Duncan Sparke

How to find your content’s white space in a sea of green

Posted on 14th September 2021 by Duncan Sparke

Over the last few years the environment has been engaged in a hostile takeover of the global news agenda, and it’s working. Earlier this year the UN Development Programme (UNDP) surveyed over a million people around the world and found that the vast majority (two thirds) believed there is a climate emergency. Whether younger or older, whether in the UK, South Africa or Japan the story was the same. What’s more, most people were willing to support climate action even when it required significant changes in their own country.   

For investors the same story is playing out, whether you look at the flood of green bonds appearing on the market or the three quarters of investors planning to increase their share of ESG investments this year.   

Green screen 

For marketers the good news comes hand in hand with the bad. With so much passion for the environment, authentic, well founded marketing that showcases the genuine green credentials of a progressive business can be a powerful lever of growth. On the other hand, the bandwagon is crowded, and often with those whose actions don’t live up to their words.  

Greenwashing is pervasive across a number of industries and as a result it’s easy for genuinely progressive firms to get tarred with the greenwashing brush. Even without the threat of the greenwashing label, finding white space that your brand can own in this ever more crowded market is only getting harder, yet all the while the rewards for successfully doing so increase exponentially.  

The question: how do you find your own unique white space, and at the same time demonstrate the authenticity of what you have to say? To do so is no simple challenge. There are however a few guiding principles to start with:  

 

Progress, not promises  

Firstly – and this should go without saying – you can’t market it if you don’t have it. If your business doesn’t have a plan to reach net zero; to aggressively improve its impact on the environment; or better still to facilitate a host of other people and organisations to improve their impact, then the journey doesn’t start with a marketing campaign.  

If you haven’t already made some progress, then to talk about future plans sounds hollow. Equally, you can’t highlight a problem that you can help fix, if you haven’t already gone some way towards fixing it within your own organisation. Progress comes before promises. If you have grand ambitions that you can’t back up with demonstrable achievements, that’s greenwashing, no matter how good your intentions.  

 

Challenging, not cheerleading 

The planet – at least as far as humans are concerned – is in grave danger, and an unprecedented amount of progress is required to turn the situation around. That isn’t something that is going to change this decade. Celebrating small wins is great, and it’s all part of the journey, but only in the context of the gargantuan challenge that remains.  

The most direct route to finding unique white space within the green agenda is to understand a unique aspect of the problem that isn’t garnering the attention it deserves and to demonstrate why it needs focus and how we can begin to tackle it. That’s exactly what Standard Chartered recently did with their successful Carbon Dated campaign by highlighting the problem of multinational corporations shunting emissions reduction efforts down their supply chains. And what Law Firm Addleshaw Goddard explored in their Pain to Net Gain campaign revealing a major sustainable financing threshold just four years away. 

 

Lead, don’t follow 

Thinking inside the box will never deliver the kind of profitable white space CMO’s crave. A great many organisations offer their take on some of the biggest and most debated challenges of the climate emergency, but that kind of thinking doesn’t cut through the noise.  

All too often asset managers and other financial institutions produce ‘me too’ content on ESG investments and other sustainable finance initiatives. Investors are bombarded with it and journalists are bored of it. 

To truly lead the conversation, brands must project the climate challenge forward, uncover the unforeseen challenges that tomorrow will hold and relate them back to the business pressures that we face today. Only then can they truly break new ground.  

If you’re interested in hearing more about how your business can discover and claim its own white space in the all-important climate debate, highlight your own role as a stakeholder in global carbon transition, get in touch with me directly at duncan.sparke@manbitesdog.com or reach out to us: hello@manbitesdog.com 

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