With world leaders increasingly facing pressure to tackle climate change and Greta Thunberg raising awareness on the importance of sustainability. And this is before we even mention the Australian bush fires being linked to climate change. Rarely a day goes by without a story related to climate change appearing on the news and, as a consequence, consumer environmental awareness has never been higher. Brands are facing increasing pressure to operate in a more sustainable way. While consumers don’t expect immediate perfection they clearly want change.

Experiential marketing has historically been seen as a particularly wasteful approach to marketing, being more focused on profit and ROI then being particularly environmentally conscious. With travel emissions, mass flyering, wasted food and drink and the residual waste that comes from events it is easy to see how marketing events can negatively impact the environment.

So as we enter the new year and a new decade Eventeem, an experiential marketing agency, has taken a closer look at some successful sustainable experiential marketing campaigns and is asking the question: how should brands and agencies be approaching sustainability in experiential marketing in 2020?

Why does sustainable branding matter?

While sustainable brands are hardly a new concept they are seeing a boost in significance and popularity in recent years. This is in part due to the changing way customers are connecting with companies. Today’s consumers want to feel a connection with their favourite brands that is based on shared ideals and sustainability has quickly become an important focal point for many consumers.

When consumers connect with a particular sustainable brand, they are also showing the rest of the world that they also care about sustainability. The environment is something the majority of people are concerned about so if your brand can show consumers that it shares that concern then you are one step closer to connecting with them.

A sustainable branding strategy has become the modern brand’s way to meet the changing needs of consumers who aren’t just looking for products or services, but rather want to see that you care about something important and that you are actively working towards the same goal.

Assessing the impact of experiential marketing events

Marketing events usually create waste and experiential marketing campaigns can often be especially wasteful, but this doesn’t have to be the case. By considering the environmental impact of your activation or event we can strive to reduce the negative impact and help to make our events, and by extension our brands, more sustainable.

Brands and marketing agencies should be taking a close look at their events and activations from the planning stages all the way through to the end. Things like travel emissions from client meetings, importing products for sampling campaigns and how the residual waste produced by the event is handled all has a big impact on how sustainable an event is.

Marketing events are already seeing increased scrutiny over harassment and inappropriate behaviour so it is only logical that we approach them with the same level of scrutiny in regards to sustainability. It is essential that as event organisers and marketers we strive to make our marketing events as sustainable as possible.

Provide sustainable alternatives

Work to provide sustainable alternatives for your event to minimise the environmental impact. Engaging with clients via phone or video conferencing to reduce travel emissions, working with local vendors and suppliers instead of importing products and making use of eco-friendly materials to reduce residual waste are all ways to help ensure your next campaign is as sustainable as possible.

Approach your event with sustainability in mind. Provide plentiful access to recycling bins, supply compostable or even edible cups and utensils for your product sampling and ensure you have plenty of places to dispose of used materials in an environmentally friendly way.

In addition, rather than distributing the usual swag items that are traditionally given out at mass brand experiences look at gifting consumers with digital rewards or charity donations instead. Niantic, the parent company for the popular augmented reality gaming app Pokemon Go, used this tactic during their Earth Day event. The games user base was encouraged to pick up trash in a green initiative to earn exclusive in-game rewards. Thousands of players across the world took part and engaged with the trash pick-up initiative.

Pokemon Go Earth Day Cleanup

Be aware of what you stand for

Sustainable brands are in a great position to access the loyalty of a broad range of environmentally conscious consumers. It is really easy for brands to just jump on the environmental bandwagon and expect great results but this isn’t enough. You need to convince consumers that you are genuinely committed to your chosen cause and that means being specific about your goals and building the right message and story around your brand.

Take a look at the original message and aim of your brand and think about how you can link your business vision with your new sustainable aims. Be specific in your choice. You will need your efforts to be relevant to your products or services as well as the beliefs of your business. There is no point announcing you are reducing water wastage if you are a tech company that rarely deals with water waste. Instead, choose a cause that will impact your business operations.

A great example of this is Patagonia and their continued effort to raise awareness on the climate crisis. Patagonia saw a connection between their original mission to provide tools for climbers and other outdoor sports and the fight against global warming and have made this part of their brand’s core values. These core values are well represented in the virtual reality film series; This is Bears Ears, where Patagonia teamed up with Google to raise awareness of the threatened national monuments of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Create a positive tone of voice

The reality behind sustainability may be complicated and even depressing, but that doesn’t mean that your marketing campaigns need to be. Most humans naturally avoid anything that is uncomfortable or distressing. Which is why you should endeavour to make your sustainability-focused message positive and empowering. Be transparent, authentic and honest with consumers. This helps consumers to trust you and your brand. Have a distinct and consistent voice that reminds consumers of your values.

Brands can also strive to make sustainable consumption fun. Get on social media and connect with consumers in a positive way and show how your sustainable initiatives are going. Chobani, the Greek yoghurt brand did this by encouraging commuters in New York to take part in a fun experiential campaign that used a digital ‘Giving Tree’. New Yorkers were asked to choose their favourite flavour by planting a virtual seed. For each seed planted, Chobani donated a case of their yoghurt to a charity working to end childhood hunger in America.

While sustainable topics are inherently serious, it is important that you let your brand’s personality shine though if you want consumers to connect with you on a deeper level. The Chobani campaign took an upsetting topic and delivered the message in a fun and engaging way which created a more positive engagement.

Encourage engagement

If you are promoting a specific message during your activation and achieve a particular goal then invite people to come and help you achieve that goal. It is important that you encourage engagement from your customers and provide a way for them to take immediate action. For example, in 2018 the WWF (The World Wide Fund for Nature) created an experiential campaign that was focused on raising awareness on the issue of animal trafficking by creating a holographic elephant roaming the streets of London.

This campaign not only created an impressive visual spectacle that was shared across social media, but it also gathered 124,664 signatures for the WWF’s petition to end illegal wildlife trafficking. Brands should think about what they need their consumers to do to support their sustainability initiatives and encourage them to engage appropriately.

WWF Experiential Campaign

Encourage action by organising a charitable event that raises money for a specific issue or give a percentage of your profits for a particular period to a non-profit group. Make your customers feel as though they are part of a wider community that is connecting with your brand to help make the world a better place.

Invest in green branding and sustainable practices

Sustainability is a great way to make your brand differentiate itself and stand out to consumers. The best way to stand out from the crowd is to make a connection with your target audience and with consumers becoming increasingly aware of the damage that our lifestyles are having on the environment they are more likely to engage with socially-conscious brands who put the needs of the environment before their profits. Sustainability is quickly becoming the new mantra for strategic positioning.

While sustainable brands can, and often do, face their own complicated challenges a green brand strategy can lead to a better reputation, brand equity and increased profits. Sustainable practices are starting to become an expectation for today’s consumers and brands that actively concentrate on using their influence to make a positive impact on the world around us are more likely to attract consumers who share similar values.

You don’t need to rush in a reckless way. Your customers don’t expect you to adopt zero-waste policies overnight. But if you demonstrate that you are working to achieve a specific aim and support the planet consumers are likely to want to help you achieve your goals. If you put the right processes in place at every level to achieve the goals that matter to consumers then you will successfully connect to your target audience and win their trust and loyalty.

A change for the future

Environmental awareness in consumers is here to stay and we all have a responsibility to think about sustainability in our work. Environmental awareness and sustainability is no longer something marketers can simply tack onto their brand to attract customers, it is a non-negotiable point that needs to be part of your business strategy. Brands need to be increasingly aware of how their services or products are affecting the environment and strive to reduce this impact.

We have the creative ability to bring sustainability into the hearts and minds of consumers across the globe and impact their purchasing decisions for the better. Sustainability is a global issue and as experiential marketers, we need to ensure we are doing our part. Sustainable brands have shown that they can stand the test of time.