Quick. Which of the following would you say best describes the traditional role of marketing in business?
- Spending immense sums of money to sell products that are unhealthy for their users, for the workers who make them, and for the planet.
- Redefining people as ‘consumers’ – beings who live to consume more and more rather than consuming to live better and better.
- Distracting people with alternative facts – for example, positioning Froot Loops as ‘part of a healthy breakfast,’ even though the healthy part is everything except the Froot Loops.
- Creating products and services that enrich people’s lives, and helping people discover and use them.
Silly me. I always thought it was (4).
The truth is, like business itself, marketing is simply a tool that can be used to achieve either a constructive goal or a destructive one. Let’s focus on the positive: marketing offers us the tools and insights we need to accelerate the growth of the sustainable economy. It’s what we call ‘Marketing That Matters,’ and it’s why we created Sustainable Business Partners. So, what exactly does that mean?
We believe Marketing That Matters meets these three criteria:
- It inspires through shared values.
- It’s collaborative.
- It holds itself accountable.
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. What you do simply proves what you believe.” If you haven’t seen Simon Sinek’s TED talk on “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” from which this quote is excerpted, or read his book, “Start With Why,” stop right here and have a look.
Sinek reminds us that the thing we do that most effectively inspires our audience to take action isn’t a ‘what’ (for example, it isn’t growing things organically or paying fair wages). Our beliefs and motivations - the ‘why’ we do it – are what inspire and motivate others. People buy from companies that believe what they believe, that share their values. Marketing that authentically starts with that 'why' inspires customer action.
We know that a fairer, healthier, and more sustainable economy is possible. We know that economy will empower our customers and their children to live healthier, more fulfilling lives. And we go to work every day to prove it. That ‘why’ is the thing our customers respond to, not the specific ‘what’ that we do in the course of business. And they don’t do it for us, they do it for themselves. They do it because they believe in the same vision that we believe in.
That’s where Sinek shows us the dividing line that separates marketing that inspires action and loyalty from marketing that doesn’t. When we focus on ‘what’ we do, we end up puzzled by the huge gap between people’s values and their buying activity. When we ground our message in ‘why’ we do it, they respond.
We have to change the buying habits of billions of human beings. None of our companies can do that alone. Nor can we do it if we spend our limited resources competing with other sustainable brands. We have more to gain by accelerating customer adoption of the sustainable economy as a whole than we do by trying to grab sales from each other.
Collaborative marketing enables shared access to customers with similar values. It enables sharing of tools and knowledge to deliver better results at lower costs. The larger the number of participants, the better the results. We believe this can be a powerful accelerator for a sustainable world.
What about ‘organic growth’ – just allowing satisfied customers to tell their friends, with a little social media push? Fine, but our planet and workers won’t wait. We believe it’s important to accelerate adoption of the sustainable economy past the ‘tipping point,’ where it becomes self-perpetuating. Sustainable Business Partners is here to help make that happen.
“Those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed." (Charles Darwin)
It Holds Itself Accountable
Measuring the results of marketing programs is a cornerstone of Marketing That Matters. How can we call marketing conscious or sustainable if we can’t measure its impact? At its heart, isn’t sustainability all about measuring the impact of what we do and being accountable for it? That’s why we’re attending, and recommend that you attend, Sustainable Brands’ New Metrics conference in November.
Measuring impact is at the heart of the B Corporation assessment process. That’s one reason why B Corp certification is an essential part of our corporate identity as a Certified (Pending) B Corp.
Sustainable businesses often incur higher costs than conventional businesses. This is because they take responsibility for the costs of caring for the people and the places they touch – costs that conventional companies externalize. And sustainable supply chains aren’t fully developed; they don’t yet benefit from the economies of scale that conventional supply chains do. So justifying a marketing budget on top of those financial challenges requires clear evidence of the results – i.e., accountability.
If we can be confident that a dollar allocated to marketing generates more than a dollar in return – to build the organization and to fund the causes we believe in – then allocating that dollar makes a lot more sense.