What’s sustainability got to do with marketers?
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What’s sustainability got to do with marketers?

Well, quite a lot actually.

The marketing commentariat have been talking a great deal of late about how marketing needs to become more strategic again, and for companies to recognise the importance of purpose in guiding brand strategy. For those marketers and companies recognising the need to take these views on board, and to try and emulate the successful pioneers, sustainability should be at the centre of their thinking.

Yet, if it has been thought about at all inside the marketing function, sustainability has tended to be regarded as the domain of the CSR department and not, therefore, something to expend much time and effort on. It is very likely, however, that in 10 years’ time this will be regarded as having been a foolish and costly oversight, since those companies and brands taking a longer-term view greatly outperform the laggards.

Already, for those who are prepared to look, there are many examples of companies that ‘get’ what sustainability is all about, and are using that insight to power their brands successfully. Such success cannot be achieved overnight, however. What it requires is the text book marketing approach of understanding long-term threats and opportunities; keeping abreast of the changing attitudes and beliefs of important new customer segments; and developing robust brand strategies that reflect and exploit the new realities. Taking this approach makes it almost impossible to ignore the central importance of sustainability, and yet a short-term, promotion-led fixation results in too many marketers doing just this.

In most companies, sustainability has been regarded as a peripheral issue, or the primary task of strategy development has been left to non-marketers. The challenge for marketers is to get involved with other functions that are getting to grips with the issues; to apply the marketing mind-set (above all, the ability to understand and speak for the customer) in the formulation of appropriate and successful brand strategies; and to deploy their expertise in the battery of new digital tools that have become available. 

Here’s eight sustainability musts for marketers:

  • Get to grips with the biggest strategic issue for marketers in the future, to avoid impeding your career.
  • Start working with internal and external sustainability/CSR practitioners to understand the subject and begin to demonstrate the key role that marketing needs to play.
  • Begin to acquire the skill set needed to play a key role in the organisation’s development of a sustainability strategy.
  • Understand your supply chain – and the opportunities and threats that it represents.
  • Work with your colleagues to ensure that your organisation is not one of those being left behind.
  • Be part of the strategic process that places sustainability at the heart of the organisation, rather than in tactical, peripheral activity.
  • Use the classic marketing tools to help develop a viable long-term sustainability strategy.
  • Learn how to integrate sustainability into the brand’s positioning and propositions appropriately.

Marketing is nothing if not a strategic discipline. A lot of research has been showing that the companies and brands taking sustainability seriously, and building it into the heart of their strategies, are outperforming their peers. This presents a great opportunity for marketers to take on a more strategic role; to acquire new skills and areas of expertise; and to be the drivers of successful long-term brand strategies.

Want to hear more from David Whiting on sustainability? Register now for our upcoming Practical Insights webinar titled "Building a sustainability strategy that resonates". 

David Whiting Course Director CIM
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