As natural history broadcaster Sir David Attenborough put it, “we all have a responsibility to care for our Blue Planet.” This notion, crucial though it is, however, is one that has taken a while to gestate in the business world. Nevertheless, thanks to the influence of modern innovation and extraneous geopolitical issues it is one that we are finally starting to acknowledge.
In great part, this conceptual adjustment has been borne from our customers and the purchasing power that they collectively wield. For example, 85% of consumers suggest they have shifted purchase behaviour towards more sustainable options in the last 5 years. Additionally, 1 in 3 consumers claim they have stopped purchasing certain brands and products due to sustainability concerns about them. Brand trust is built on the causes that customers care about, and increasingly, customers care about sustainability. When 84% of consumers state that brand trust is important, we cannot afford not to be more sustainable.
We know that there’s much that businesses can do to combat its impact on climate change but what about branding? If brand trust is as important to consumers as we have seen, how can we better show our support? Increasingly, it will be for marketing to step into the territory of sustainability to ensure that our efforts are seen. How is this best achieved though? And given customer caution, how can we market sustainability whilst also safeguarding profitability?
What is Sustainable Marketing?
On face value, it is easy to determine that marketing is not implicated in matters of sustainability, but this could not be further from the truth. Given that the department reaches across the business, marketing cannot afford not to have an opinion on this matter. What do we mean when we refer to sustainable marketing then?
Sustainable marketing describes any work undertaken by marketers which works to foster actions and strategies that promote environmental wellbeing, social equity, and economic development. All of this is done with a view to enhance the business by considering planet as much as profit.
- Doing the Right Thing: Supporting the causes that matter is no bad thing reputationally speaking. If we manage our marketing effectively in this regard, it is a great way of situating your brand at the forefront of meaningful change.
- Every Little Helps: It is obvious, but if our marketing efforts are successful, we can gradually make a greater and greater difference. Increasing awareness will be invaluable to fighting the impact of climate change, brands could prove invaluable here.
- Partnerships: In line with the above, efficient sustainable marketing can help bring organizations together to drive results. We have already seen several high-profile partnerships in this space, from food and drinks giants like Coca Cola to tech providers like Apple.
- Profit Loss: Sustainability, by its very definition, is expensive. Given that the best solutions do not immediately present themselves, we could sink most of our budget before realizing results. As such, it can be hard to calculate value before investing.
- Reputational Damage: If our messaging does not land, or if we are found to have been bending the truth, reputational loss can be substantial. Not only this, but fines can be substantial where we greenwash to protect our reputation.
- Executive Buy-in: For both reasons above, it can be difficult to get the senior signoff necessary to effectively market sustainability.
Can we do better business… with the planet?
We are at a crossroads where sustainability is concerned, particularly in marketing. It was on this topic that Katherine Lamb – Global Head of Marketing Strategy, HSBC – spoke at GDS’ CMO EU Summit. As Katherine established, sustainability is now a mainstream topic which has caused implementation to rise dramatically.
In her words, “last year, 220 businesses alone made net zero pledges and that’s really what’s led to this tipping point.” Additionally, and as we outlined above, we’ve now “got consumers who are much more aware and much more demanding of the carbon and social impacts from the brands that they buy from.”
So, what does this mean for marketing? According to Katherine, we can no longer “put a green label on something or pledge to plant some trees. Like any piece of marketing, we need to be authentic and relevant to our customers.” How do we achieve this though? As Katherine suggests, we need to start with “what their needs and pain points are”
How can we Market More Sustainably?
In taking this approach at HSBC, Katherine and her team have already revealed some key insights. As she outlined, “one of the things that we’ve really realized is how interconnected both the problems and solutions around sustainability are.” Katherine then shared 6 key points on how brands get better position themselves for sustainability.
- Be relevant to your audience
- Be authentic to your brand
- Do not make far-off promises
- Think big… innovate products and services, not just mar-comms
- Treat ESG (Environmental Social Governance) more like E+S+G
- Think about the whole ecosystem you are part of.
As well as providing this advice, Katherine noted that sustainability and sustainable marketing are not that any single organization can excel at. It is for this reason that partnerships are so important. As she described it, “sustainability is a huge opportunity, it’s a big challenge but the innovation that we’re going to need to solve it is going to involve working together.”
Before closing, Katherine had one final piece of advice regarding sustainability. “Everybody’s on a transition and there is often a detailed story that you will have to tell and tell bravely. We are all learning and educating ourselves around how far-reaching the impacts of sustainability are and what it really means to be socially responsible.” To this end, we should not be afraid to fail.
Companies that build their commercial strategies around consumers are the ones that succeed in the long run. To this effect, the customer has spoken; sustainable business will be vital to critical to winning customers over, it is time for our marketing teams to follow suit.
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