Can marketers really influence the sustainability agenda, or are we simply pawns fuelling the corporate thirst for profit?
Purpose-driven brand apathy has set in, resulting from all major B2B businesses and brands dedicating a pillar of their brand architecture towards waxing lyrical about striving for a better tomorrow. Sustainably-focused straplines and value propositions are being reused, recycled and reduced to a bland, thinly veiled statement of intent, as sustainable business evolves to become a licence to operate in many industries.
The harsh reality of transient business practices, transitional product portfolios and c-suites having to balance whether, and how to pursue environmental initiatives, unsurprisingly leads to many B2B businesses choosing to prioritise green initiatives that are closely aligned with their shareholders’ performance goals, as opposed to the good of the planet.
The devil in the detail behind the greener-than-green headline statements these brands choose to communicate leaves marketers in an unenviable position. Tasked with articulating and amplifying sustainability credentials, yet paralysed by paranoia or in a state of conflict, knowing full well the greenwash accusers are ready to raise the red flag when claims can’t stand up to scrutiny.
Like many intricate and complex problems, sustainability is a company-wide commitment, involving many stakeholders across multiple touchpoints, and therefore needs to be addressed from all available angles. But to what degree should the marketing and communications function contribute to the solution?
Corporate social responsibility (CSR), sustainability, corporate responsibility, zero carbon, green business, environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG)… However you refer to your plans and actions to be a better corporate citizen and ‘save the planet’, marketers have a vital part to play in building a sustainable business.
The starting point to find the right answer is to look to the market, your customers, and your stakeholders. If you are true to being a customer-led organisation, then it’s their views that should be shaping your sustainability agenda. And if your investors are looking for long-term value then they want to understand your full ESG risk profile and be reassured you have a sustainable business model.
This is where marketing should be stepping in and helping the organisation positively shape the agenda. Marketers should have the tools and information to know where these issues rank in the needs and preferences of the organisation’s customers and key stakeholders.
The combination of issues and audiences may feel daunting, but a marketer’s skills in areas such as brand values, customer segmentation, needs and preferences, and value identification can all be brought into play.
I hope this purposefully provocative edition of the knowledge encourages you to reflect and take a personal sense of responsibility for the role you, as a leading marketer can have in shaping and communicating your brand’s sustainability efforts with greater consistency and authenticity – for years to come.
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