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Greenwashing Sustainable Transformation Agency Leadership

How audience insight can help close marketing’s ‘green knowledge gap’

By Dominic Cook, Co-founder and co-CEO



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This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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August 30, 2023 | 7 min read

Amid what some are calling a ‘green knowledge gap’ in marketing, comms agency 33Seconds is investing in better understanding the world of sustainability. Here, chief executive Dominic Cook spells out why.

A single red flower in a green field, representing green marketing

How can agencies overcome the 'green knowledge gap'? / Kai Brune via Unsplash

For marketing and communications professionals, developing and executing brand campaigns with a focus on sustainability is becoming an increasingly complex undertaking.

Regulation concerning how companies substantiate green claims is constantly evolving and becoming ever more stringent, while customer demand for businesses and brands to be forthcoming, clear, and transparent about eco-initiatives is growing.

Due in part to these factors, recent reports have highlighted that a high percentage of marketers aren’t feeling entirely confident when it comes to the promotion of sustainability progress.

Research from both The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and the UK’s Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has focused on the growing ‘green knowledge gap’ in the marketing industry.

In the WFA report, over a third (35%) of marketers admitted their sustainability knowledge was ‘patchy’. And in the recent CIM findings, nearly half (49%) of marketing executives said they were wary of working on eco-focused projects, due to fear of their employer or clients being accused of ‘greenwashing’.

A lack of confidence connected to ‘not knowing enough’ combined with fear of experiencing a backlash doesn’t exactly sound like a reassuring combination, particularly for the companies putting trust in these teams and individuals to communicate on their behalf.

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The role of audience insight

If the first step to dealing with a problem is admitting there is one, then it seems the industry at least has this on its side.

Both companies and individuals must take the initiative to stay up-to-date with climate science and regulatory changes as understanding and insight in this area progresses.

There’s a wealth of resources, events, training and information out there to help us do this, led by organizations like the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) and CIM, as well as industry champions and media outlets.

But this is only half the challenge. Marketing and comms professionals not only need to be clued up on what a company legally can and can’t claim; they also have to be in tune with the wider customer landscape and what green messages will truly resonate with business and consumer audiences.

A critical first step is to gain a deep understanding of audience habits, desires, and pain points in relation to sustainable products and services. This helps to build insight into brand marketing strategies from the outset.

What agencies can do

To help companies achieve this, specialist teams and agencies can provide access to the latest thinking on eco issues, offering ways to creatively problem-solve and navigate complexities.

To this end, earlier this year, our agency 33Seconds launched 33_Zero: a strategy consultancy specifically aimed at supporting emerging companies and established brands as they look to thrive in a net zero culture. The purpose of this specialist arm is to help brands gain in-depth understanding into the next generation of consumers – so critical to influencing mainstream adoption – enabling them to plan, adapt and position themselves more effectively.

We’ve also been continuing to develop and grow our TikTok community Earthtopia, which has recently hit over 300K followers, making it one of the largest eco communities on the platform.

Earthtopia engages with and inspires young people to be more environmentally friendly in their everyday lives. Following weekly trends meetings focused on brainstorming eco-themed pop culture moments, our dedicated team creates short, informative videos that highlight the positive actions individuals, businesses and governments are taking.

And to delve into the motivations and mindset of this demographic even further, we also recently conducted an extensive ‘Window on Net Zero Culture’ report, which explores the attitudes and habits of 2,000 generation Y and Z planet-conscious consumers across the UK and US.

The report revealed that today’s consumers feel that businesses have a vital role to play in helping people to live more eco-friendly lives. Over half (52%) agree that overall, brands appear to be working hard to become more sustainable.

As this data indicates, the support is out there for the brands and marketing teams who take this issue seriously and are ready to use creative thinking to unlock a deeper understanding of audiences and engage with them around the issue of sustainability.

Although it can seem daunting and complex at times, there’s a real opportunity to close the green knowledge gap in marketing – and, potentially, take the industry forward in leaps and bounds.

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Greenwashing Sustainable Transformation Agency Leadership

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33Seconds is an independent, award-winning communications agency, specialising in climate, technology and lifestyle.

As well as offering services across strategy,...

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