I remember, in our marketing lectures, many years ago, we’d learn one of the major premises of marketing; the marketing mix, otherwise known as the 4P’s, first proposed by marketer E. Jerome McCarthy in 1960.
It strikes me that in some organisations, sustainability initiatives are focused on the operational aspects and any marketing efforts is usually focused around a single ‘P’ – promotion of the progress achieved in the sustainability agenda. Sometimes this can seem like a ‘bolt on’ to the organisations core activity.
As marketers, we can have considerable influence across the whole marketing mix, and as such many of the most important facets of the company, relating to its very lifeblood and continued custom. We’ve put a few thoughts together on where marketers can more widely demonstrate value to their organisations through keeping sustainability core to their thinking.
Product – What is the customer receiving?
Arguably the most influential area. Whether it’s a physical product or service, sustainability thinking can bring a wealth of value to our propositions.
Hygiene factors – sometimes there are boxes to be ticked in order to retain brand equity and keep up with the competition. This might include what materials are in the product (think ‘palm oil’ or toxicity), how it’s been developed (e.g. no animal testing), does the organisation meet basic ethical standards as a good corporate citizen and has it been certified to a particular level (i.e. eco-labels). As with each of the factors in the marketing mix, the full considerations are specific to the particular market and are therefore best defined through market research and analysis.
Differentiating factors – some organisations are able to come from seemingly nowhere to become big global players through integrating sustainability at a product level into their competitive strategy. Take Method as an example, far from a niche green proposition, with alternative ingredients to the usual nasty chemicals, along with good design and distribution has got them into most large supermarket chains globally. This isn’t an isolated case, these ‘green leaders’ as we term them in our segmentation, can be found in most markets – from car hire to web hosting. We’re lucky enough to work with a few of them.
Price – How much does the customer pay?
It’s been debated for as long as I can remember as to whether an offering based on sound sustainability credentials can command a premium price. In my experience, the answer I believe, takes a leaf from the average politicians book and is entirely non-committal – ‘it depends’:
· The segment – Certain groups are more inclined to consider sustainability factors in their purchase decisions, others lean towards cost and other factors of differentiation. Marketing 101 – the right proposition for the right target audience.
· The proposition – We know from various pieces of research that some sustainability related issues are more likely to engage customers. For parents who want organic foods for their family for example, paying a premium to access this is seemingly natural. The same can be said for many propositions, business and consumer, across our daily lives.
· Other factors – A stat that has stayed with me for years is where Doubleclick Performics found that 73% of people would choose the greener alternative if quality, cost and convenience all remained equal – i.e. don’t put obstacles in the customers way. With this as a basis, we can also work on the principle that we can trade off on all of these factors – i.e. price could be higher if quality and convenience where better – as with any product – based on a sustainable premis or otherwise. All good common sense stuff.
Place – Where can customers get it from?
At Green Samsara Sustainability, our communications aim to help make sustainable living habitual; so the more sustainable option seems the natural choice, whatever your demographics or outlook – when the propositions people choose compete so well against their ‘brown’ counterparts. However some areas of proposition development are more niche than others and the ‘place’ will reflect this.
There are some brands that specifically niche target the ‘deep green’ segments, areas which may appeal to only 5% of the total market – generally information hungry, intellectually adept individuals with influence. These brands might start initially in health food stores, or aligning with environmental or NGO partners to get their message out for example, however in todays connected society that doesn’t mean they need remain niche forever.
Promotion – What communications inform customers and stakeholders?
Like many of the topics we could write a whole book just on this one.
In this area marketing impact can really come to the fore, if research is used to highlight the main advantages of the product or service and these are creatively taken out to the market as benefits. Remember being ‘green’ per se is not the benefit. You buy a drill because you want a hole. In a similar way, you buy socially or environmentally preferable offering primarily because you want whatever solution that product or service gives you but secondarily you want it with or without a particular attribute (e.g. health, safety, ethical, certain ingredients, guilt reduction, financial saving, tax advantages etc.) as an additional benefit.
And remember whatever claim you choose to compete on – back it up – a green claims needs to be as specifically crafted as any other in increasingly regulated markets – so make claims clear, authentic and watertight.
Ditch the cliché – position your proposition based on the benefits to the target audience and tailor the imagery accordingly. Lose the flowers, baby ducklings and all the other cheesy imagery that can sometimes come with embryonic sustainability led propositions, if it’s not of relevance.
Not satisfied with 4P’s, these were extended to the 7P’s:
People – What interactions do customers and other stakeholders have with your representatives?
People are our biggest asset and brand ambassadors at every point. Some of our clients have teams who really value sustainability and this comes across in bucket loads when you meet them. The rewards for getting it right can be substantial – engaged employees are more productive and reduce costs and losses to the organisation associated to staff churn. Don’t deprioritise the communications intended to get your employees on board. Integrate with your wider platforms to give the same creativity that you would take to your external stakeholders.
Packaging – How is the offering wrapped for sale?
Packaging can be a marketers best friend it’s a chance to stand out, build appeal and run campaigns.
Sustainability in packaging has a trade off at its heart. The waste management hierarchy says remove unnecessary waste (and this can have big cost savings too), yet our clients who are experienced in the foodservice sector advise caution that sometimes reducing this too far only perpetuates further waste – through damaged goods, if there’s not enough packaging to protect it. A trade off can be managed through carefully choosing suppliers with principles such as Vegware, where packaging materials are carefully sourced and printed – with this becoming a wider part of the proposition in its own right.
Physical evidence – What materials carry your message?
As an extension of packaging, consider not just what your brand presence says about you but also how the materials are produced. Choosing to print in a certain way, waterless offset for example, backs up sustainable messages.
This is a whistle stop tour of the opportunities the marketing mix presents to widely leverage the skills of the marketer. If you’d like to share your thoughts or talk through what this could mean to you, please get in touch.