Things we already knew: UK marketers don’t care about sustainability

  • by helga
  • 24/04/2014

Things we already knew: UK marketers don’t care about sustainabilityEast of the IPCC report, a much smaller report by the Cranfield University School of Management  unearthed a few concerning facts in our little British pond.

Believe it or not, and according to this survey, ‘sustainability’ is at the bottom of the priority list for UK marketers (no, it’s not ‘a function out with boring co-workers’, or ‘cleaning my cat’s litter box’ – go figure, sustainability is even worse). Instead, UK marketers selected ‘CRM’ and ‘taking advantage of new opportunities afforded by technology’ as top priorities for 2014.

Let me translate: by ‘CRM’, we usually mean number-crunching data from customers and prospects and squeezing some meaning out of it to optimise lead generation and conversion. By ‘taking advantage of new opportunities afforded by technology’, we usually mean cheaper and wider reaching marketing communication channels over the web. What we don’t usually mean is technology applied to social advancement, or addressing real needs and under-served markets, even if in the long run that could have meant a more successful (and sustainable) business model.

Furthermore, and still according to the survey’s findings, UK marketers have strong growth ambitions but are not focused on product and service innovation, especially when compared with their counterparts in developing economies. This means that UK marketers continue aiming for higher market share, higher acquisition and growth, but are much less interested in research and innovation as a way of understanding and responding to changing customers’ needs.

It sounds like marketers are optimistic about the positive signs from a recovering UK economy, but they are failing to see the real needs – and opportunities – for future decades.

How do we define sustainable?

It would be good to understand what the Cranfield’s survey respondents think about when they rate sustainability at the bottom of their priorities. I believe that when marketers refer to sustainability, they’re basically referring to messages required to appeal to ethical market niches. They don’t think of sustainability as a primary assessment carried out by every single consumer when considering a product – in the same way a consumer considers price as the main differentiation.

In all honesty, they’re probably right – at the moment, ‘sustainability’ compounds many factors (price, accessibility, quality, social footprint, carbon footprint, tax approach, employee/staff approach) in ways that are hard to quantify and keep track of. That’s why the main, and most successful, mechanism for selling a sustainable product/service is acquiring ‘stamps’ from reputable, independent bodies that assess sustainability through complex checklists and verification processes. While some stamps will be pure greenwashing, others will eventually build successful advocates by quantifying sustainability in a meaningful way (like Fairtrade or MSC). They are very much like a brand promise on their own, on top of the brands they’re certifying.

Just imagine the opposite: imagine that you needed an independent organisation to distinguish a cheap product from an expensive product. You had no way of telling otherwise. You could buy a kettle or a carpet and get it really cheap, or choose a different brand and realise you were spending your budget for a full year. Sounds really weird and scary, right?

So we lack a definition and assessment of sustainability across a fairly clear, linear spectrum. It’s no wonder that sustainability raises skepticism, or at best apathy, from UK marketers.

How can we change this – why would they care?

Just imagine that if by seeking beyond tried and tested models, you would actually get to be one of the biggest brands of the future.

(Ha! Such an apocalyptic and rushed punchline means it’s definitely time to sleep.)

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