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Leadership: Time To Sound Off or Hush Up?

“Green hushing” threatens to silence brands on sustainability. But stories of societal leadership can’t advance the cause if no one gets to hear them. Be proud – and get loud – about your brand’s positive contributions.

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Aired: January 20, 2023 

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Hello there and welcome. Sustainability, net-zero, recycling, green, climate … do you even know what those words mean? And how will they affect how you’re telling your story in marketing? Well, recent research says you may be “hushing” yourself; and if you’re not, what story are you really telling? Are you ready for what’s new that you need to lead? Let’s roll. 

Hello everybody. Robert Rose here with the news. It’s what’s new, but – more importantly –what’s important in the world of content marketing. And for the best in best practices in content and marketing – you can always go to 

Over the last year, we’ve seen societal leadership take a front-and-center role in our marketing strategies. The big PR firm Edelman releases their trust barometer every year – and last year’s headline was that societal leadership is now a core function of business. 

In that research, they found that 58% of us [as consumers] will advocate for brands based on our beliefs and values, 60% of us will choose our next place of work based on that company’s values or beliefs, and 80% will make investment decisions based on those same things.  

This means that positioning, storytelling, content, and the stories we tell about our company’s efforts on climate change, diversity, equity, and transparency are all becoming increasingly important issues.  

Taking a leadership position on them means, well, defining them. And like all things marketing- and language-based, it does sometimes mean we define them to our standards, rather than someone else’s. 

Is it any wonder, then, that terms like climate and sustainability are coming under scrutiny because of the lack of control of standard definitions? 

At the end of last year, Coca Cola actually won a “greenwashing” lawsuit filed by an environmental group that said that the company’s statements on the environment and sustainability were not accurate, based on the company’s actual business practices.  

The ruling (which is being appealed, by the way) found that when Coca Cola says it wants to “create a world without waste” or “do business the right way,” these statements are goals – not promises to consumers. 

Whatever you feel about that – and/or the soft drink’s earnestness in that statement of a goal, not a promise – let’s just say that, even in winning the lawsuit, the look is not a good one for the soft drink brand. 

The news is that these recent and other greenwashing concerns have prompted the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to start looking into these issues – with the goal of considering new regulations – on how brands can create content and use specific words in their marketing activities. 

Related: Purposeful Marketing > Purpose-Washing: How To Do It Right 

This week the FTC announced hearings and are seeking public comment on whether there should be a standard definition around terms like net zero, sustainable, carbon neutral, low carbon, or carbon negative. (Maybe they’ll also define carbon copy, carbon fiber, or carbon … anyway, I’m digressing here.)      

Now, alongside of all this noise of terms and definitions, it has put a bit of a damper on storytelling on sustainability for brands.  

AdAge is reporting on “GreenHushing” as a trend where brands have begun to just shut up about their sustainability and green efforts. They cite a research study done by South Pole – a consulting group that implements emission reduction projects and strategies – that found one in four companies surveyed that have set science-based emission reduction targets, do not plan to publicize them.  

Brands are keeping quiet about their sustainability efforts to avoid getting called out. But can they lead others to take action from under a cone of silence, asks @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

And that’s a real issue. How do you incentivize – or put peer pressure – on those who are NOT setting goals or taking action, if the ones who ARE feel as though they are in a “gotcha” scenario, so they don’t even want to talk about it?  

What’s our take here at CMI? 

Well, first, it’s a great question – and one that’s very hard to untangle. And it goes beyond even climate change and into all kinds of topics regarding brand marketing and societal leadership.  

Today there are certainly companies (and even, ahem, maybe congresspeople) that will tell big whoppers when it comes to what they’ve accomplished or done in the name of societal leadership. 

But it’s also true that there are companies that will try – and sometimes if they try it means they may also fail. But if a certain segment of the population throws all those companies in the same bucket, then “hushed” we’ll all be – and that makes it incredibly difficult to demonstrate real progress.  

My advice is to tell that brand character story. Be loud with that brand character story. We can’t be afraid of telling our story. But, as with all your content, treat it with the same care and respect that you would putting any product out into the world.  

Related: For Better Results, Think of Content Marketing Like a Product 

In other words, accuracy matters. Safety matters. Truth matters. Make sure you’re doing what you say you do – and make sure you don’t embellish or make up anything you can’t make real.  The worst case is you get called out and you have to show your cards. In the long term, I can’t imagine that hurts your brand.    

Remember this: Our brand is all the things we did that we want people to see. Character is what we do when no one’s watching. Great brand character is doing the right things when no one is watching, and then letting everyone know what we’ve learned when they are. 

Great brand character = doing the right things when no one’s watching, then letting everyone know what you’ve learned when they are, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

But what do you think? Let’s discuss. How are you planning on talking-up your brand’s efforts to lead in society. Or are you? Are you finding yourself “hushed”?

For now, that’s five minutes of what’s new that, hopefully, you can use to lead your marketing strategy. I’m Robert Rose, and remember, as always, it’s your story to tell – tell it well. 

I’ll see you next week.  

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