Series Author – Aby Sullivan, MD
HBS talk about sustainability in business meaning “doing business without negatively impacting the environment, community, or society as a whole”.
While sustainable marketing as a concept has adopted the environmental portion of this definition, the others have been somewhat neglected. In fact, traditional methods of marketing tend to get people’s attention by any means necessary, not thinking about the wider impact this may have.
This sparked a conversation about what sustainable marketing should mean.
It’s a known issue that traditional marketing techniques, and even some progressive ones, often add to the noise. They add to the slurry of information that already bombards people’s lives. It’s not necessarily useful and, more often than not, unsubstantial. The same can be said for products that have been created because they’re possible, not because they’re needed.
This uses up so much energy – of the people who are creating the noise, the devices that deliver it, and the people whose inboxes and social feeds we’re filling with it. Never mind that in most cases these people don’t want and didn’t ask for this information.
While these aren’t new revelations, the growing conversations about sustainability in business prompted us to invest in the same for marketing. We want to focus on questioning the value of creating noise for instant reward. Instead, let’s try to find a better approach which is all about connecting buyers with the solutions they need and are good for long-term growth.
We believe sustainable marketing should mean taking a considered approach.
We believe that investing the focus into building an infrastructure – fully understanding your audience, their problems, where you can add value, and the solution that does this, instead of simply doing what makes an impact – will lead to far more successful, sustainable results.
This is in contrast to what many organisations are doing which is just throwing a solution into the market and seeing what sticks. Or scaling at speed no matter what the cost. Or making constant noise to exist on the momentum of instant gratification. This is inherently unsustainable. For businesses and its effect on future generations.
The misguided concern is that taking the sustainable long-term approach means forfeiting any short-term gain. This is absolutely not the case. Instead, it simply means wasting less energy by being considered with every action you take, being a conscious marketer.
Sustainable marketing should also be all about measurable outcomes.
If people focused on creating positive, customer-centric, and personalised outcomes then there would be a lot less noise out there. We could use marketing not as a self-centric promotional device but as a tool to connect customers to what they actually want and need. To bring this idea full circle – these kinds of outcomes are only possible if you put in the work, invest in getting to know your audience, and stop making unnecessary activity for the sake of it.
The solutions that genuinely make people’s lives, society, and the planet better, are the ones who are already doing this. These are the best possible outcomes. They’re the signs of a job well done.
I have seen that the entrepreneurs that value this kind of ethos do better long-term. They succeed, not just financially, but in doing the right thing. And, if it’s authentic, you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll start to see the results.
Sustainable marketing (and business) helps us to do this by getting us to think beyond the company. Instead, being aware of and motivated by the long-term effects of everything we do, both now and in the future.
In this mini-series, I explore what sustainable marketing means to me, reflecting on the kind of business EV wants to be and the people we want to work with. At this moment in time, there are four core pillars that I feel underpin this ethos, but this will undoubtedly grow and change with time.