Let’s face it, communication has long been the thorn in the side of companies, governments, researchers, technologists, and climatologists trying to convey the dangers of unmitigated climate change. From terms like “global warming” and “heat pump” (which can imply both heating and cooling), the industry needs to clean up its vocabulary to reach the final stage of bringing climate tech to the mainstream and its products and services into the hands of consumers.
There are growing pains in most industries that see rapid growth, especially those that must meet the tall order of addressing multiple audiences at once. Given the immediacy of the climate crisis, the industry must convince regulators, voters, corporations, investors and consumers that massive investment right now is a necessary investment. Human nature has further challenged this, as research shows that humans have a much stronger ability to relate to their past selves versus their future selves. This bias explains why people underinvest in their retirements and why, despite ample data on the risks of climate change, have not changed their behavior to avoid it.
Sustainability communicators face another challenge in the form of the status quo. Oil and gas companies are formidable opponents, representing some of the world’s largest and wealthiest businesses. These companies have deployed creative strategies to ensure that they are not only the corporate giants of the past but of the future. These have included tactics like “if you can’t beat em, join em” where they created subdivisions dedicated to climate tech ventures, investing in messaging around recycling to take the onus off of their carbon footprints and put it on consumers, and of course, lobbying, lobbying, and more lobbying.
As communicators and marketers, we can recognize effective tactics when we see them. These strategies have, in the past, set back climate progress by a decade or more. However, we’ve evolved as sustainability marketers and public sentiment has shifted. We’ve learned from our past battles and are now better prepared for the fight ahead.
Antenna works with companies in the climate space, from housing and public health to clean energy and mobility. Our experience has taught us that climate and sustainability communications, regardless of the target audience, must meet specific criteria to compete against the status quo. We’ve termed these criteria as the 4 C’s of successful climate communications.
1. Contextualized – Be aware of when and how your messaging is received.
Sustainable storytelling is relatively new for everyone. If you’re a B2B sustainability product or service provider, understand that your customers will need to convince their end users to buy your product. Therefore, sustainability storytellers should see their audiences as B2X. Your target audience extends all the way to the ultimate consumer.
Finding the appropriate context to tell your story is difficult in a constantly distracted and chaotic news cycle and world. Especially, when unlike selling a soft drink or mattress, climate tech and sustainable goods are heavily impacted by geopolitical, regulatory and social contexts. This makes selling them a challenging balancing act and a significant factor that can make or break climate storytelling.
2. Clear – Make sure your audience knows that they have nothing to lose.
Humans resist change. They seek patterns and predictability. When selling sustainable products and services, it’s crucial to make consumers feel secure that they won’t lose anything in the process, even if they know they stand to gain a lot. For example, range anxiety has deterred many potential EV buyers. It’s like the old saying goes, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Without addressing the anxieties associated with change, sustainable products will remain second best to the status quo. Therefore, it’s vital to clearly outline that no current comforts will be lost during the transition.
3. Compelling – Sell your audience on their needs first, then their wants.
Ditch relying solely on your consumers being good people. If you really want to sell sustainable products, sell the product, not the story. So often the sustainable story is sold as the benefit, versus the actual product or service’s superiority over what is currently on the market.
We need to get back to the basics of why people buy things. Think back to the old marketing tool, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. At the end of this pyramid is self-actualization, which includes satisfying your moral compass and doing good. So why does messaging around sustainable products usually lead with “buy this to do good” when that only applies to the wealthiest and most fulfilled consumers? It’s no wonder sustainable goods like EVs have primarily penetrated the upper echelons of society; most companies aren’t speaking the right language.
Before your mind goes straight to cost, consider that a company like Apple doesn’t become one of the most successful companies in the world without people being okay with spending if it suits them. Companies that actually want their sustainable products to flourish should focus on why the product is better, not why it’s helping the greater good. The only time this isn’t completely true is when the product is targeted at consumers or companies whose main objective is to be sustainable. But it’s always important to remember that messaging around how it makes sense financially for your audience and the end user is always important when trying to reach a mass audience.
For example, Antenna Group prides itself on being a communications firm dedicated to the clean energy transition, but we do not market that as our value proposition. We come to market with the message that we have deep-rooted and decades-long relationships with the top climate reporters and decision-makers across the climate tech industry to procure premier media coverage for our clients.
4. Comprehensible – Tailor your story to your audience, not the subject matter.
COVID has shown that the public often struggles to communicate directly with the scientific community and vice versa. The same challenge has long plagued communication between scientists, researchers, and engineers working to combat climate change. The issues we face are complex and incomprehensible to the majority of average people, so ditch the jargon. Marketing and communication experts exist for a reason – their job is to convey the story in a way that people can understand.
As a communications firm specializing in marketing and PR for cutting-edge and industry-defining technologies, we understand this challenge well. “New” is typically met with skepticism. However, translating the complexity into conversations with investors, regulators, reporters, and consumers to deliver a compelling story requires finesse and is invaluable in achieving escape velocity.
Defining and Amplifying Your Climate Story
Building an airtight and strong sustainability story is hard, and it requires expertise not only in the industry in question but the climate space as a whole. Ensuring that you’ve considered these principles before telling your story will bring you closer to your audience and the desired results.
If you’d like to leverage Antenna’s expert team of industry insiders and climate warriors to define and amplify your climate story, get in touch.