Collective Intelligence: Marketing Insights & Ideas to Help Brands Thrive

CI Conversations: Tracking the Sustainability Intention-Action Gap

May 25, 2023 Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG) Season 2 Episode 6
Collective Intelligence: Marketing Insights & Ideas to Help Brands Thrive
CI Conversations: Tracking the Sustainability Intention-Action Gap
Show Notes Transcript

The Martin Agency’s Allie Ballard, Katie White, and JT Taillon join CI Conversations host Jen Sain to discuss sustainability, climate change and The Martin Agency’s Sustainability Tension Map, an open-source tool designed to understand paint points and the disconnect between intent and action when it comes to going green.

Tracking the Sustainability Intention-Action Gap - IPG (

For more marketing insights and ideas, please subscribe to this podcast or visit intelligence.

For updates on CI’s podcasts and Thought Leadership, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn and Instagram and subscribe on Apple Podcasts.

[00:00:00] Intro: Welcome to the Collective Intelligence Podcast from IPG. We deliver marketing insights that help modern brands thrive. In this episode, you'll hear about the latest perspectives featured at Listen then log on to find new opportunities for your brand to stand out. 

[00:00:22] Jen Sain (Host): Hello and welcome to the Collective Intelligence Podcast. I'm your host, Jen Sain. Today we will be talking about sustainability with three subject matter experts from the Martin Agency, Katie White, Allie Ballard, and JT Taillon. Sustainability and climate change are pressing topics in our larger cultural conversation, and there are many facets to this conversation.

Are people embracing sustainable action? To what degree? What are brands doing? Is there a disconnect? To really dive into these questions, The Martin Agency created the sustainability tension map, and we will really get into that, you know, in a little bit later on. But I wanted to wet your appetite as this is something that's truly innovative and to me, a first of its kind initiative.

Well, I can't wait to dive into all of this, and I can't wait to learn more about the sustainability tension map. But before we get into it, I would love it if you each could introduce yourselves. Allie, why don't you start. 

[00:01:18] Allie: Hi, my name is Allie Ballard. I am a strategist at the Martin Agency. I've been here just over a decade, and I am also part of the Green Team, which is a sustainability focused ERG at the Martin Agency.

[00:01:34] Katie: Hi, I am Katie White and I'm an account director at the Martin Agency, and also one of the founders of the Green Team. I got into sustainability when I was in college. Thanks to my dad. I have a degree in sustainability and have been trying to weave it in to advertising ever since.

[00:01:49] JT: I'm JT, head of the Analytics and Intelligence Group here at the Martin Agency. Very glad to be here with y'all today. 

[00:01:54] Jen Sain (Host): Great. Well, thank you so much for joining us. So to get right into it, I had mentioned kind of in my opening remarks that sustainability and climate change as a cultural conversation has really become more mainstream and at the forefront. Why do you think that is? Allie, can you kick us off with that?

[00:02:10] Allie: Thinking about it to me, I feel like technology has played a really big role in why sustainability is becoming more and more mainstream. I think it's a catalyst for conversation around sustainability. It's been able to amplify voices who are actively working to make things better, uh, for our earth, our planet. I think it's also been able to show the impact of, uh, the decisions that we make and the impact that that has on the world in a way that, you know, maybe previous generations didn't necessarily have. I think we can see, you know, everything that's happening from a climate change perspective, natural disaster perspective, second by second, and I think that just brings it to the forefront a little bit more. 

[00:03:02] Jen Sain (Host): So given that sustainability and climate change, is just kind of at the forefront of everybody's minds, you know, particularly as technology is driving that forward, as you just said, Allie, so knowing this, are people actually taking action to be more sustainable in their everyday lives? Uh, Katie?

[00:03:23] Katie: Yes and no. Um, a recent Google study found that four out of five consumers say they want to make greener choices, but few actually do. We're actually finding the same trend with brands. IBM also found that CEOs site sustainability as a top priority, but lack the insights and prevent them from taking action.

That second piece, I think is what spurred the Martin Agency to dig deeper. There's a lot of research out there about the intention action gap and the challenges it presents, but we didn't really find a deep well of actionable insights that answered that question of what's truly, what's truly preventing people from taking action. Uh, so we built an open source tool to help fill that gap with both. For consumers and brands at the Martin Agency, we believe that where there's pain, there's purpose, and we can help solve those problems. So it's called the sustainability tension map, and there's a wealth of consumer tensions or barriers that brands can actually help solve in that, in that moment.

Um, the tool outlines the problem. Has some supporting data in articles and includes some recommended provocations for brands or specific industries to tackle essentially mini briefs, if you will. Um, there's a lot more to it. We've layered in an impact score, uh, that JT can talk about. He has some great methodology to help prioritize cuz it can be overwhelming with the amount of insights that we have. And there's so many ways that I think brands and consumers can take action. But starting from a place, of a real problem to solve, not only helps take tangible action for both consumers and brands, but also can help avoid miscommunication, greenwashing, um, if they're all built from a place of a consumer truth.

[00:05:11] Jen Sain (Host): So what do you think is a brand's responsibility? You kind of just touched on that, but can you go a little bit more in depth to what the responsibility is for mitigating climate change?

[00:05:20] Allie: I can speak to this one a little bit. I think a lot of times in the past 10 years, the onus has kind of been put on the individual to be more sustainable. We see a lot of the, 10 ways to be more sustainable every day, or five ways that you yourself can combat climate change. And it feels really scary, uh, to have that kind of responsibility as an individual because we know that ultimately, we need businesses, uh, to create more sustainable processes and products because they have the, the ability to make a much larger impact than any one person can. But by creating those, um, more sustainable products, Consumers can then choose those brands and help, help further our sustainability efforts. So really do feel like it's a brand's responsibility to, to be there to help less so on, on the individual. 

[00:06:25] JT: I think as over time. You've seen more and more consumers, uh, looking to brands to be leaders in these spaces, whether it's sustainability or other, you know, issues that are facing us as a country and as, as a people. And, uh, brands are beginning to take note of that, take in the step up to those challenges.

[00:06:42] Katie: I think it's difficult though because consumerism and the traditional linear model of doing business is a significant driver of climate change, you know, as agencies. We are creative thinkers, we're makers. We have a responsibility as well to bring that, bring brands, alternative solutions to the table, partner with our clients to build a future that we all believe in. I think that means breaking the status quo, rethinking how we do something and who, who's better to do it than a bunch of creatives or misfits like us. Where we do that every day. We constantly think, how can we break out of the consumer's routine? How can we intercept them in a different way? Bringing that same thinking and challenging brands to think.

How could we break the linear model of consumption? How could we think more circular? How could we think differently about our resource use or how we position products? I think is something that agencies also have a responsibility just as much as brands do. We may not be physically making the products, but we are bringing the ideas to them and we are selling them, and that keeps me up at night and it's attention for myself even, uh, frankly of am I part of the problem?

You know that Taylor Swift song, it's me. Hi, I'm the problem. Well I can also be the solution. And I think that's, um, something that agencies need to take up that mantle as well. 

[00:07:57] Jen Sain (Host): So how are brands doing with all of this? 

[00:07:58] Katie: You know, the hard part is, I think the usual suspects for those, those brands that are getting it right are Patagonia, Ben and Jerry's, uh, REI, the ones that are fiercely committed and it's rooted in their mission. The brand. I can think of more brands that are not getting it right, frankly, than brands that are getting it right. And maybe that's okay, but I, I hesitate to call out brands that are getting it wrong because I think that actually perpetuates a challenge with that we have right now where people are afraid to speak on these topics now because they're afraid of getting called out for greenwashing or green hushing, or maybe they don't have their own house in order.

So I hesitate to say, These are the brands that are doing it right, because I think they're a little unattainable at times because they're built from that space and it doesn't leave a clear path for other brands to follow suit. But brands that are getting it wrong, I also don't really wanna call out because I wanna encourage people to fail gracefully and for us to buck cancel culture and support people who are still working through those things where they may not get it right, but we, but I appreciate that they're trying.

[00:09:06] Jen Sain (Host): Taking that further. You mentioned brands like Patagonia and Ben and Jerry's that have sustainability just in their DNA. Are there brands that one would not necessarily associate with being green, that are kind of dipping their toes into that water?

[00:09:22] Katie: A lot of brands have sustainability reports that they put out. Some are doing it because it's required by their stakeholders, but others are doing it because they, they truly believe they do have a responsibility. P&G and Unilever actually do quite a bit, particularly in the packaging space as they're thinking about those things. I need to think of some specific examples of brands that have repositioned themselves. Not many do because it's a big shift to reposition a brand to be solely focused on sustainability. And part of that is actually, I think one of the tensions we found was, um, around not my people. And people have this weird thought that sustainability is only for the hippies or only for the granola geeks.

And shifting to that consumer can be scary. But the fact of the matter is there are dark green consumers, there are light green consumers, there are brown consumers that still have a little bit of environmentalism in their bones. And sustainability is not just for the hippies or the granola people, but we've perpetuated that narrative in society. So I think brands are afraid to start shifting to that cuz they're gonna be seen as changing their consumer base or for a very specific subset. I'm more interested in the brands that are able to, to bring their sustainability values to the forefront. Maybe without even talking about it overtly or finding different ways to talk about it that doesn't feel so alienating or doesn't feel so niche driven.

[00:10:46] Jen Sain (Host): Do you think there's any generational differences in terms of who is looking for that in, you know, in brands who are really looking at it with a critical lens? To see if companies are backing up their action and you know, even if that generational, just any sort of consumer characteristics that you feel particularly are in tune to that. 

[00:11:05] Allie: Yeah, I mean, we see in the younger generations, um, younger millennials, gen Z really focusing on choosing brands that align with their values. So they're taking the time to do the research and pick brands that, you know, align with how they feel from a sustainability standpoint, from a, a human rights standpoint, there are a ton of values that are driving these types of purchases. That's not to say that other generations aren't doing the same, but it is a core piece of how the younger generations are choosing brands and, um, you know, not choosing brands. So it's really interesting and, you know, exciting that younger generations are, uh, making it a priority to choose brands that are trying to do better in a variety of ways.

[00:11:55] JT: Yeah, that's a really great point, Allie, and that I just kinda wanna follow up and I think it's beyond a generational aspect as well. Um, I think you're seeing that all consumers as planetary issues become closer and closer to the forefront now that they're actually feeling this pain, you know, seeing what climate change is doing to the environment and seeing what all these other things are, you know, how they're impacting their day-to-day lives. That, um, suddenly it's becoming, uh, you know, moving from an abstract problem to a very real in your face problem. Um, and as that happens, you're seeing, uh, consumers who, uh, maybe are from, you know, different generations that have historically not cared or cared less, are beginning to care more and more because it's really starting to impact their day-to-day lives.

[00:12:43] Jen Sain (Host): So I'd love to bring it back to the tension map. Katie, you touched on this earlier in our conversation, but would one of you define it for our listeners? 

[00:12:52] Katie: We can talk about it a little  bit. So the sustainability tension map traces the intention action gap. So what we mean by that is consumers have an intention to be more sustainable, but their actions aren't meeting that level of intention. So there's a gap between what they want to do and then what they actually do. And our tension map is a collection of all of the pain points that are keeping consumers from being more sustainable and taking more sustainable actions. So there are tensions around the idea that consumers are confused by all of the language that is used around sustainability. You have things like eco-friendly or green or sustainable or you know, the list kind of goes on. And so people are kind of saying, I don't know what means what? What's the best choice? Then there are things, you know, like meat versus manliness, which is describing the idea that meat consumption is somehow tied to masculinity, and so men might be less receptive to, you know, going vegan or going vegetarian. Tons of tension points and pain points that brands can take and, and create products or create content to help close that gap. So that's the intention, uh, of the map. 

[00:14:26] Jen Sain (Host): And Katie, you had mentioned earlier that it's open source, which I find really interesting. Why, why did you take that approach? 

[00:14:34] Katie: You asked the question, why do we have an open source tool? We made the sustainability tension map an open source tool because we cannot solve this problem ourselves. Anyone can submit tensions. Anyone can use this. We want people to, we held, A IPG wide, uh, hackathon. We hosted it at the Martin Agency and then invited any of our IPG agencies to join us. We had, I think about seven join and we used the tension map with real brands to ideate ideas. There were some great ones that came out and, uh, the agency is even willing to put up some of our own funds to help make some of those things happen and pitch them to clients. But we want people to use this. We cannot gate keep solutions to climate change. We have to all come to the table with our own ideas and build on them.

I mean, I think about even in a brainstorm with creativity, when has it ever been great for people to all come with the same idea or to brainstorm with only two or three people? If you can have more brains, more ideas, uh, better solutions will come of it and challenge each other. And that's what we hope happens with this sustainability tension map. We hope people use it. We hope people challenge us and we hope people continue to build on it and, and we don't even have to get the credit for it. Let's just solve this thing together.

[00:15:48] Jen Sain (Host): Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. I mean, I, I really think that's amazing. You know, that you're passionate about this, you created this tool, but yet you didn't keep it proprietary. It's kind of, you know, democratizing the information so that real change, you know, can be enacted. I think that's incredible. 

[00:16:03] Katie: It's a little scary too. I mean, we use this with our clients for new business. Anyone else could do the same, but I think that's the beauty of it. Like, selfishly, I would love for someone, and I'm sure I'll get shit for this, but I would love for someone to beat us in a pitch because they used the tension map and inspired a better idea because I want better ideas to get out there. I want us to have better products, better communication styles, different ways of thinking. So please use the tension map. I wanna see ideas that make me jealous that come out of it again.

[00:16:35] Jen Sain (Host): I love that, Katie.

[00:16:38] JT: That's a great point. I think this is, uh, you know, this is bigger than the Martin Agency and it's bigger than any one brand and any one brand that maybe is in our building or in someone else's. So the more that we, you know, the more people that will get involved, the more people get informed, the more people using this map or others similar to it, the better off we're all gonna be. 

[00:16:54] Jen Sain (Host): I wish everyone out there with, you know, the sustainability, you know, mission or you know, purpose had that kind of integrity. I think it would, it would propel this work a lot further. So I think that's incredible. Katie also, earlier you had talked about something called the impact score, and I think JT, you can speak to this. What is that? And, you know, what's the methodology behind that and all that good stuff? 

[00:17:16] JT: So, without getting too far into the weeds, into the, into the nitty gritty, um, basically we, we were faced with a problem here and how do you quantify pain and how do you quantify impact and how do you put it in a way that's usable for both consumers and for brands that are gonna look at this tension map. So what we did is it's a multifaceted kind of score that basically creates a algorithm that, uh, scores different tensions that we talked about earlier in a way that you can compare them relatively painlessly. And it does that in three different ways. There's, um, an impact score and we, um, we partnered with Project Drawdown to look at the different tensions and the way that they.

JT: Um, can actually impact the environment and to what degree they can impact the environment to try to help brands and, and consumers determine which of these, uh, tensions are actually gonna make a difference. Because we don't want people to, you know, their hard work to go in vain. And then there's a pain point survey that we did where we actually surveyed consumers to find out, you know, which of these tensions is affecting your day-to-day life and in what way? And to what degree? So like we want to know, um, how, how are, how are people everyday people being affected by this? And. Um, you know, how can we, how can we help to, to relieve that pain? Um, and then the last point is, uh, a search score. And this is a two part, it's a velocity and a volume score. So there's a velocity portion that, uh, we use Google search volumes to determine, uh, you know, how much are people actually looking this stuff up?

JT: How much are people, um, looking for information concerning different topics? Uh, and, and we decided to go with a search volume because, not, everybody jumps onto social media and is ready to talk about these things right away. So we wanted to make sure that, you know, it was a place that people felt, uh, that they could go then, you know, ask those difficult questions without being judged by friends or family or others. Uh, so we chose to use search volume in order to kind of get at the heart of what people are actually thinking, not just what they're putting out into public. Um, and then there's a volume, which is, uh, based off of Google News, um, data, and we try to determine. At any given time, how big is the conversation?

JT: You know, how much are people talking about this and what degree, um, you know, is that in, you know, is that information out there? So it's a, it's a kind of a multifaceted score. There's a lot of parts and pieces that go into it, but we try to distill it all down into that one raw number to try to help brands and consumers, um, kind of judge each of these tensions. Uh, you know, cuz they're not all created equally. And, you know, some of them are gonna be better for different brands, different people based on their situations. And, um, and, you know, we wanted to help try to make those decisions as, uh, you know, formative as possible. 

[00:20:01] Allie: JT. One of the things that we found most interesting with this map, we had previously had an open source COVID tension map where we had a score, and that was multifaceted, but pulled in social listening because. Everyone had something to say about COVID, uh, while it was happening. And so we had a ton of information coming in from Twitter and Instagram and, um, the other social platforms that allowed us to understand how people were feeling about, uh, uh, the situation. But, when we started looking into the sustainability tension map and how we would score that we realized that the individuals who are struggling with making greener choices more sustainable choices, aren't talking about it on social.

They are, you know, what we call the lighter green versions. There's really dark green and, and they are committed and active on social and, and speaking out. But so we had to kind of think and pivot, okay, well how are we gonna show the impact? And so we thought about it, someone might Google, what's the greenest cleaning product?

Or how do I recycle? Or, you know, really simple questions that you probably don't wanna ask your friend or someone else and you wouldn't put on social. But you are willing to Google. Um, and so that's where we came with the, with the idea to use that Google search as, um, a, a piece of the impact score, and we're really excited about that.

[00:21:45] Jen Sain (Host): I'd like to go back to something you said, JT, that different tensions will resonate with different people and different companies. So speaking of different tensions, resonating differently, which one speaks the most to you all? 

[00:21:58] JT: So as a, an expectant father, I think my, my favorite tension is probably the, uh, parental problems. You know, trying to, uh, help parents figure out how to talk about sustainability issues with their kids I think is really important and it's something that's very near and dear to my, my personal heart. Yeah, that's, uh, that's probably my favorite right now. 

[00:22:17] Allie: That's one of mine. I have a 13 year old and seeing the impact of my decisions on the future, his future is, really important to me. Another one I think that I like, because so many brands could tackle is the lost in translation. So making it easier to understand what a sustainable brand or product really means to make it easier to choose between. If we could somehow maybe all come together and have a set language that really makes sense for everyone, I think would do a lot, uh, to make it easier for people to choose. Because if everyone's using different language and different terms, then there's no real easy way to compare products and choose accordingly. So that's kind of one that's at the top of my mind because I feel like anyone can tackle that problem.

[00:23:21] Katie: Destination destroyed is personal for me because I travel so much and I do believe that, that in order to connect with a problem, you have to experience it. And for me, travel is around exploration and learning. So I feel like that's something that I personally struggle with as attention and I want to go places, but I do personally know that I am having an impact. As a brand, I think finding ways to encourage people to experience things on their own. As a brand, if we can find alternative ways for people to find personal connections with

Katie: places or experiences without actually having them go there. I think that would be a great challenge. I mean, we are seeing people start to map different places with AI or provide VR experiences. Is that enough to draw out an emotional connection for someone to care about a place and not wanna go see it? Maybe. I don't know, but I think that would be an interesting space for a brand to tackle.  

[00:24:21] Allie: Yeah. What I love about Katie's response is the tension in describing her love of travel, but also its impact on the world. And I think that's exactly what the map is meant to show, is that there is a tension and it is hard. It's, it's hard, and that's why it hasn't been solved yet. But that's, What we're hoping that this map can provide, um, these tensions provide provocations for brands that can choose to take these hard problems and find solutions. So I just wanted to say that. 

[00:25:03] Jen Sain (Host): So earlier, Katie, you mentioned the hackathon. Is there any other ways that anyone has used the tension map? You know, maybe new bins or if you have any other sort of case studies?

[00:25:15] Katie: We do, yes, we have used the map with new business, the hackathon, as you mentioned, to spark new ideas. And we've used it on a few active projects with clients who are either CSR opportunities, where they want to amplify those projects.Um, launching new products or finding ways to, to speak on shared values with their consumers. Uh, one case study that comes to mind is an idea that a project that came about while we were building the tension map, actually we tested it out in parallel just to make sure this was a legit tool. Um, unfortunately we can't share the name of the client, but for this client, uh, they came to us with a really simple ask, um, to help them launch a new oat milk product.

Katie: To drive growth that they needed to capture more than just their core brand lovers or, or people who really bought into oat milk already. So within the tension map, there are a few tensions that this brand probably could have tackled to connect their mission and their values to these core consumers.

But to broaden the reach of the product they needed to find the barriers that of the consumers who are not drinking oat milk, yet also connect obviously with these consumers that drink oat milk products. So we worked off of the tension, not my people. We mentioned it earlier about, uh, most people, sea oat milk is seen as a product for vegans, vegetarians, granola people. It also skewed regionally as a bicoastal brand. But rather than shying away from that, we leaned into that idea that. People thought it was just for these specific subcultures and we flipped the script. If this brand, which was well known for other dairy products has oat milk, well then oat milk must be for everyone and you can get it everywhere because they already bought into this brand in that space.

Katie: The campaign. We, we launched it by infusing oat milk into every niche of culture. It was really fun. From QVC to music videos to telenovela. We made a splash during the Super Bowl and some targeted buys to reinforce that ubiquity and key markets. Um, and we partnered with artists to make oat milk swag so everyone could not just drink it, but wear it too. The great piece about it was that sales actually went up significantly. People started to adopt it, and I think. This was a couple years ago. So now oat milk probably is more mainstream and I think it has less of less of that stigma behind it. But it was born out of the idea of the tension around not my people. People think oat milk is just for vegans, vegetarians, granola people, but no, it's for everyone. It's mainstream.

[00:27:36] Jen Sain (Host): Well, great. So kind of looking to the future, what can individuals do? What can brands do? What can, you know, we as advertisers do to kind of keep pushing forward in this space? To really, to make an impact and to educate and get the word out?

[00:27:52] Allie: I think Katie talked about it a little bit earlier, the idea of cancel culture and brands being hesitant to speak and I think, you know, you just. Gotta take baby steps. You have to be willing to show up somehow. Um, at the very least you can enter the conversation, but consumers are interested in seeing action, so, You know, make it a part of your business strategy. Um, understand how your business, your products are impacting the world, and, and figure out ways to change that. Um, and again, the map can, can help spark some ideas, some ways to get involved. 

[00:28:39] Katie: I think drafting off what Allie said as well, I, I 100% agree. Take those small steps, build it into your business strategy Tactically, I think for an agency that means putting sustainability right into the brief. The brief is the DNA of an idea, and if it's left out of the brief, then it's left out of the work. We know this. If you don't have the main message in there, then it doesn't show up in the work. If you don't have tension, if you don't have an insight, it doesn't show up in the work. So use this sustainability tension map and infuse.

Katie: The insights and the tensions right into the brief, and it will inherently be a step forward in sustainable action. I think the worst thing that could happen is this sustainability tension map becomes our own intention action gap, where it is just a collection of insights, which are intentions of someone doing something, but if brands and agencies don't use it, we are falling prey to the exact same thing that we're trying to fight that intention action gap. So, I'm looking forward to bringing this to my brands. We're starting to socialize it with some of our clients. Uh, we encourage other folks to add some tensions. It's also primarily US based, so we would love to build on it and build insights for more global insights should people wanna use it around the world. Uh, but we definitely need some help on that. So that's my call to action for everyone at the end of this podcast. Help us build on it.

[00:30:01] JT: And then just one more thing I want to add. Uh, you know, like we talked about earlier on in the, there's a certain amount of time that takes for these conversations to start. So if you are a brand or you are representing a brand or an agency, it's time to start those conversations now because it takes a long time to get. You know, to go from these, you know, intentions to action and if you don't start now, you're gonna get left behind. So it's important to start these conversations. Um, and, you know, get the ball rolling, please use the, please use the map and have those conversations, those difficult conversations now. 

[00:30:28] Jen Sain (Host): Well great. Thank you so much, all of you for being here. This was. Fantastic conversation and thank you so much to all of our listeners. Um, this podcast is available at all the usual suspects, as well as, where we will include a link to the sustainability tension map and of course, on intelligence at, you can find a trove of intelligence from around the Interpublic network.

[00:30:53] Outro: Thank you for listening to the Collective Intelligence Podcast. For more marketing insights and ideas, please subscribe to this podcast or visit