Marketing is becoming inextricable from sustainability. Marketers must collaborate with other departments closely, gather accurate knowledge and work out how to share brand attributes in a humble and credible way.
You might think of the marketing department as advertisers. Or salespeople, capturing the attention of customers with branding and snazzy videos. Or maybe as analysts, monitoring data and adjusting their content to appeal to their target market. But the role of marketers is expanding fast. Selling stuff to customers is no longer the sole focus. Consumers, retailers and employees are all looking for brands that conduct themselves with a higher sense of social and environmental responsibility; so, today’s sustainable marketer must don many hats to satisfy internal and external stakeholders — turning their storytelling superpowers to influence behaviour and drive positive change.
Marketer as Corporate Sustainability Officer
The gap between sustainability and marketing is closing as brands rush to position themselves as 'green' – driven by customers increasingly aware of environmental risk. 'Green' sells, but the sustainable marketer needs to steer clear of accidental greenwashing as authorities clamp down on ambiguous communication and targets. At COP26, governments agreed to create a new UN greenwashing watchdog to name and shame companies that swerve their sustainability promises. And in the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority recently issued stricter guidelines regarding unqualified claims such as 'eco-friendly' or 'plastic-free.' Marketing buzzwords will no longer be tolerated without substantiation, and ignoring these guidelines could cost a brand both reputation and profit — up to €100,000 in France, where brands are fined for using misleading terminology such as 'carbon neutral' without reporting corroborating GHG emissions. Sustainable marketers need to understand the technical truths behind their products so they can communicate authentically and build trust.
Marketer as behavioural psychologist
The average customer spends only 6 seconds deciding what to buy at the shelf. By this point, however, the skilled marketer has directed them through the sales funnel, so the decision is already partially made. Only a last-minute discount or free gift might trigger a change of heart. All sustainability initiatives will require a significant element of behavioural change, and the marketer can use their understanding of motivation to shape that circular journey. For example, Willemijn Peeters of circular plastics consultancy Searious Business thinks the marketer will be crucial to the uptake and success of reusable packaging.
"We see from our clients that the main barriers to reuse are cost-effectiveness and behavioural change. No scheme will succeed without high uptake and return rates. We need to sift through the complex messaging behind reuse and distil it into simple prompts that customers can absorb — marketers know how to do this."
Marketer as packaging designer
Content creators for good
Join us as we explore a brand guide to collaborating with influencers and their audiences, as well as the role of content creators as brands themselves in the behavior-change movement, at Brand-Led Culture Change — May 22-24 in Minneapolis.
The Ellen Macarthur Foundation states that a circular economy begins with thoughtful design. Products and their packaging need to be designed with the impact of their entire lifecycle in mind. Packaging designers are under tremendous pressure to eliminate waste, choose low-impact materials and increase recyclability while still prioritising functionality. These measures often leave little room for shelf appeal — the final battleground for the marketer. Most marketers are incentivised to sell by volume; they need their packaging to catch the eye, imply quality and add value to the product within. What happens to it after use is often a secondary consideration, and their influence can make or break a sustainable innovation before its leaves the drawing board. According to recent IBM’s research, 41 percent of consumers would shop more sustainably if they understood more about the environmental and social impact. Product packaging is the last opportunity to speak to your customer and leave a positive impression of your brand. Make sure your final words are transparent and honest. Make sure they are ones that attract and continue to engage sustainability-focused consumers.
Image credit: IBM
Marketer as brand leader
As sustainability becomes an inherent part of our global economy, marketers must take on a leadership role in creating and communicating their brands' purposeful identity — building trust with their customers, suppliers, investors and employees. According to a survey by the UN Global Compact and Accenture, 81 percent of consumers now want businesses to take a stand on important social and environmental issues. However, the customer is not the only stakeholder looking for this commitment; both retailers and suppliers are getting choosier over what brands they stock or sell to. They want to be associated with brands that share their principles and help them meet their environmental and social goals. A recent study from digital studio PLAY found that two-thirds of Gen Z employees felt it was important for the company they work for to be committed to acting sustainably. In a pressurised job market, attracting and retaining employees is critical — meaning, brand image is as essential to HR as it is to sales.
Marketing in the future will become inextricable from sustainability. Marketers must collaborate with other departments closely, gather accurate knowledge and work out how to share this in a humble and credible way. The number of hats on the marketer's hat rack is increasing, but the most important is still the thinking cap.