10 ways to “green” your brand

by

iMedia Connection

Matt Heinz

Here are some basic best practices for planning, launching and succeeding with your brand’s sustainable web initiatives.

 

Green marketing is all the rage today, and with that focus has come an avalanche of green marketing messages, materials and other communication tools from brands big and small. Chief among those green marketing priorities has been a sustainability web presence, an online hub for brands to communicate their green product enhancements and brand tenets.

But just like any marketing strategy, launching a successful green website takes careful planning, thoughtful execution, and an ongoing focus on improvement and optimization.

Below are 10 best practices for launching and succeeding with your brand’s sustainability website. The list is broken up into two sections. The first five tips are all about planning — ensuring that you have the right strategy and resources in place to succeed. The second set of tips is about execution, including critical focus areas to ensure your efforts stand out and successfully promote your green initiatives.

Section One: For Starters

Objectives
Start with why you’re building a sustainability web presence in the first place. Is it for PR purposes? Is it to promote and/or sell a new green-friendly product line? Is it to bring more attention to a long-held tenet of your core brand value proposition? The answer to these questions will go a long way towards dictating the ultimate design and architecture of your sustainability website.

For example, if you’re introducing a new product or going after a new market, a separate website (or separate section on your main website) might make the most sense. However, if you’ve always had a focus on sustainable practices and are trying to align that with the growing interest in the general marketplace, creating a separate sustainability site might not be the right answer. Augmenting your core web presence might be a better solution.

Audience
Who are you writing for and what do they care about? Is your audience consumer or business-oriented? If it’s business, think carefully about the audience level. The way you write, and the information you present, will be very different for manager and line-level employees than if you’re targeting C-level executives. The benefits you emphasize, the pain points you address, and the solutions you offer up may vary depending on subtle differences in who you’re addressing externally.

Outcome
This is extremely important and is an often-overlooked step in the planning process. The question is simple: What does success look like? Are you interested in traffic? Sales? Awareness? PR? Thought leadership?

Once you have answers to these questions, define a measurable objective to determine whether or not you’ve been successful. It could be a specific traffic or web hit figure. It could be a volume of sales leads generated from the site. It could be an uptick in press pick-ups from content posted on the site. Regardless of your objectives, do not begin implementation until you know exactly how to define success. This will make it very clear to your entire team and superiors what you’re doing and why and will also focus every resource on achieving that well-defined success target.

Content
Your pre-work around objectives and audience should give you a clear game plan for content as well — not just what type of content but also format and frequency.

We’ll get into topics such as interactivity and transparency later — tenets that will likely be important no matter whom you’re addressing. But think well in advance about the type of content you need for your target audience. If your company or brand already has sustainability initiatives, much of that content is probably already written, or at minimum just needs some editing to be appropriate for your website. Having enough content “in the bank” when your site launches not only gives you diversity and comprehensiveness up front, it also gives you plenty of additional content to rotate in on a regular basis, keeping the site fresh, engaging and relevant.

You may not update the site’s content every day, or every week, but launching a site and letting it sit stale is equally a bad idea. Ensure that you’re updating content at least a couple times each month. How you’ve defined your audience and site objectives will dictate what this means in terms of specific content — articles, blog posts, industry statistics, etc.

Dedicated owner
Many web projects are doomed from the start. Why? Someone on the marketing team takes on creation of the website as a “side project,” gets it built and launched, then goes back to what he typically does every day. The site is up and built, so job done. Right? Wrong.

If you’re going to launch a sustainability web presence for your brand, ensure that the right amount of resources are dedicated to its upkeep well after launch. If you don’t have these resources available, think very hard about whether you’re ready and/or committed to having that sustainability web presence in the first place. Your company may consider such web content vitally important, but launching the site only to let it immediately get stale and irrelevant should equally be considered a deal-breaker.

Section Two: Strategic Best Practices

Transparency
Look no further than the U.K., Japan and the broader European Union to see where the U.S. sustainability market is headed from a marketing perspective. Consumers in those markets have become incredibly well-educated on green and sustainability topics, they are increasingly wary of green claims by brands, and they are quick to punish brands that either over-promise or under-deliver. What’s more, regulatory groups are clamping down on what they consider to be deceptive advertising practices, including U.S.-based brands advertising in these more green-advanced markets.

What does this have to do with your green web strategy? There is nothing more important than your credibility, which in part comes from the transparency of your message, your intentions and your claims. Anything that even smells of spin-doctoring or “greenwashing” can be quickly dismissed by your target audience, or worse. The last thing you want is for your new website to become the target of overseas regulatory agencies, negative bloggers and more.

How do you achieve transparency? Be authentic. Back up every claim. Demonstrate the results of what you said you’d do to begin with. Give updates — good and not so good — on your overall sustainability efforts. Talk about the challenges of going green. Not every initiative is instantly successful, so talk about what you’re struggling with as much as what you’re succeeding with. Demonstrating both sides of the story is a great way to prove your authenticity and transparency.

Interactivity
This has become almost table-stakes for websites everywhere, but it is even more important when promoting your sustainability and green initiatives online. Start with the transparency best practices mentioned above and create a two-way communication channel with your intended audience. Let them react to what you’re saying, what you’re claiming, and where you’re innovating. Ask for their feedback and actively include audience questions in your copy. Take their responses — good, bad and ugly — seriously, and respond back with your opinions and updates on what you’ve done.

Interactivity is critical in creating deeper relationships with your audience and more meaningful impressions from a brand perspective. Interactivity also demonstrates that your brand is truly committed to the green and sustainability efforts you claim to support. There’s nothing less authentic than a sustainability website that’s static, with little to no updates, and with minimal to no interactivity. This kind of website screams that a company put it up as a marketing check-box and has moved on to other things.

Executive involvement
To accelerate authenticity, prove to your audience that everyone involved with your brand — all the way to the top — is committed and involved in furthering your green and sustainability efforts. Get your C-level executives — including your CEO, if possible — to participate actively on the site. This can include contributed content, blog posts, direct responses to audience questions or comments, etc. 

This must go beyond a simple introductory message ghost written for an executive. Prove that your organization is actively engaged in sustainability through ongoing executive visibility, leadership and contribution.

Executive support for your green website wasn’t discussed in the “for starters” section above, but it is clearly a critical component not only to having the resources available to successfully execute the site, but to ensuring an executive’s involvement — directly or indirectly — in its ongoing success.

Online/offline synergies
Simply put, do not let your sustainability website operate as a marketing island. If your green message is truly important to your brand, integrate that message and your interactive “hub” into your multichannel, multimedia strategy. This includes not only other marketing channels — advertising, PR, your other web initiatives — it also means your sales channels, supply chains, corporate marketing efforts and more.

Should your email signature tout this new web page? How about your out-of-office email message? Or voicemail? Be creative and truly integrated.

Metrics
When you define what success looks like up front, ensure you have the means to measure that success. This sounds simple, but it is a missing step for many organizations and marketers who intend to measure something up front but fail to put tools in place to execute that measurement over time.

Make sure you also have the tools and insights to convert those metrics into improvements or, if necessary, changes to your sustainability web initiatives. Is your message getting across? Is certain content getting more traction than others? Which sub-pages get the most traffic and why? Where does that traffic come from?

Then, define a subset of metrics that you can communicate on a regular basis back to your organization. Include not only a summary of those metrics, but an interpretation of what those metrics tell you, and how you’re acting on them to improve and grow the overall sustainability website’s presence and impact.

Now it’s your turn
This is a mere start to what is possible. Now, let’s do as we say and start the interaction. In the comments section below, share a bit about your green website plans — current or future. What are you selling? What green story do you have to share? What best practices above will you consider or execute on in your own sustainability web initiatives? What additional ideas do you have to add to this conversation — either new ideas, or implementation stories (good and bad) that you’ve already tried?

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