Nuancing brand communication

October 13, 2021
Mirella Mokbel
Head of Shopper Strategy

There’s no topic more pertinent or pressing than sustainability.

Driven by consumer demand, government policies and dire climate issues, sustainability credentials are now a must have for any brand that wants to succeed in 2022 and beyond.

According to new research, 73% of consumers have a desire to be more sustainable in the next 12 months.

To make this possible, brands have an important role to play in bridging the gap between intention and action. Many consumers want to make more sustainable choices, but in the moment of purchase, they often revert back to price or product performance. The onus then, is on brands to help make sustainable choices easier, simpler and more accessible.

“I believe it’s our job as a brand to make it as easy as possible for the consumer to make sustainable choices.” As Olivia Sinclair, Marketing Manager at Doisy & Dam

Olivia continues “Whether that’s through clear messaging or making our products more sustainable, we need to be as transparent as possible and make choices easy for consumers.”

While most consumers are aware of how shopping decisions impact the environment, the path to purchase throws up numerous barriers that can sway shoppers away from making more sustainable choices.

To overcome this, brands need a robust understanding of when to speak to customers’ hearts and heads and what messages to share.

In this article, we’ll explore how brands can bridge the gap between intention and action, flex messages across the path to purchase and further a more sustainable future.

What is sustainability, anyway?

Sustainability has become a ‘catch-all’ phrase in recent times, so it will be useful to explore how leading brands in the space are defining it.

Dragan Oudshoorn, Global Channel Marketing Manager B2C at Hansgrohe Group, says, “We are not only committed to creating high quality products and solutions that directly save water and energy without compromising on performance. hansgrohe is also dedicated to thinking and operating sustainably across all production processes, factories, employees and resources. Our work focuses on three elements: economy, environment and society. We think broader in terms of how we can have a responsible and sustainable impact on the world.”

Sarah Webster, Director of Sustainable Business at Britvic, agrees, commenting, “Sustainability for us isn’t just a corporate strategy. It’s a business mindset that impacts everything our 4,000 employees across the world do.”

For Ferry Kamp, Global CMO at Meatless Farm, sustainability is about more than just reducing environmental impact – it’s actually about restoring the planet. “We’ve taken the decision to move beyond sustainability and become a regenerative business. We want to go beyond reducing negative impact  and actually work to have a positive impact on restoring the planet.”

From ethical supply chain practices to sustainable ingredients to recyclable packaging, sustainability encompasses a host of different activities that are pertinent to brands.

A recent Deloitte study found that the top 5 sustainable practices that consumers want brands to deliver on were

Doisy & Dam have made this a non-negotiable business priority. Olivia Sinclair says, “Whether it’s our promise to never use palm oil or to only use ethically sourced cocoa, we think our commitment to sustainability is what keeps our customers loyal.”

In today’s world, consumers believe brands should play a significant role in shaping the direction of sustainability.

When asked “how can brands can help consumers adopt a more sustainable lifestyle”, respondents cited

As Britvic’s Sarah Webster notes, “It can be hard for consumers to do the right thing. For example, which bin do you put the recycling in? Do you leave the cap on or off? Do you leave the sleeve on? If you put any friction in the way, you create barriers to purchase.”

The role of time preference in high and low consideration categories

 To bridge the gap between intention and action, brands need to recognise the ways in which time preference and high vs low consideration categories can impact decision-making.

Let’s consider an example.

Jane wants to buy a new car, but she’s making a concerted effort to be more environmentally conscious. Since purchasing a car is a high consideration category, sustainability will be a key issue for Jane much earlier in the path to purchase. It influences everything from the car brands she researches to the types of vehicles she’s willing to purchase.

As Jane is on the way to the dealership, she stops into a local supermarket to purchase a drink. While Jane wants to make more sustainable choices, she doesn’t consciously consider the environmental impact of the drink until she’s physically at the point of purchase. In the end, she decides to buy a familiar soda on sale, rather than opt for a more expensive drink with stronger sustainability credentials.

In this example, it’s clear that time preference (whether a purchase is for the long-term or more disposable) influences how and when consumers think about sustainability. Higher consideration categories need to emphasise sustainability up-front, whereas more spontaneous categories need to focus on highlighting sustainability at the point of purchase.

To become more thoughtful around sustainability, brands need to consider the role of the products they sell and the context of the category they operate in.

Doisy & Dam’s Olivia Sinclair agrees, adding, “Bridging the gap between intention and action is a tricky one. Closing conversions online or in-store comes down to building consumer confidence and trust. This means making sure our sustainability wording speaks to people as people and making sure our packaging stands out.”

“When customers turn the package over, they can see our sustainability certifications, which includes our copy about treating farmers fairly and putting cocoa growers at the heart of our decision-making,” Olivia continues. “For some consumers, price point is everything, but there will be people for whom this resonates and are happy to pay more.”

How to flex sustainability messages across the path to purchase

Since sustainability messaging varies depending on the brand, product and category, it’s vital that companies think strategically about how to flex sustainability messages across the path to purchase.

As Britvic’s Sarah Webster rightly notes, sustainability “needs to be matched with a clear hierarchy of messaging. You can afford to have a lot more detail on your website, whereas labels are quite small, so you must be very clear and link into your consumer insights – what’s the shopper occasion? What’s the purpose of that purchase? What are the regulatory requirements?”

Nailing this journey can have a sizable impact on the decisions shoppers make.

hansgrohe, for example, has designed a water savings calculator that puts the power of sustainability directly into the hands of consumers, and shows the direct impact one can make. Users enter their information such as the number of people living in their home and the type of energy used. Based on this information, the calculator will then determine how much water and energy consumers could save by switching to a hansgrohe EcoSmart product.

This calculator demonstrates both the functional and emotional benefits of hansgrohe’s products, appealing to consumers’ hearts and minds

For our products, the first trigger is all about creating awareness and further educating consumers how they can make an impact and contribute to a better planet through our products and solutions. Dragan Oudshoorn, Global Channel Marketing Manager B2C, Hansgrohe Group

Dragan continues “We do this through different touchpoints and campaigns that attract and explain our sustainability initiatives. It’s relevant to communicate this throughout the journey, whether that’s packaging, website or point of purchase.”

To flex sustainability messages across the path to purchase, brands need to consider when to speak to the heart and when to the head.

The further consumers are from the moment of purchase, the more susceptible they are to emotional storytelling. At this stage, brand have a chance to tell them all about their sustainable ambitions and how they envisage to make an impact.

The closer to the moment of purchase, the more the shopper is thinking of how the product will meet their needs. This is where brands need to dial up their functional benefits and demonstrate how a sustainable product is as good as their usual choice, if not better.


Here are a few do’s and don’ts to help brands communicate sustainability initiatives in a way that gets products in shoppers’ baskets:

Make sustainability approachable and relatable

There are two main pain points that stop consumers from making sustainable choices: they feel hopeless based on the scope of the problem and/or they are unclear on how purchasing from a brand will contribute to change. To solve this, brands should focus on topics that their customers know and define individual actions to create authentic impact and encourage participation. It has to feel incremental, not revolutionary. Next, the contribution should be easy to understand and comparable. Use layman’s terms and focus on everyday choices.

Be transparent

Brands need to be honest about their credentials and open about where they are in the sustainability journey. This authenticity will help brands connect with people; often, the journey yet to be realised can inspire action.

Show don’t tell

Don’t make hollow promises. Brands can drive authenticity by walking the walk and consistently supporting the effort. This means demonstrating how purchasing from a brand will positively impact the environment, such as showcasing small wins that are accomplished together with consumers. Messages that contain evidence are more believable, and measurable statements or claims are usually preferable to messages of intent.

Be concise in brand and product storytelling

Today’s consumers digest information in small bites. How a brand delivers its messages is key; this needs to feel accessible, clear and engaging. Avoid over-intellectualising sustainability narrative and don’t over-complicate a product’s sustainable benefits.

Be clear about objectives

When developing a sustainability campaign, brands need to be clear from the beginning about their objectives. Is the campaign meant to increase brand awareness and preference? Or should it also convert and increase revenue? Different objectives may require different tactics and various types of storytelling.

Nearly six in 10 consumers are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact according to IBM.

Moving towards a sustainable future

What’s more, nearly 8 in 10 indicated sustainability is important to them.

Clearly, sustainability is no longer just a ‘nice to have’. It’s an absolute must for any brand that wants to stay relevant, win new customers and drive loyalty.

The onus, then, is on brands to help facilitate sustainable purchasing decisions – by making products that meet sustainable standards and by designing these products to be easy, efficient and desirable to purchase.

Britvic’s Sarah Webster poignantly concludes, “No one has all of the answers. But that’s not an excuse for no action. We’re learning along the way, which is something we all need to embrace. Because we all want to move forward and make progress.”

By recognising nuances in the path to purchase and flexing messages according to different shopper experiences and expectations, brands can do what’s right for the planet, increase sales and play their part in building a more sustainable future.

As seen in The Drum