Selling Sustainability? Sell Sustainability

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Each brand’s marketing strategy is unique. It depends on the products and audience it targets as well as the values it holds. Eight brands agree on three key principles when it comes marketing sustainability: AT&T, Carlsberg and eBay, Johnson & Johnson (L’Oreal), McDonald’s, Walmart, Waste Management, and Johnson & Johnson.

Today, BSR and Futerra along with these companies (all members BSR’s Sustainable Living Frontier Group), launched the “Selling Sustainability” guide to assist brand, marketing and sustainability teams in influencing consumers to make better buying decisions and adopt more sustainable lifestyles.

There is no better time to grab marketing sustainability. Over the next 20 years, three billion people will enter the middle class, most of them from emerging countries. They will want the same comforts, technology and well-being as many of us enjoy for decades. GlobeScan and BBMG found that about a third of these new shoppers are “aspirationals,” a group of consumers who “are defined by their love for shopping (93 percent), desire to be responsible consumers (95 percent) and trust in brands to act in society’s best interests (50 percent).

This is a paradoxical opportunity for business and marketing. What can we do to offer both the “stuff”, or services, and the meaning? Customers today want comfort and convenience without polluting, better-quality food and drink, as well as happiness and fulfillment from changing their habits. Both the business and marketing sides have the answers. They can create new business models and use sustainable manufacturing methods.

Traditional methods of influencing consumers to adopt sustainable lifestyles are failing. Guilt and pulling on the heart strings are old themes. Many marketers fear that they will be tempted to greenwash consumers. Additionally, many consumers are already conscious of the benefits of green products. Marketers must reach the mainstream consumer with little or no interest in sustainability if they want to make a significant impact on purchasing habits and purchase behavior.

Three ground rules are suggested by Selling Sustainability:

  1. Give consumers more value from sustainability. Campaigns often focus on what consumers can do to help sustain the environment, rather than how they can do it. A tangible value proposition is essential to motivate consumers to make purchases and take action. Intermarche’s Inglorious Vegetables campaign is a wonderful example. It offers imperfect produce at a 30% discount. The value proposition was simple: Shoppers got back their money, while the store addressed food waste and saw a 24% increase in traffic.
  2. You can create social, emotional and functional benefits. There are many obstacles, real and perceived, that can prevent you from making better purchases and adopting healthier habits. Some consumers may be concerned about the performance of greener products or doubt the luxury of lighter packaging. It is important to identify the barriers that are preventing you from inspiring the behavior you desire. Then, create a strong value proposition that focuses on the social, emotional and functional benefits. For example, Tesla’s ” Insane mode Driving Experience” focused on emotional value. This helped to counter the misconception that electric cars aren’t performant.
  3. Timing is everything. Sustainable Lifestyles members studied the habits of their customers last year and discovered some interesting things about human rhythms. People have predictable highs, lows, and fluctuating attention levels that affect their risk-taking, memory and ability to process information. Ironically, our energy footprint is highest in the evening so we are less open to receiving messages about how to improve it. Functional messages work best in mornings, while emotional messages can be handled in the evening. It is important to send consumers the right message at the right time and place. This aspect of sustainability marketing is perhaps the most overlooked. Marketers will soon be able adjust messaging to suit the time of day and receptivity as mobile and web technologies improve.

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