Daianna Karaian of Futerra brings you five steps to help you improve your sustainable marketing strategy.
Why do even the cleverest marketers often fail to get their sustainable innovations and initiatives into the hands and hearts of customers? Maybe guilt is to blame. Contrite about their role in driving consumption — being seen as part of the problem — marketers eschew the tricks of their trade in pursuit of worthier aims.
But good intentions simply aren’t enough to sell products or ideas, even (perhaps, especially) sustainable ones. It’s time to get back to basics. The fundamentals of targeting, research and proposition development don’t go out the window when sustainability walks through the door.
These steps should look familiar to any marketer worth their salt. Let’s review them in the context of a mainstream brand aiming to build its sustainability cred.
Step 1: Refocus on your target audience
You have a target already, don’t you? You know, that group of people you’ve studied and cherished for years, the ones who love the things you’re great at and don’t mind your occasional flaws. They remain your target for the sustainable product improvement or brand campaign you’re considering.
Your target is not a separate group of “conscious consumers.” Your target is not the familiar category in a “green” consumer segmentation. Green consumers don’t exist — at least not in numbers great enough to satisfy most ROI requirements.
Nike knows this. Its recycled and waterless-dyed apparel and community-based initiatives are aimed at ambitious athletes just as much as its coolest trainers are.
Step 2: Get real about your target’s needs and motivations
Anticipating needs is great — expecting people to buy something without a clear benefit isn’t. Chances are your customers don’t need a new brand extension that is slightly greener and pricier than your core product. They’re also unlikely to want to invest time and money making a small positive impact on a far away place at some time in the undetermined future.
What they want is more value. That doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper. It certainly doesn’t mean just greener. It means better. The research question isn’t “How do you feel about us making our product more sustainable?” The question is “Does making our product more sustainable in this way help us solve your problem?”
Selfridges’ Project Ocean did this brilliantly. Knowing that shoppers visit them for fashion and fantasy, their sustainable fishing campaign reached beyond the food hall and into activities across the store, including their famous window displays and a gallery of ocean-inspired haute-couture frocks.
Step 3: Remember what helps you deliver better than anyone else
Sustainability is rarely a viable point of difference. Even if it helps you stand out from the crowd today, it probably won’t do so for long. And as any good marketer knows, a point of difference is only valuable if customers value it. Frankly, sustainability’s just not the main purchase driver for most consumers.
What is your existing source of differentiation or competitive advantage? That is the foundation upon which you need to build any sustainability activity. Greener, kinder and worthier aren’t benefits in and of themselves. Faster, tastier, thriftier — those are the qualities that appeal to buyers.
Toyota created a brand synonymous with dependability and durability. The success of the Prius was certainly due in part to its reflection of these long-held attributes alongside innovation and eco-friendliness.
Step 4: Stick to initiatives that support your brand positioning
Just as you wouldn’t approach sustainability as a point of difference, your aim shouldn’t be to improve your brand’s reputation or build trust — those are just happy outcomes. The objective, as ever, is to reinforce what you stand for in the minds of your target audience.
Sustainability marketing isn’t about jumping on the bandwagon before it gets too crowded. It’s about considering the social and environmental factors that may affect your company, and how addressing those can help deliver your brand promise or support your proposition.
Ariel laundry detergent had always promised superior cleaning power. Its Turn to 30° campaign promised that even at low temperature, “With Ariel, you still get outstanding results.” Thus, the brand strengthened its positioning while encouraging an environmentally friendly change in consumer behaviour.
Step 5: Execute with gusto
The first four steps get you to a better and more sustainable product (or service). The remaining three P’s should be approached with the same energy and rigour that applies to any traditional marketing initiative.
More sustainable shouldn’t necessarily mean more expensive. But if your sustainable innovation has truly added value in the eyes of the customer, there’s no harm in capturing that through pricing. Consider whether your sustainability thinking offers opportunities for distribution and the customer experience at point of sale. If you believe in what you’ve created, don’t shy away (as many companies do) from promoting it.
M&S launched its Shwopping clothing-donation scheme with all the fanfare of a major brand push. TV advertising was supported by a high-profile launch event, extensive PR and social media, experiential activity and a dedicated website.
It’s not about greener, it’s about better.
Sustainability marketing is about delivering greater value to your customers and ensuring that your brand remains viable over time. Good intentions are just the start, and authenticity and credibility are a given, but don’t forget the basics. Marketers have the power to create a more sustainable economy through their influence on product development and purchasing decisions. It’s time to use those well-honed tools.
This article was first published on the Sustainable Brands website.
Daianna is a senior strategist at Futerra and the creator of Sexy or Susty. She has worked at the intersection of marketing and sustainability throughout her career, including as brand strategist at EDF Energy, deputy director at Business in the Community and marketing director of Farr Associates. She is passionate about using insight, innovation and the power of brands to create a sustainable future.