Stakeholder Trends and Insights
How Can We Get Marketers to See the Value in Sustainability?

Following an energy-filled morning at SB ‘15 San Diego, David Hawksworth of Given London kicked off an afternoon workshop by asking, “How do we combine the skills of marketing and sustainability professionals?”

By the number of nodding heads in the Sunset Ballroom, I could tell that the question resonated with a lot of those in attendance. At my table alone, we had three student interns working summer gigs in sustainability, and two marketing professionals for a national retail brand. Neither group would be disappointed by the collection of insights, case studies, and new tools to be presented over the next two-and-a-half hours.

Hawksworth said the goal of the workshop was to hone the skills of all the marketing and sustainability professionals in the room. Let’s face it: If sustainability is going to take a central role in business, it’s imperative that it gets incorporated into branding.

But therein lies the dilemma. Members of the sustainability team often ask, “How can I get marketing people to listen to me?” And on the flip side, the marketing team has a difficult time explaining that customers are not interested in the company’s 20 percent carbon-reduction target.

If we have any chance at balancing the two extremes, Hawksworth explained, the answer lies in changing brand culture. And with that, the stage was set for some real-world examples from Virginie Helias, Global Sustainability Brand Director for Procter & Gamble.

Helias shared the results of a 2014 employee survey that provided her with some sobering insight: more than half of P&G’s brand management people didn’t see the business value of sustainability. Why aren’t marketers more engaged?

Hope is not lost, however, as both traditional and sustainability marketing share one common starting point: the consumer. And it was this consumer-centric model that helped P&G bridge the gap between the two.

Marketing campaigns would start with the inner circle: “Me” — the consumer. The next layer would explain a brand’s impact on “My world” — the people and places that matter to the customer. Lastly, the message would expand to how the company impact “The world” — the social and environmental impact of the brand.

With this new framework in mind, Hawksworth came back to the mic to introduce research done by Given London in collaboration with Ashbridge Business School. The term they coined to explain the drivers behind a successful intersection between marketing and sustainability is “brand substance.”

The research was broken down into three parts: 1) Tracker; 2) Expert; and 3) Masterclass. The tracker portion was more or less a brand ranking that answered the question: “Does this brand make life better?” according to the “me, my world, the world” methodology.

The expert portion of the research was based on in-depth interviews with both marketing and sustainability professionals. It was refreshing to find that both sides agreed that brand substance was important. The interviews did not identify any sort of intellectual debate between the two sides. If anything, it was that sustainability just doesn’t seem to fit into the traditional Marketing 101 playbook.

My favorite example from the workshop was that of digital marketing. When digital became an important piece of the marketing puzzle, it didn’t require throwing traditional tactics out the window. By shifting our mindset, we can view sustainability in the same light.

Results from the tracker and expert portion of the research were used to identify 10 tactics that companies can use to achieve brand substance. These tactics were listed under the Masterclass heading and fell into the categories of people, process, strategy, and delivery:

  1. Immerse. CSR teams into marketing departments
  2. Share. Bring marketing into CSR
  3. Empower. Youth, digital
  4. Allocate. Fixed portion of budget to brand substance
  5. Targets. Longer term objectives for brand substance marketing
  6. Vision. Aim to unite employer, customer, brands
  7. Unique. Make the story yours only
  8. Innovate. Sandbox for projects at the sustainability/marketing intersection
  9. Ongoing. Audit existing touch points for opportunities; make it ongoing
  10. Relevant. Focus on what matters to the consumer
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