Sustainability matters to your customers, so it should matter to you. With customer delight being job #1, chief market officers (CMOs) and go-to-market (GTM) leaders are working across the executive suite to infuse sustainability into the brand, the mission, the products, company communications, and customer experience. In this analysis, we’ll explore what sustainability marketing means today, how sustainability has risen to the top of the customer and business agenda, and steps to integrate sustainability initiatives into your organization.
Today’s Sustainable Marketing
Traditionally, sustainable marketing has been about the promotion of “green” (e.g., locally sourced, 100% recyclable, carbon neutral) products, services, and practices. Today, companies are going further as the definition of sustainability expands. Business and consumer brands are advocating for specific climate initiatives, societal change (e.g., social justice), human causes (e.g., mental health), and other actions that are positive for the earth, for humankind, and for business. They’re doing so because there’s strong consumer sentiment in favor of sustainability, as demonstrated in surveys like the one spotlighted below.
Sustainability Rises to Top of Customer and Business Agenda
A 2022 HubSpot sustainability survey of 1,034 consumers shows the widespread expectation for companies to take responsibility and accountability for social and environmental issues.
- Nearly half surveyed say they’re more likely to buy from a company actively trying to reduce its environmental impact.
- Half believe climate change is one of the most important social issues companies should take a stance on — with the highest response from boomers (ages 55+) and Gen X (ages 35 to 54).
- Roughly 28 percent say a brand’s environmental impact and the ethical production of its products are two of the most important factors in their purchasing decisions.
The main takeaway is that customers do business with companies and brands that align with their beliefs and values. And increasing numbers of investors and financial funds will not invest in companies that do not meet, maintain, and commit to specific levels of environmental, sustainability, and governance requirements. In fact, according to a 2022 Charles Schwab survey, 71% of respondents think companies with good sustainability strategies make good investments, and 44% say they consider environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors when making a new investment.
These realities should activate CMOs into action.
Actions CMOs and CXOs Can Take on Sustainability Marketing
Patagonia, Starbucks, and TOMs are retail brands well known for their all-in approach to sustainability. Moreover, these companies align and integrate sustainability and social causes as part of their brand, mission, and marketing. As more executives and brands listen to their conscience and customers to establish leadership in the markets they serve, let’s look at what CMOs and GTM leaders can do to emulate these brands as well as at a few examples of progressive sustainability marketing work.
Determine if your organization is ready to commit.
To determine whether your organization can commit to sustainability, ask these critical questions:
- Does your company have the will, budget, and resources to commit and consistently invest in a sustainability initiative?
- Does your sustainability effort contribute to sustainability issues that will make sense to be connected to looking out over the next decade or two? (Carbon neutrality, climate change, etc.)
- Does the organization have the means to take a short-term loss to fully adopt your new practices and build towards long-term gain?
CXOs can struggle to see the value in undertaking sustainability initiatives if they aren’t mandated by legal requirements and government regulations or don’t align with short-term monthly or quarterly profits. If your organization isn’t ready to go in all at once, it may instead undertake smaller actions such as donating profits or proceeds to sustainable causes; sourcing sustainable materials and/or packaging; creating products that contribute to sustainable living; partnering with local governments or organizations on sustainability initiatives; or working with your partners and investors on climate finance.
Infuse sustainability into your brand, communications, and GTM strategy.
So where do you start on accelerate actioning your sustainability effort?
At the core of sustainable marketing is positioning your brand as an active advocate in sustainability, environmental, and/or societal issues. This positioning can humanize your brand messages and create another reason why customers should choose you over your competition. This may seem obvious to GTM leaders. But many leaders and brands approach sustainability as a “campaign” versus a core part of their GTM strategy, messaging, and communications. A campaign approach may come off as half-hearted. Customers recognize authenticity and can see through promotion gimmicks and short-term thinking.
To get a sense of companies and brands committed to sustainability and how they are infusing sustainability as a core part of their GTM strategy, here are a few examples and links:
- IKEA has established a sustainability strategy dubbed “People and Planet Positive” to support solar energy, regenerative environmental efforts, and eco-friendly practices.
- Hershey, recognized as a top 10 sustainability-centered company, is on a mission to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50%; recycle the materials used in production and packaging; and find ways to make its candy and food packaging consumable.
- LEGO’s mission is to have the production of its LEGO bricks be fully sustainable by 2030. This is a 12-year plan, kicked off in 2018. With children as its core consumer, LEGO strives to create lifetime customers and fans. Sustainability is an anchor in its GTM and customer strategy.
As a customer-valued brand today, you have to promote something that’s bigger than your products and services. CMOs and marketing teams are in a perfect role to put a sense of mission and purpose out accurately and thoughtfully in front of its brands, moving beyond promoting a product’s features, benefits, or price.
Get your employees and partners involved to co-create your sustainability effort.
Happy employees create satisfied customers is a well-documented business philosophy. Top organizations like apparel wear provider Timberland, retailer The Body Shop, and consumer goods manufacturer Unilever is supporting its employees and pulling in its partners to make an impact through sustainability. Yes, it is good brand marketing; but it is also a powerful loyalty builder.
Employees today want to work for a company that embodies their values and beliefs. Committing and investing in sustainability helps recruit talent at a time when companies are experiencing talent gaps in key roles. In fact, your employees may be your best source of high-impact marketing when they share their work and their pride in the company’s sustainability mission. Many companies have supported and unleashed teams and provided the time and resources away from their day-to-day work to deliver on the company’s sustainability agenda.
The Bottom Line
As a CMO and GTM leader, sharing your eco work and credentials can help you win more business, increase customer loyalty, and strengthen partnerships. This requires executives and companies to invest and play the long game, as reaching sustainability goals requires stamina and consistency. The reality is your customers and employees have spoken — the brands and businesses that have staying power and relevancy will be infusing sustainability action in their brand, company mission, and go-to-market strategy.
For timely insights from Cloud Wars Founder Bob Evans and a roster of leading CXOs on the hows and whys of sustainability’s impact on business processes and profits, please join us for the Acceleration Economy Sustainability Impact Digital Summit on January 26, 2023. Register today for your free streaming pass here.