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 Responsible Marketing

Can Sustainability form the basis of a marketing platform?

Although possibly not uppermost in people's minds during the recession, MPG International have been involved with the sustainability debate for some time - we see our role not as evangelists, but as professional marketers, working out how the current trends impact our client's markets, advising on approaches to developing appropriate responses and how to compete successfully. Essentially, we are concerned that most sustainability pressures will have the effect of reducing capital productivity and profitability of an organisation until a tipping point is reached when sustainability becomes a fundamental brand characteristic and a therefore a requirement to be able to compete successfully. During the transition, there will be opportunities for competing by differentiation, although this requires real brand benefits, not limited claims or greenwash that serve to justify a current brand offering and which are presently diluting the potential benefits of differentiation.

This is a huge area of debate and MPG International have been involved in a couple of key projects. Details of these have been added to a community site - 'The Responsible Marketer' where the content of the reports have been placed on wiki pages, so that users can contribute to the debate and add their knowledge and experience.

"Sustainable Consumption and Production - The Role of Marketers"

A study on behalf of the Chartered Inst. Marketing evaluating the role of marketers and mapping the sustainability agenda onto the marketing skills set, sponsored by DTI/DEFRA and part of the Sector Sustainability Challenge. This study analysed the skills of marketers as defined by the marketing and sales standards and undertook some depth interviewing with marketers in companies with some sustainability track record.

The study revealed the strategic importance of marketing since most sustainability activities tend to increase either costs or demand for capital and marketing is responsible for increasing revenues to at least balance this. The study suggests that it is probably more important to develop the brand to build a degree of confidence that the company is addressing a wide range of sustainability issues. However, it also recognises that any sustainability “benefit” is unlikely to move a brand to a higher price point unless it can be associated with other benefits sufficient to influence consumers. The study recognised that not all sustainability issues are product specific and that the current markets for “sustainable products” are minor market segments, appropriate only for a focussed strategy. It recommends that marketers “promote” sustainability to being a differentiating factor which would enable companies to compete on this basis.

Another constraint identified is a weak relationship between marketers and designers. Designers require more feedback from the market about those benefits that better enable the company to compete while they also require more freedom to identify more sustainable solutions. More collaborative approaches are required.

Advertising and communications are the public face of marketing, but are, or should be, a consequence of a wide range of marketing activity.

This study has successfully started a process by which businesses can not only comply with regulations but can actively seek to adopt non-regulatory standards and to compete effectively to maintain financial performance. The process will continue with wide dissemination and debate about the ideas presented and the development of resources to educate and motivate marketers. Please visit 'The Responsible Marketer' to make your own contribution or download the report.

"Sustainable Motivation"

A report from a project sponsored by UNEP and Esomar which reviews the marketing and communications basics and evaluates how the objectives of sustainability can be aligned with the needs of marketers. The study was initiated to try to account for the discrepancy that exists between 30 years of promoting the sustainability message and the perceived lack of sustainable behaviour by consumers and corporate buyers. It is partly a review of past research and partly an expression of ideas concerning the role of marketers.

The study discusses the gap that exists between knowledge and behaviour and suggests research approaches that may be followed to improve marketer’s understanding. It also discusses the requirements for culture change which might improve receptivity and cognizance of information but which are largely absent. The study highlights some of the inadequacies of current research methods, while emphasising that research is required to monitor trends which may be taken account of by marketers.

The report reveals many inadequacies of current research and CSR reporting which might be expected to improve the marketing performance of companies:

  • although concern for sustainability issues is high, the strength and depth of attitudes are low
  • the necessary ingredients for cultural change are absent
  • the level of debate about sustainability is uninformative and short-hand communications are ineffective
  • CSR reporting is directed to the wrong audience
  • CSR performance cannot become an intangible asset of businesses and affect shareholder value unless it first affects their business performance
  • marketers need to take a holistic view of their organisation and the value of sustainable production to brand image

The work demonstrates the need for improved methods and metrics as well as for many organisations to research and evaluate their role in promoting sustainable consumption and production. MPG International are very keen to develop a better understanding and remove some constraints so will continue to work with UNEP, Esomar and the Chartered Inst. of Marketing as well as NGO's, corporates and government agencies who need to develop their strategies to improve effectiveness. We look forward to taking this debate forward and recruiting marketers to help propagate the sustainability message. or download the report.

"The Responsible Marketer Network"

The purpose of this community web site is threefold:

  • to manage knowledge about the role of marketing - effective and ineffective tools and approaches, shared experiences, surveys and analyses that offer insight into sustainable consumption
  • to stimulate new research to fill knowledge gaps - enabling research that would benefit all marketers and their businesses
  • to disseminate knowledge and understanding throughout the marketing community

The network is open to all marketers in mainstream marketing or the marketing services functions such as advertising and communications and market research. Please visit 'The Responsible Marketer' to make your own contribution.