Sustainable marketing is more than the latest buzzword. Times are changing and, if you want to see continual growth in your business, it’s essential that you change, too.
The way we market our businesses evolves over time. We will always need to adapt how we do things to get the best results. But one thing is for certain — consumers are demanding more from the companies they buy from.
And this simple fact lies at the heart of sustainable marketing. It’s no longer enough to pour money into Facebook advertising and hope for the best. You need to get to the heart of the issues your customers care about. And you need to go on that journey with them.
Sustainable marketing can help you get there.
What is Sustainable Marketing?
Sustainable marketing is a revolutionary approach that transforms the way you connect with your customers. It’s not just about the ‘quick sale.’ Instead, it’s about creating a strong brand identity that will serve you for years to come.
It puts ethics at the heart of everything you do. This holds true both in the creation of your product/service and in the way you choose to market to your target customers.
This means you are able to satisfy the needs of your customers and generate a profit without compromising your ethical, environmental and social responsibilities.
Sustainability: More to Business Performance Than Finances
Are you ready to learn more about sustainable marketing? First, we need to change the way you think about business performance.
Traditionally, we used a company’s financial data to determine how well it was performing.
In 1994, sustainable consultant John Elkington outlined his “triple bottom line” (TBL) theory. This provides a framework we can use to measure business performance, taking into account its wider impact. He suggests we should not only consider a company’s finances but also it’s social and environmental impacts.
The TBL framework consists of three essential components:
1. People – The Social Bottom Line
The way we treat people matters. This starts with our employees and filters out into the wider brand community. How does your business benefit the lives of the people it comes into contact with?
To start with, ensure your business treats its employees well. All management staff need to be on board with this, and understand people are not commodities we can exploit for financial gain. At the very least, everyone deserves fair treatment and respect.
Where relevant, social responsibility should also filter through into your supply chain. This means a zero tolerance on exploitative practices such as child labor, slavery and unsafe working environments.
The social bottom line also takes into consideration how your business gives back to the wider community. For example, we decided to give back to families in need via Mercy Corps.
2. Planet – The Environmental Bottom Line
According to the latest research, we’re at a crisis point when it comes to the environment. If the current trend continues, the planet is likely to encounter irreversible damage by 2030.
Sustainable businesses know now is the time to act.
This means committing to reducing our carbon footprint and environmental impact wherever possible. Where impact to the environment is unavoidable, we should aim to offset the damage caused.
This is a complex area to navigate. If we really want to make a difference, we need everyone involved with the business to be on board.
How is your business contributing to the environmental crisis? What can you do to improve your environmental bottom line?
3. Profit – The Economic Bottom Line
A business must generate a profit. If it doesn’t, any attempts to improve the planet or society will be in vain. As such, this part of the framework is the one that most resembles traditional measures of performance.
But this step comes with some subtle differences.
In a sustainable business, the profit does not just relate to the internal profit made by the business. Although the company’s profits are important, we must also consider the wider economic impacts. What value does the business add to the community?
This provides us with a way to quantify the ‘people’ and ‘planet’ components, moving us away from words and into action.
How Does This Relate to Marketing Your Business?
So why does all this matter?
Although the TBL framework centers on business performance, it also has a huge impact when it comes to marketing your business.
Studies have found businesses who prioritize the social and environmental bottom lines profit from making their businesses more sustainable.
This is no coincidence.
As we’ve already discussed, consumers are demanding brands conduct themselves ethically. The way a business conducts itself drives the brand image. This image is what potential customers use to make purchasing decisions.
For example, the way you treat your employees might seem like it’s only an internal issue, but it’s not. It also has external consequences. Thanks to social media and review websites such as Glassdoor, word spreads quickly. And consumers will use the information they uncover about your brand to decide whether they’re going to buy from you.
This is why sustainable marketing works. It gets right into the heart of your brand identity. It directly aligns your values with your customers to ensure it’s something they want to be a part of.
Ten Strategies to Implement Sustainable Marketing in Your Business.
If you’re ready to prioritize sustainable marketing for your business, there are an almost unlimited number of ways to get started. Here are ten of them:
1. Understand Your Target Market
When it comes to sustainability, not everyone has the same priorities. If you want to make a difference, you need to understand how strongly your target market feels about ethical considerations.
Many people want to make better choices — both socially and for the environment. But they still have a long way to go in terms of reaching a sustainable balance. How can you add value and help them lower barriers to a more sustainable lifestyle?
Understanding all this will help you position your product or services appropriately by providing solutions to their biggest challenges.
2. Adopt a Long-Term Approach
Sustainable marketing is not a quick fix.
The approach requires a mindset shift, prioritizing the long-term return on investment that comes from a high level of consumer engagement.
Of course, sales are important — and we need to balance the two in order to create a sustainable business model. But if you want to make sustainable marketing work, you need to be in it for the long haul.
3. Build a Community
Your community starts within the organization and filters out with a ripple effect as your mission grows.
Start by defining your brand’s company values. What do you stand for? What do you look for in a consumer and an employee?
Make sure you hire people with the same values as they will be the ones actioning them on a day-to-day basis. When you get this right, your values will be apparent in everything you do.
These are the building blocks for a strong community. And they enable you to attract consumers that want to be part of what you’ve created.
4. Create Genuine Connections
Traditional marketing tends to revolve around price. Businesses stay competitive by offering discounts and bombarding consumers with constant marketing.
The truth is, people are growing tired of traditional marketing methods. They’re finding ways to hide social media advertisements and block cookies. Because of this, many of the popular marketing methods are not working as well as they used to.
People are distrustful. They’ve had enough of being sold to.
Instead, break the mold. Stop pushing your discounts, and start telling more stories. Remember – people buy from people. So put your people front and center. Show them the humanity behind your brand.
Your goal here is to be efficient, but not intrusive. How can you enhance their life? Give them a reason to be part of your community. Build genuine connections that transcend competitive pricing structures.
5. Rise Above Your Competition
You can differentiate your business from your competition by taking a public stand on sustainability issues.
A good example is Whole Foods, who prominently share their mission of supporting businesses that provide high-quality, naturally preserved and minimally processed foods. The company doesn’t claim to change the world. But customers appreciate the small way they’re contributing to positive change.
6. Be Responsive and Open to Criticism
Sometimes, you might get things wrong. Consumers don’t expect you to be perfect. But it’s important to act with integrity and humility when things don’t go to plan.
Be open to receiving criticism, both from employees and consumers. We’re all in this together. That means we’re all here to help each other create a more sustainable, ethical and fair world.
When something is brought to your attention, make small changes quickly. Be honest. Apologize when you need to.
All of these things increase a consumer’s trust in the brand and show you are genuinely interested in getting things right.
7. Eliminate Waste
Excessive waste is having a huge impact on the environment. The US produces in excess of 30% of the world’s waste — even though only around 4% of its population leave here.
This is a major issue. There’s no perfect way to get rid of excess waste. Landfills are problematic for obvious reasons, but incinerating waste also causes problems with pollution and the release of toxic gases.
Strive to reduce waste wherever possible. If you have a product-based business, investigate alternative packaging arrangements. There are many options for biodegradable or recyclable packaging. And plastic can often be removed entirely without detriment to the product.
8. Reduce and Offset Your Carbon Footprint
Collectively, we all have a responsibility to reduce our impact on climate change. As a business, there are many ways to do this. You won’t be able to do them all — at least not to start with. However, every little helps.
The daily commute is one of the biggest contributors to both pollution and climate change, with the average American spending almost an hour each day on the road. Encourage your employees to cycle to work, walk or car share.
You won’t be able to eliminate your impact entirely. Yet if you wanted to go one step further, you could also donate a proportion of your profits to offset your carbon footprint.
9. Listen to Your Employees
How do your employees feel? This is an important question that isn’t asked often enough.
Make sure your employees feel heard. Prioritize their mental, physical and emotional well-being.
When your staff feels valued, they will be more productive and speak more highly of your business, which has a ripple effect.
A strong HR department is key here. Ask them to feedback regularly on staff satisfaction – conducting surveys and keeping a watchful eye on online review sites like Glassdoor.
A socially responsible organization isn’t upholding its values if it fails to look after its own employees.
10. Evaluate Your Supply Chain
Ignorance is no longer bliss. If you have made a commitment to becoming a sustainable business, you have to know exactly who you’re working with.
Make sure every organization you buy from operates responsibly. The last thing you want is to put in all the hard work, only to have your reputation shattered when you’re found guilty by association.
It should go without saying, but a socially responsible business must always have a zero tolerance policy on exploitative practices. Slavery is still a common problem in some parts of the world, and dangerous working conditions are also common. As responsible business owners, we must work to ensure our businesses don’t cause harm to others — either directly or indirectly.
Finally: Take Action!
This is the most important step.
Be true to your word and act with integrity.
So many businesses claim to care about social and environmental issues. But they still put their profits far above all else. It’s all good talking about these things, but consumers are smart.
Talking isn’t enough.
Are you ready to start strengthening your brand identity and making the world a better place?
We can help.
Get in touch to find out how we can help you connect with your audience through art of storytelling. We are experts in sustainable marketing, working with brands who share our passion for a fair, green and profitable world for all.