Why Marketing Needs to Understand Sustainability

One of the most common questions we get at WeSpire is “why does every employee need to understand our sustainability goals? Shouldn’t it just be for the facilities team or used as a way to rally passionate Millennials on the green team?”  To answer, we often speak about the value of seeing the entire business through a sustainability lens, both to identify new opportunities for impact and to see potential risks that are impossible for any one leader or team to see.

Then last week, a prime example showed up in our office mail. Two companies that wanted to do business with us tried to generate a deal by sending their marketing efforts our way.

The first was a clearly expensive, heavy-to-mail “Bossface Emergency Kit”. 

Upon opening, one received several items that were hopefully meant to be a humorous -- including a travel eyeshade, a fidget spinner, a large bottle of “prescription mints”, a spray bottle with an unknown substance in it, and a prescription note pad.  It was wrapped in reams of bubble wrap and the entire thing was, in a word, useless [except the mints, although one colleague noted that in the age of opioid addiction that sending around fake prescription bottles is probably a bad idea].

Our team had no use for, or interest in, any of the items and couldn’t fathom anyone else would appreciate this kit either. Assumedly if you need an eyeshade to sleep, you have one. Are you going to spray an unknown item in your face?  It was hard to write on the prescription note pad unless you flipped it over to the backside.  And of course, very little of it was recyclable so nearly the entire kit went into the garbage.  Not only did the marketer not get a response, but now we were collectively annoyed at how much waste was generated by this company. Waste that we had to pay to dispose of in both time and money.

The other marketer took a different tack. We opened the box to find it filled with colorful shredded, recyclable filling.  A simple card, also recyclable, explained what they wanted us to buy.  The kit included a high quality, all-natural peanut butter, a sleeve of saltines, and packets of Bonne Maman jelly which immediately prompted several people to come get a snack -- and read their card.

Now we didn’t buy either company’s product that day.  

However, I remember which company sent the high quality, brand aligned snacks, as does my hungry team, and I’m appreciative that they sent something useful. From a brand standpoint, that company’s direct mail piece also conveyed a ton about what mattered to them.  It suggested that quality, and sustainability, were important which meant our values were aligned, particularly relative to the contrast provided by that other company. Assuming I’m in the market for this service someday, who am I more likely to call?  Yes, the Peanut Butter and Jelly people.  In fact, some of our customers have proven that engaging employees in sustainability increases customer loyalty.

But would the marketing person at the other company even know how bad an impact their gift had on my perception, and perhaps others, of them as a company? Doubtful -- we will just be marked down as one of the other 95% plus of non-responders. We know that more and more companies, and people, care about their environmental footprint and will not appreciate having to trash someone else’s unsolicited junk. Their sales people likely have no idea that there is a brand hurdle they will need to overcome created by a not-that-funny and wasteful marketing tactic.

In this case, marketing needs to understand sustainability to make better, smarter decisions about direct mail customer acquisition efforts.  This need to understand certainly goes beyond marketing, as a sustainability lens helps make better business decisions in nearly every single role in your company. I’m also confident that the cost of the PB&J was a lot less than those custom bossface mints and mystery-ingredient face spray.  That’s the beauty of a good sustainability strategy applied to everyday activities -- it saves money, it reduces risk, and it grows brand.  Now that’s something marketing can support!

We’d love to hear about more examples of the best, and worst marketing items you have received, particularly vis-a-vis sustainability, in the comments.