PR challenges facing sustainable brands in 2021

It seems a long time ago that big plastic bottles of shampoo were the norm and the leaping bunny logo was almost impossible to find on cosmetics. But the truth is that zero-waste and cruelty-free products have been widely available and enjoying mass popularity for just a few short years.

A lot has changed in that time. Between the end of 2017 and the summer of 2019, Google searches for ‘plastic free’ and ‘zero-waste’ grew more than ten-fold in the UK, while use of the term ‘sustainable’ doubled. Users in their thousands searched for everything from plastic-free deodorant and teabags, to sustainable underwear, to recycled rugs and zero-waste gifts.

The popularity of low and no-waste alternatives to common household and personal goods, far from making it easier for relevant brands to secure press coverage, present new and unique PR challenges. To build brand equity and protect their market share, eco-brands will need to overcome these very real obstacles to win hearts and minds.

Securing – and protecting – share of voice

The proliferation of new brands in the sustainable products space means the sector has become increasingly congested. With many brands offering similar selling points such as ‘plastic free’, ‘100% recycled’ and ‘reusable’, it’s becoming a fight for share-of-voice across both press and social media.

Share-of-voice here refers to the percentage of relevant conversations on press and social media that each brand appears in. This measurement helps establish which companies are leading the charge and how this may impact future sales.

To secure and protect share-of-voice in a certain sector, brands must first take steps to find out what percentage of the conversation they are currently holding on social media and in press. At The PHA Group we use audience insights software to first benchmark a brands share-of-voice which ensures that we have a clear understanding of the factors that could be growing or damaging their presence. We can then build a tailored communications strategy designed to increase share of voice and cut through whilst positively impact brand sentiment as well.

Helping consumers make informed choices

Early in the genesis of low-and-no-waste, a key challenge was to educate consumers and retailers on the very need for these new products in order to reduce landfill waste and carbon emissions.

In just three short years, consumers are becoming very familiar with the need to reduce their personal waste and are now actively making more conscious purchasing decisions.

This leaves brands in the space with the much more complex challenge of helping consumers make genuinely informed choices.

Torn between bountiful options all claiming to being sustainable, consumers can end up conflicted.

To cite one example, a shopper looking for a ‘sustainable’ shampoo might be faced with a shelf offering liquid choices in 100% recyclable or recycled packaging, in bar form with and without sulphates, as a refill into a container of her choice or even as a ‘concentrate’ she can dilute at home to save on water and carbon.

Her choice will likely be influenced by numerous factors, including whether each brand is familiar, used by someone she knows or recommended by a favourite influencer. But it will also be driven by whether she believes the brand’s selling points are genuinely sustainable and ethical.

Clear and no-nonsense information on the brands values helps here – not only on owned and social channels but through trusted third-party sources such as the media and credible influencers.

 Communicating values and purpose, beyond the ‘buzz words’

As terms such as ‘plastic-free’ or ‘zero-waste’ trend in consumer features and product coverage, it’s an easy trap for brands to replicate that phrasing when they describe their products.

The result is a lack of nuance, as well as more complex and meaningful business values and purpose getting lost in the shuffle. This can include social sustainability policies such as fairtrade and living wage which have lower consumer awareness than plastic reduction.

To ensure that the brand values, mission, purpose and long-term goals don’t get lost, brands should consider a multichannel strategy which boosts the reach of messages on the channel where they have most impact. This could include organic and paid social content alongside editorial press coverage, influencer content and owned web content.

Ultimately, more sustainable and environmentally conscious products can only be a good thing, offering more options for consumers who want to minimise their footprint.

The challenge that remains for brands is to support and nurture consumer loyalty as they embark on their journey of more conscious purchasing.

Get in touch with the team