Inspiring Marketing for Success: Building Sustainable Brands

Based on the event ‘Making the right claims: using communications to build confidence in sustainable products & services’

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stand before you today marketer,” said CEO “ IBusiness, before going onastoamake a startlingGiles Gibbons, founder and failedof–Good confession: Marketing has and not just when it comes to sustainability.
“Marketing has become smaller in so many ways. It’s become more and more short-term in its outlook… It’s become the dogged follower of consumers, only daring to give them what they want right now, rather than a leader, pre-empting and even shaping future consumer wants and needs… It’s all about value, not values,” Mr. Gibbons stated. Speaking at a recent Insight event held by The CarbonNeutral Company, Mr Gibbons joined a panel of speakers to discuss the role of marketing in building confidence in sustainable products and services. This transformation of the marketing role which Mr. Gibbons says was once “inspirational” is damaging, and nowhere is the problem clearer than in the area of sustainability. Sustainability, he explained, is inherently about values and about seeing the bigger picture, and therefore it cannot be squeezed into this new, narrower definition of marketing. When marketers don’t see sustainability directly motivating consumer behaviour at the moment, they dismiss the potential of green marketing altogether. Marketing, frustratingly, has become the one area of business that has held sustainability back the most. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Customers care about long-term sustainability, and want reliable information about the green credentials of the products and services they buy. Businesses, also, want to be proud of their work, and inspired by what they do. Sustainability shouldn’t pander to the short-term model that is strangling modern marketing, Mr. Gibbons argued; instead, marketers have the power to demonstrate to companies and the public how sustainability can revitalise brands values and foster real leadership.

Inspiring Marketing for Success: Building Sustainable Brands

Also on the panel was John Grant, writer of The Green Marketing Manifesto, and founder of the consultancy Abundancy Partners, whose clients include IKEA and the Royal Mail. Mr. Grant called green marketing “a dangerous business”. In a changing marketplace, green marketing is essential, but remarkably few companies manage to do it well. He pointed out that with hordes of businesses rushing to get out a green message – any green message – the market has become saturated with conflicting claims, and dogged by accusations of greenwashing. In such an atmosphere, some of the best and most innovative work companies are doing on environmental issues, and particularly on the complex subject of climate change, can end up lost in translation. Paula Oliveira, Associate Director of Brand Valuation and Analytics at Interbrand, summed up the situation concisely: “There’s a lot of noise around the subject, and it’s quite difficult for businesses to stand out from all this noise and make their voice heard.”

“I want marketing to rediscover its

role as the real guardian of the brand, and the accompanying need to look not just at where we are now, but where we go.

Giles Gibbons, Founder and CEO, Good Business

Ms. Oliveira declared that the business world is coming to embrace sustainability, and that “there is a massive potential from the demand side for customers to engage with the brand. And it makes business sense: it can be because companies offer products and services that help customers live more sustainable lives, or it can just be because of the risk of losing customers if companies don’t behave like corporate citizens.” According to Interbrand’s recent research, a brand’s corporate citizenship strategy is responsible for 13% of brand favourability (customers’ overall impression of that brand). While that might seem low at first glance, Ms. Oliveira explained, when it is compared with the contribution that more basic considerations, like quality and price, make to brand favourability, the figure of 13% indicates that corporate citizenship has an impressive degree of influence over customers’ opinions. Sustainability will be a crucial issue well into the future, Ms. Oliveira said, “And if you don’t do anything about it, you are almost going to be out of consideration for customers.” Her fellow panel speaker, Giles Gibbons, agreed that the business world is changing and companies are taking more responsibility for their environmental impact, but added, “What most businesses haven’t done effectively is tell anyone about it in a compelling way through their products and services.”

Why are businesses missing out on the enormous potential of green marketing and how can they get it right?

Green marketing – the way forward
Consumers know what they want, said Mr. Gibbons; the role of marketing is to show them where the business is going so that the consumers can make informed decisions. “That means taking a point of view about the future. It means having a personality,” he argued. “A personality means you don’t talk in platitudes; it means you believe you’re going somewhere.” The goal, he said, is persuading consumers to trust the brand. “When sustainability and marketing come together, as they have at the Doves, the M&Ses, the John Lewises, the Timberlands, the Innocents, you can feel that it works, it feels real, it feels human, it has a genuine direction, and most importantly, it feels like something you, the consumer, can trust, because you get it.” Mr. Gibbons concluded that brands rise above being just products when they take on a genuine direction. The speakers came up with three key themes that should shape green communications. “To stand out,” said Ms. Oliveira, “your sustainability strategy has to be consistent with your brand proposition.” Nicola McLaren, Consumer and Market Insights (CMI) Unilever, agreed, adding, “That integration ensures the sustainability message isn’t just there as a way of ticking a box, rather it shows that we are doing well as a business by doing well for the planet and its people, and this can serve to further reinforce the brand itself.”

KITCHEN Photo: Pelle Bergström/Skarp Agent

pure glacier

Secondly, a company’s green message has to be relevant to a range of different audiences, including employees, suppliers, and civil society. Perhaps most importantly, though, it must be relevant to customers – and that requires finding what Ms. McLaren called the “consumer sweet spot”, the point where the benefit to the planet intersects with the benefit to the customer. She cited PG Tips’ successful use of Rainforest Alliance certification to engage with customers: the certification promised better lives for farmers, while the imagery PG Tips used in the campaign portrayed thriving farming communities creating sustainable livelihoods through their relationship with PG Tips. The campaign not only helped customers understand the sustainability benefits of PG Tips’ tea, but also suggested that a living wage for farmers meant better care and attention to the crops, and therefore a higher-quality tea. Mr. Grant agreed that the most successful green brands link the sustainability benefits of their products to more traditional messages about the products’ quality and value. The third point may be the most crucial: green marketing requires real transparency, which means it isn’t for the faint of heart. “Sustainability is judged from your very worst credential,” Mr. Grant said, in contrast to branding, which focuses on the business’s best attributes. Companies making green claims are voluntarily putting their business practices under a microscope, and need to be upfront about their sustainability policies to be able to withstand public scrutiny. Ms. Oliveira cautioned that before companies make statements about their corporate social responsibility, they must be ready to be authentic and accurate, and to provide proof points as evidence of their accomplishments. In the age of social media, the public will quickly discover any inaccuracy in a company’s claims, she said, and bad execution can ruin the most well-intentioned sustainability policies. However, Ms. Oliveira went on to reassure the audience that good green claims are about being honest, not about being perfect. A company can, and even should, hold up a vision of the sustainable business it is working to become, provided that the company makes it clear that this is a vision. Ms. McLaren added that companies need to express their intermediate goals as well, and communicate what they have already done on environmental issues, in order to add substance to their long-term commitments and to motivate their customers to see themselves as part of that future vision.

Certification – the key to credibility
“Certification images are fantastic – they really, really work,” said Ms. McLaren. “Consumers trust them, and these images talk to consumers very quickly.” When a business must fall back on an exhaustive explanation of its sustainability programme, without the instant point of reference a certification provides, customers can easily become confused and lose interest. Rebecca Fay, Marketing Director for The CarbonNeutral Company, argued that the proliferation of different sustainability standards created by companies only makes the problem worse. Certification marks can help cut through the tangle of conflicting standards. Ms. Fay said that when it comes to claims about a company’s carbon footprint, “a carbon neutral statement can really deal with that confusion, because it’s a clear, simple statement about an action that is being taken to reduce carbon emissions, and as such is powerful.” However, the term “carbon neutral” will only retain its power if companies use it consistently and credibly, which means that any company claiming that it or its products are carbon neutral should make sure it is following a publicly available standard.

One significant tool exists to ensure green claims are relevant to the brand, relevant to a wide range of audiences, and backed up by solid evidence: certification.

The CarbonNeutral Protocol has existed for eight years to certify carbon neutral products, services and companies in 32 countries. It is administered by The CarbonNeutral Company and provides its own certification mark, enabling companies to demonstrate their green credentials with a simple, impactful statement. The CarbonNeutral Protocol is also fully compliant with other third party standards and guidelines which have been produced by the UK government (through both the Department for Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Energy and Climate Change), the British Standards Institution and the Federal Trade Commission in the US.

“ a client uses a CarbonNeutral® statement If
Rebecca Fay, Marketing Director, The CarbonNeutral Company

effectively, it can allow them to differentiate their product or service, make a statement of leadership and build reputation, and engage stakeholders on important issues.

Using marketing to engage and inspire
“Marketing inspired me because I thought it was the exciting bit of business, Mr. Gibbons confessed. If that potential still exists anywhere in marketing, then surely it is on the topic of sustainability. This is where marketing can truly, as Mr. Gibbons put it, “see the big picture of people’s lives and find out what will make them easier and better and happier and more fulfilling.” Because winning the customer’s trust is vital, Ms. McLaren argued that everyday household brands are ideally placed to lead the transformation of green marketing: “Everyday household brands have a real opportunity to play a pivotal role in this new conversation with the consumer about sustainability, because they are so well established in consumers’ minds. We already have a dialogue with our consumers, we already have a relationship built on trust, and therefore our consumers will listen to us.” Ms. Oliveira noted that the business-to-business market is leading the way in creating a demand for clear information about companies’ environmental practices. While 13% of the average consumer’s opinion of a brand stems from the brand’s corporate citizenship record, that figure rises to a full 17% 20% when the consumer is a company, not an individual. Finally, Mr. Grant argued a strong case in favour of using marketing to engage, not just with individual customers, but with entire communities. In his opinion, past efforts to change customers’ behaviour through marketing – what he called the “plastic bags and pledges era” – have proven that it is impossible to “apply aspirational, individualised marketing to changing people’s behaviour around sustainability.” However, new forms of community engagement are, in Mr. Grant’s words, “moving forward in the way the individualised approach hasn’t. They engage people and get them on board, wherever they’re starting from.” As Mr. Gibbons put it,

How can a company transform its operations to bring sustainability and marketing together?

In most cases, Mr. Gibbons said, the change comes from the top down, driven by a few far-sighted executives, and can therefore happen quickly and dynamically. However, the rare occasions when the transformation occurs from the bottom up are inspiring. Mr. Gibbons cited John Lewis as one example of a company where sustainability seemed to be “in everyone’s blood,” and became integrated into the company’s marketing and operations naturally. Whether green marketing comes from the top or from the ground up, Mr. Gibbons was clear about one thing: a real and effective connection between a company’s communications and its sustainability policies is almost never the result of regulations. “It’s about turning the debate in these organisations towards innovation, towards what can be rather than what people externally tell us we need to be,” he concluded.

“Let’s inspire marketing to be inspiring.

About The CarbonNeutral Company
The CarbonNeutral Company is a world-leading provider of carbon reduction solutions. We work with over 300 businesses in 32 countries to develop offset inclusive carbon reduction programmes which enable companies to increase revenue, manage costs and engage stakeholders. Since 1997, we have purchased carbon credits from more than 200 projects in 24 countries. CarbonNeutral® is the registered trademark of The CarbonNeutral Company and is a global standard to certify that businesses have measured and reduced their CO2 emissions to net zero for their company, products, operations or services in accordance with The CarbonNeutral Protocol. We have offices in London, New York and Singapore and are a founding member of The International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance (ICROA), which provides leadership and a unified voice in advocating for rigorous offset industry standards. To find out more about how an offset inclusive carbon management programme can benefit your business, please contact Diana Lutfi or call 0207 833 6000.

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