience won’t always be your consumer base as well. It’s likely that you will want to communicate your CSR to shareholders, partners, suppliers and prospective investors and in each case the tone and approach will be different.
Utilising the web and social media
It’s no good talking about all the wonderful achievements your CSR initiatives are having if no one is listening. The web is where you need to be projecting this message the loudest, as it is where the people who have never heard about you before are most likely to find you. Social media plays a huge part in this so get your company established on the big platforms and start talking about it.
About the Author
Joe Jones is Principal Sustainability Consultant at Bristol based global sustainability, EHS and risk data consultancy, SustainIt. He is an expert on implementing data driven systems and strategies to drive cultural change and engagement throughout the corporate world. SustainIt also provide a free and independent sustainability software comparison service called GoMarketWise. You can connect with Joe or Sustain It on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.