A friend recently asked me what I do for Tyson Foods. While sharing a brief description of my various responsibilities, I noticed a confused look on her face as I was describing my role of sustainability manager. When I asked what was wrong, she said, “I have no idea what you mean when you say sustainability.”

It was at this moment, I realized sustainability is a word and concept understood by corporations, academia, investors and other stakeholders; it’s not a commonly used word or generally accepted concept with consumers.

Although ‘sustainability’ may not be an everyday word for consumers, they do place importance on the fundamental values associated with it. According to a 2010 report by The Hartman Group, titled “Marketing Sustainability: Bridging the Gap between Consumers and Companies,” when making a purchasing decision:

·         82 percent of consumers believe it’s important a company offer quality products;

·         79 percent believe it’s important a company provide safe working conditions for employees;

·         72 percent believe a company should offer good wages and benefits to employees;

·         71 percent of consumers feel it’s important a company minimize their environmental impact as well astreat animals humanely; and

·         66 percent believe it’s important a company be involved in the community.

The underlined phrases are values embraced by Tyson Foods and, I believe, those in the protein-processing industry. The challenge is communicating efforts associated with these and other values to consumers in a manner that is easy to access and remember, and that resonates with their personal values. When looking for opportunities to strengthen our company’s sustainability communication efforts with consumers, I’ve found the following tips and ideas helpful.

1.      Set Your Sights

Communicating sustainability efforts to consumers requires setting your sights to a specific target audience. Be precise when defining your target consumer audiences (e.g., working mothers vs. all females; college students vs. working professionals under the age of 30). Each target audience communicates with, and thus will respond to, certain messages, tones and word choices. Engage in face-to-face dialogue with your consumers to identify:

·         What they value when making purchasing decisions;

·         The qualities and attributes they associate with a responsible company; and

·         What they know about your company and its sustainability-related efforts.

2.      Tailor Your Message

Numerous reports have concluded the average American is exposed to between 247 and 3,000 marketing messages daily. With this level of marketing activity, it can be difficult to capture and hold the attention of consumers. I recommend creating well-tailored sustainability messages appropriate to each target consumer audience. Develop unique, concise and compelling communications addressing the values of greatest importance to your target audience. Don’t explain your company’s entire approach to sustainability. Instead, focus on a single topic. Tell a story linking your sustainability efforts and performance to other issues such as community support, health and nutrition, and environmental conservation.

3.      Look Beyond the Sustainability Report

Corporate sustainability reports are necessary when sharing sustainability performance with specific stakeholder groups. I suspect, however, consumers rarely review the contents of a sustainability report because it’s likely not relatable or engaging. Look beyond the all-inclusive report when developing plans to share your sustainability efforts with consumers.

·         Evaluate opportunities to share sustainability accomplishments using point-of purchase communication. Product labeling, packaging, posters and displays offer avenues through which you can disclose and communicate sustainability performance related to product attributes, operational efficiencies, product lifecycle, and global and community challenges. Several well-done corporate point-of-purchase examples containing substance rather than just marketing can be found if you pay attention.

·         In addition to a direct link to a sustainability report, place call-outs highlighting sustainability initiatives on your company’s Internet homepage. At www.tyson.comyou will find a link to our KNOW Hunger Campaign. Hunger relief is Tyson Foods’ primary philanthropic focus, and the KNOW Hunger Campaign is focused on helping more people understand and join the effort to eliminate hunger in America.

·         Consider using video messaging to share your sustainability performance or insights on specific processes with consumers. Tyson Foods’ Media Room, available at www.tysonfoods.com, houses several video messages discussing key consumer topics such as, what’s really in a Tyson Branded Retail Chicken Nugget, as well as a video on a family farm that raises chickens for the company.

·         Social media channels have radically changed the way people communicate. Sites such as LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter offer an easy and inexpensive way to target consumer audiences with sustainability messages. Through social media channels, a company can share what it is doing to be economically, socially and environmentally responsible in a manner allowing for true consumer participation and feedback.

Poorly planned or misplaced communications are a waste of time and money, and will likely not reach the ears of consumers. Communicate more directly with consumers about your sustainability efforts. Clearly define your target consumer audience, and develop practical and personal messages appropriate to them. Maximize the use of both traditional and emerging communication channels to ensure your message has the greatest impact with consumers.