Posts Tagged ‘Marketing’
After years on the business fringe, life cycle assessments are moving closer to the mainstream as sustainable practices spread. The trend signals a growing customer desire to see and compare the numbers behind marketers’ claims of sustainability.
Last week Deloitte Consulting, a decidedly mainstream business, released a new whitepaper, “Lifecycle Assessment: Where is it on your sustainability agenda?” Joel Makower refers to the paper in an excellent article on the “renaissance of lifecyle thinking.” An LCA, Deloitte says, “charts the course of all inputs and outputs, and their resulting environmental impacts for a given product system throughout its lifecycle.” The paper’s authors write:
Sustainability is now widely accepted as a core business issue rather than a passing fad. However, particularly in light of the current downturn, many stakeholder groups are no longer satisfied with vague assertions that green is really ‘gold,’ or that green products are in fact better for the environment. Customers (both businesses and consumers), investors, environmental interest groups, and governments are pressuring companies for enhanced quantification of environmental impacts.
This increased external demand is fueling the use of LCAs. Clearly, Deloitte sees a business opportunity in helping its clients produce them. Nevertheless, Deloitte’s paper echos the themes of author Daniel Goleman in his new book, “Ecological Intelligence,” which I wrote about in a previous post. Goleman cites LCAs as the data backbone for emerging online services that enable businesses and consumers to make purchase decisions based on hard numbers for the environmental (and in some cases, social) impacts of a product.
Although the early LCAs date back to the 1960s, Goleman describes how far they have come in sophistication and detail:
Never before have we had the methodology at hand to track, organize, and display the complex interrelationships among all the steps from extraction to manufacture of goods through their use to their disposal—and summarize how each step matters for ecosystems, whether in the environment or in our body.
Deloitte cites several marketing and communications benefits for companies employing LCAs. Besides supporting marketing claims about a product’s “environmental friendliness,” it can enhance a company’s reputation:
LCA can demonstrate that a company has moved beyond surface-level sustainability window-dressing to a deeper commitment to improved environmental impact…However, as LCA becomes more common, it will no longer serve as a differentiator in itself; it is the actual results—and what they say about a company’s environmental progress—that will matter to stakeholders.
LCAs can be complex and costly to produce. This puts them out of reach of most smaller producers and manufacturers. Deloitte says these and other firms may want to consider an LCA “lite” approach that is less data intensive.
LCAs are not appropriate for every business, but there’s an underlying message for marketers in their widening use. “Becoming sustainable” and “going green” are well past the sloganeering stage. More customers and other stakeholders are asking for quantifiable progress. So before you make that next sustainability claim, you’d do well to have the numbers to back it up. Only your competitors will be unhappy to see them.
Last night, in a rugged NBA playoff game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets, LA’s Kobe Bryant was sent sprawling to the floor after being tripped by Denver’s Dahntay Jones. After seeing the TV replay, the ABC announcers all believed Jones intentionally tripped Bryant, although the referees missed the obvious foul. Play-by-play announcer Mike Breen, in an apparent defense of Jones, said the Denver player was not considered “a dirty player” in the NBA. To which analyst Jeff Van Gundy responded, “You are what you do.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter whether Jones is considered a clean or dirty player, because that was a dirty play. And if he continues to make plays like that (in an earlier game Jones pushed Bryant in the back as Bryant went in for a layup), he’ll earn an undesirable reputation as a dirty player.
Maybe only an NBA fan and branding consultant like me would offer Van Gundy’s words as a caution to those who oversee their firm’s brand. All of our carefully researched and cultivated efforts to develop a certain image among our stakeholders are only as effective as the collective behavior of our organization. That’s why I believe managing your business’ brand or reputation is not simply an exercise in marketing. Who you say your business is in your marketing counts for far less than what you do as a business.
Logos and slogans do not define your brand. Actions do. When the spotlight is bright and the pressure to perform is great, how do the executives and employees of your organization behave? That’s where you’ll find the truth of your brand.
So we’re officially in a recession. That explains those paranoid marketers looking nervously over their shoulders. They know what’s coming.
Most businesses treat marketing as a discretionary expense, making it an easy target for budget cutters. It’s as if marketing is a luxury afforded only when times are flush. Less customer demand, less we can afford marketing, or so conventional thinking goes.
But really, can we ever afford not to market?
It’s natural to want to preserve cash during a downturn. I was an employer for nearly 14 years, so I’m sympathetic. But the tendency is to make deep cuts in marketing when sales head south. Companies often start by reducing or eliminating outside expenses, such as advertising, events, sponsorships, research. And when that’s not enough, they lay off marketing employees, sometimes the entire department.
The net effect of gutting marketing is to stifle generation of customer awareness, demand and retention just when these things are needed most. It’s a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision.
Management guru Peter Drucker contended, “There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer…Because its purpose is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two-and only these two-basic functions: marketing and innovation.”
Drucker believed “true marketing” starts with customers, including their demographics, realities, needs, values. “It does not ask, What do we want to sell,” Drucker writes. “It asks, What does the customer want to buy? It does not say, This is what our product or service does. It says, These are the satisfactions the customer looks for, values, and needs.”
Notice, he doesn’t equate marketing with branding, advertising and promotion, as it has come to be broadly perceived and practiced today. Above all else, the marketing function is about engaging, understanding and pleasing our customers. It involves deep listening to customer needs and then helping the business respond with innovative products and solutions that satisfy those needs better than the competition. A recession might curtail how much you spend on marketing, but the function remains essential under all economic conditions.
If you’re contemplating cuts to your marketing program, ask yourself this: Do I truly understand my customers, their needs, their values? And is my company converting that understanding into innovative products and services that my customers value over other choices in the marketplace?
If the answer is no on both accounts, then it’s time to restructure and refocus your marketing efforts so they perform their function. Sure, you may need to trim spending here and there in marketing. Taking an ax to it, however, is your worst move. You’ll only sever connections with customers when you can least afford to lose touch.
If you answer yes to the questions, pat yourself on the back. Your marketing is doing its job. So why mess with what’s working? Find ways to preserve the people and the processes you use to market. They are more valuable than ever as the recession tightens its grip and each customer becomes more precious.
Devotion to sustainability as a company doesn’t exempt you from the fundamental need to market in bad times as well as good. In fact, there’s never been a better time to distinguish your company from the competition and prove your relevance to customers. You’re part of the solution to what ails us. Time to let the world know!
I find it difficult to avoid the topic of Wal-Mart when speaking of sustainability and marketing. The company came up again today at a breakfast presentation by two professors of business from the University of Portland, sponsored by the Oregon Natural Step Network. And once again I find myself bristling at the notion of Wal-Mart playing any part in the ultimate sustainability solutions for our planet.
Several years ago I attended a conference on branding. One of the keynote presenters began his talk by holding up a bottle of water. If marketers can successfully brand water, they can brand most anything, he quipped. His comments were meant to get the creative juices flowing among his audience. Hell yes, we can brand anything! And indeed, we do.
I thought of that marketer’s attempt at inspiration yesterday when I was listening to a talk by Maude Barlow, author of “Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water.” Barlow, a Canadian, is known internationally for her tireless advocacy for every human’s right to water. When asked what people could do to help solve a water crisis that is worsening by the day, her first response was, stop buying bottled water. (She also encouraged her audience to check out Food & Water Watch, where you can find many of the issues and facts Barlow cites to make her arguments.)
Like I suspect most everyone else who hears Barlow speak, I left yesterday with a vastly heightened concern for the world’s clean water sources. The water crisis is no less urgent than climate change. “The issue of water is an issue of life and death,” Barlow said. “Without water, you die.” And without clean water, you die. The number one killer of children worldwide is dirty water. “In every single case, it was preventable,” Barlow said.
If the marketing superstar I heard a few years back were back on the podium today I would hope he’d hold up the bottle of water and deliver a cautionary tale. We have the know-how to take nothing more than packaged tap water and persuade others it really is different and better than — your tap water and the tap water of every other bottler. In fact, the average American consumed 29 gallons of bottled water in 2007.
With the ability of marketers to brand anything also comes great responsibility. It may give marketers a great sense of accomplishment when their creativity helps produce a multi-million dollar brand from something as basic as tap water. But they must also own up to their role in exacerbating the global water crisis (and adding to pollution from non-recycled plastic bottles).
Marketers committed to sustainability need to constantly ask: For whom and for what are we going to use our skills today? Just because we can brand anything doesn’t mean we should.