Your most powerful marketing tool? Your sustainability story

We're going to keep hammering this home for a while because it's important: Green consumers are not "green consumers." They are "the most desirable consumers."

• They're 24 percent of the population.
• They're opinion leaders and early adopters.
• They shop more frequently than the overall population.
• They're more brand loyal than any other consumer group.
• They regularly pay more for brands they trust.
• They're materialistic (!).
• They prefer shiny new green things vs. used stuff.

This group cares about your sustainability and social responsibility story. As they purchase products, they are truly looking to put their money where their values are, and they see the brands they buy as outward expressions of their internal values.

So if they don't know your story, they'll shy away. They'll presume you're a "typical" company whose reason for being is simply to return a profit for your stockholders. And that's not an emotionally compelling reason for them to buy from you.

Most companies we work with are not lacking for sustainability or CSR stories to tell. In fact, that's the problem. Most companies we encounter have so many things they can say that they're doing well -- dozens of emotionally compelling stories -- and they're trying to tell them all.

Given the size of most sustainability managers' budgets, none of those messages has enough marketing weight behind it to rise to the top -- so they all get lost and fail to connect with the most desirable target audience.

All those good things must be boiled down to one overarching story that you can stick with and put communication efforts behind. In our experience, that overarching story will succeed best if it:

• Aligns with the company or product's brand
• Taps into what the market cares most about
• Is easy to embrace internally

If your brand is about durability, for example, talking about your sustainability efforts simply in terms of preserving the planet will feel like a disconnect -- as if it's bolted on (poorly) to your brand story.

Instead, you must find a way to tell your sustainability story in the context of durability. And that's not really so difficult because many Americans think the definition of sustainability is durability.

And that gets us to the second point. If what your buyers and prospective buyers care about in your category is performance, you must talk about your sustainability efforts in that context.

You must talk about how your sustainability efforts contribute to the long-term performance of your brands and products.

This is not easy, by the way. Although our model for it looks simple (see below), having crafted dozens of sustainability stories for companies at this point, we can tell you that it takes months, if not a full year, and it's critical to get internal buy-in along the way.

Boiling down any company's story -- sustainability or otherwise -- is always hard. So give yourself time, set up a cross-functional team to work on it and keep plugging away until the story aligns with the brand, market and culture.

You'll know when you have it right -- it'll sing. And that song will attract more and more of the most desirable consumers to you.

This article originally appeared at Shelton Insights.

Open book image by Studio 37 via Shutterstock.