• Sophie James

Sustainability spotlight: 5 steps to a greener digital marketing plan

You may have seen a lot of news recently about how cryptocurrency poses an ecological threat to the planet. The carbon emissions created by its mining are just one example of how online activity can be damaging and threaten the Earth’s resources. And whilst digital activity can often replace more energy-consuming analogue practices, we can’t ignore that there are still tangible consequences of our virtual actions.


So what does this mean for you as a digital marketer? It can be hard to wrap our heads around how our customer data, platform automations and marketing content have such physical consequences in the ‘real world’ and it’s even more difficult to accurately calculate the impact that digital activity has on our carbon footprint. To give you an idea of the scale, it’s been estimated that the introduction of GDPR in 2018 has already decreased marketing emails by 1.2 billion per day. This has lessened CO2 emissions by 360 tonnes per day, the equivalent of saving 650,000 trees from deforestation.


Consumers are becoming savvier when buying physical products; recyclable packaging, plant-based food products and sustainable fashion are more widespread across stores and many customers have an increased knowledge of where their energy is coming from. But, according to research by OVO, 72% of UK adults are unaware of the carbon footprint attached to their inbox. You can expect this to change though as conversation continues around the climate crisis, so now is the time to give greater consideration to sustainability within your digital marketing.


Here’s the good news. Creating an eco-friendly marketing plan is something that goes hand-in-hand with developing an effective and targeted marketing plan. The steps below are not only essential to a more sustainable digital marketing effort, but they are key best practices which we recommend any client should follow for their own benefit as well.


1. Clean up your database


There are many advantages to keeping your customer database clean. Validation on your sign-up forms, cleansing your base of duplicate data, and removing inactive customers will all help to ensure quick and efficient processing, accurate analysis and reporting, and compliance with data protection laws. From an email marketing perspective, it’s also very important to avoid sending your campaigns to old addresses, which could have been converted to spam traps, as these will negatively impact your deliverability.


As well as these huge benefits to your business, cleansing your database has a positive impact on the environment. At home, we all know that we should be trying to avoid food and plastic waste and, in a similar way, we should avoid keeping excess data in our tables. Storing duplicate accounts, outdated records and unnecessary customer information all requires storage on a server, which uses unnecessary energy. And even if that server sits within a data centre powered by renewable energy, it’s still energy that could be spent elsewhere.


2. Segment and target


Targeting your communications is hardly a new concept in digital marketing, yet it continues to be a tactic which many brands struggle to implement consistently. Gaps in data, issues with platform integrations and a lack of clear strategy can all stand in the way of a seamless, personalised customer experience. But putting the right message in front of the right customer at the right time has enormous benefits by driving engagement and loyalty. It’s no surprise that highly targeted digital marketing, such as abandoned basket and browse journeys, see the biggest engagement but, at Shaw/Scott, we are also able to help clients segment their data by propensity to purchase and orchestrate customer experience based on preferred channel and past purchases.


Avoiding batch and blast marketing can save on marketing costs and create more meaningful touchpoints for your customers, whilst contributing to a more environmentally friendly comms plan. By not reaching out to your whole database for every communication, you’re reducing excess energy.


3. Shrink your imagery


Images are one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions across the digital landscape. It’s certainly easy to become complacent and use images that are much bigger than they need to be, but shrinking your files means fewer bytes need to be downloaded by each consumer and ultimately results in less carbon emissions. Tools like TinyPNG can help you to reduce the size of your photos, without compromising on the visible quality of the image. Videos and GIFs are also very energy inefficient, so are best to use sparingly, and this will also ensure they stand out and have maximum impact when you do decide to use them.


Well-coded websites, with a good balance of images, texts and links, are favoured by search engines and also generally provide a greater level of accessibility to your customers. Similarly, image-heavy email campaigns are more likely to be flagged as spam, as they increase load times, so ensuring your content is made up of at least 35% text and lowering the resolution of images will help your deliverability.


4. Focus on quality, not quantity


By now you can probably see that the key to a more sustainable digital marketing plan is to reduce everything in quantity where you can. Well, we all know the saying “less is more” and often that really is the case when it comes to planning your marketing. With each communication, you have just seconds to capture the attention of your customer so it’s vital that the content you’re providing is engaging and relevant. If you find yourself sending out endless social media posts and push notifications, and filling your emails to the brim, it might be time to take a step back and consider whether you could actually create something more impactful and effective by doing less.


5. Include sustainability in your KPIs


It can be difficult to keep focused on being green when there are so many other business objectives to consider. You’ll likely have goals linked to revenue and engagement but perhaps it’s time to also consider tracking your commitment to a more sustainable digital marketing plan. Though it’s difficult to accurately measure the results, you’re more likely to start making conscious choices in your day-to-day activities by putting your ambitions down on paper.


Creating measurable goals based on some of the points explored above could be a great place to start. Reducing your image file sizes by 30% or targeting a reduction in duplicate records in your database are just some examples.


If the business benefits aren’t enough to spark change within your marketing practices, perhaps the lure of sustainability may be the KPI to push your team into action. Whilst your stakeholders are probably used to seeing results around customer lifetime value, churn rate and social reach, progress on creating a green marketing plan will make for an interesting topic of conversation within your meetings.

In addition to these five key steps, there are plenty of other win-win actions you can take within your marketing plan that will have positive consequences for your brand and the planet. Using your channels to promote sustainability is a brilliant way to connect with your customers (proven by the fact you’re still reading this blog post!) and if you already have eco-friendly initiatives within your business, it’s great to share these with your audiences. The conversation around the climate crisis is one that’s here to stay and helping your customers to overcome their own challenges in living sustainably is one way to build a relationship with them and foster ongoing loyalty.


The Shaw/Scott team in EMEA has committed to reduce our carbon emissions by making greener choices within our own marketing plan, educating our clients on sustainability and reducing our embodied carbon via team initiatives. This month we have teamed up with Giki Zero to educate ourselves on our footprints and work together to live and work more sustainably.


Whether your brand is already leading the way in eco-friendly communications or you’re looking to start a greener journey, we’d love to hear from you. If you’d like support in creating an effective, sustainable digital marketing plan, please get in touch with us via our contact form or email the team directly at inspire@shawscott.com.