The past year has evidenced how SMEs can quickly adapt in response to changing customer needs. When the pandemic struck, processes, products and services diversified, at speed, to retain and grow customer loyalty. Can SMEs now channel the same energy and forward-thinking approach to meet the other pressing need, sustainability?
Consumer-led Change for SMEs
When SMEs swiftly implemented effective ways to serve their customers and community during lockdown, their efforts were rewarded. People were grateful that their needs were being understood and met. They appreciated companies that made it simple and convenient to access the goods and services they wanted.
Not only did this shift help SMEs to retain customers and survive, but it also expanded their customer base. For years, there has been talk of shopping local, but suddenly the businesses on the doorstep became community champions. They stepped up and reaped the rewards. As restrictions continue to ease, consumer loyalty continues.
The need to tackle climate change through actions that promote sustainability and the circular economy may not feel as pressing, but it is. We have all seen images of seas and beaches polluted with plastic and watched rain forests being cleared for more cash crops. We’ve read poor city air quality causing respiratory problems and know people affected by flash floods, wildfires and other extreme conditions.
It may feel as though this challenge is too great to conquer, yet with collective action, we’ve just made it over a huge hurdle. We can do it again and as consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of their impact, taking action makes good business sense.
Socially & Environmentally Responsible Brands
Given the choice between two similar products, I opt for the one that I know or perceive to be the most eco-friendly. I actively look for recycling, FSC and Fairtrade labels on packaging. I still purchase goods in plastic packaging, but I am less comfortable about doing it. I am not alone.
A Deloitte report Shifting Sands: Are Consumers Still Embracing Sustainability? shows that consumers are increasingly interested in the eco-credentials of brands. Consumer behaviours indicate that more are choosing plastic-free goods and buying local. Crucially, a third of customers have stopped purchasing certain products due to ethical or sustainability concerns.
Consumers want to do their bit, but they are looking to producers, manufacturers and retailers to make it easy, convenient and affordable to go green. As SMEs, we have a stronger connection with our local customers, economy and environment. We can help them to access the goods and services that they want to buy.
In addition to attracting customers, sustainable brands are appealing to employees, particularly young talent. Being a socially and environmentally responsible brand could cut recruitment costs.
Consumers are also becoming increasingly aware of brands that are talking the talk, but not walking the walk. Greenwashing is marketing spin, sugar coating a product or brand without any real substance behind it. It is deceptive and when it comes under scrutiny, it will damage a brand’s reputation.
Take stock of your starting point, create a sustainability plan and identify key milestones that will make for meaningful PR opportunities.
Rather than an overt green marketing message, build sustainability into your brand story. Offer products and services that attract customers because they are beautiful, useful, exciting, as well as being ethically sound.
Only make green claims when your marketing can stand up to challenges and fact-checking. Be genuine when promoting sustainability. Share your goals and engage customers with the story of your progress. Involving customers in your journey will help to inform and influence their decisions about sustainable purchases.
Believe in sustainability and build a company culture around it; that is the only way to be perceived as a brand that is authentically a force for good.
The Benefits of Becoming a Sustainable SME
Embedding green credentials isn’t an act of philanthropy. Beyond attracting customers, building brand reputation and having a powerful PR story, other benefits of a sustainable approach include:
- Substantial cost savings from implementing energy efficiency and waste management measures
- Attracting talent, as candidates are increasingly keen to work for companies with a moral purpose
- Meeting criteria that increase the chance of winning tenders
- Getting ahead of the game, as future legislation will have a greater focus on businesses becoming Net Zero
- Future-proofing your business, the local economy and the environment
SMEs make up the vast majority of UK private sector businesses. We may be small, but collectively, we can make a difference.
Supporting Sustainable Change
In our next article, we will be sharing practical steps that SMEs can take towards sustainable goals, along with sources of support. For assistance with sustainability goal setting, marketing strategy and planning, Alison Page Marketing delivers tangible results. Contact us to discuss your requirements.