THE BEAUTIFUL COINCIDENCE
Marketing is generally thought of as having a single objective; make more money: More than the business would have made without the marketing: And more than the marketing costs.
It may do this by mysterious means; including entertainment, getting everyone talking, making people grateful, being seen as popular, changing the way people think about a category, making your brand the first they think of… or indeed a clever positioning or pricing strategy. But these are strategies. The ultimate objective is still just to make more money.
This takes us into a broader debate. Sustainability is the idea of economic growth PLUS meeting environmental and social objectives. To put it one way, if the world falls apart then there is no market. And if a much greener substitute is brought out by a competitor, there is a good chance you will lose a lot of business too. Not to mention the risk if Greenpeace attacks you. Many companies have accepted this principle; the triple bottom line. Doing well by doing good.
I believe we have to start thinking that way in marketing. Only focusing on one objective has distorted our marketing; it leads to all the wasted packaging and so on. Focusing on green (and social and cultural) objectives can also lead to what I call beautiful coincidences. When a better solution for the planet is actually a killer marketing idea too.
The beautiful coincidence can be a product benefit. Green products come in two sorts. One is ‘less’ – it uses less energy, needs replacing less often, uses less packaging. And of course ‘less’ often costs less. The other sort of green product is ‘more’. Local apples or tomatoes taste better than imported goods, because they are fresh. Organic food is healthier than chemically treated food.
The beautiful coincidence can be distinctive design. The Tripp Trapp baby chair last 7-10 years because you adapt it as the child grows. And it is simply a beautiful (Z shaped) design. Muji, the Japanese brand (its name means ‘no brand’) use basic, uncoloured, recycled materials and their designs are warm, un-industrial and ‘human’ as result.
The beautiful coincidence can be a partnership. Tesco supermarkets has for many years run ‘a computers for schools’ promotion; by now it has raised enough money for one computer in every school in the UK. All people had to do was collect vouchers. The goodwill and loyalty this scheme creates is out of proportion to the cost to Tesco. It is the idea and the involvement which caught people’s imagination, not the ‘giveaway’ amount.
The beautiful coincidence can be regulation based. GE say that they are pushing ahead with much greener industrial products and processes, and setting a pace that few will be able to keep up with. They are also lobbying hard for tougher regulation and supporting this by rallying public support with a high profile public advertising. It is quite likely that competitors will be forced out of many of their markets, as a result.
The beautiful coincidence can be sharing the responsibility with customers. Yeo Valley yoghurt has created special packaging that makes it easy to separate the plastic and the cardboard for recycling. Mercedes has run advertising for years in Germany asking owners to use their bicycle for short journeys. These kinds of thoughtful extras can create a stronger relationship with customers, give them the feeling of working together.
The beautiful coincidence can be education. Marketing doesn’t have to hide the truth. Marks & Spencer created a massive customer education campaign using advertising, in store materials and an internet site encouraging people to ‘look behind the label’. Once you know that the biggest user of world pesticides is cotton, you are much more inclined to try their new ‘organic cotton’ range. It’s a virtuous circle. Improve your range, educate people to appreciate the differences.
The beautiful coincidence can be what I call ‘treasuring’. If people value objects more; a special pen, a great book, an object with happy memories… they will never throw it away. There are many opportunities to fight the endless cycle of ‘the latest thing’. One is designing and marketing the definitive item. Nicholas Negroponte of MIT Media Labs has developed what he thinks is the ultimate computer (‘One Laptop One Child’). It costs under $100 and uses zero electricity. It’s all any child will need to do their school work. Not the fastest, or the latest, or the flashiest, but actually the best and by far the cheapest.
The beautiful coincidence could be financial. From next year all UK homes will have an energy rating. Pilot studies have shown that the amount added to the price of the home by getting into the top bands far exceeds the cost of that work (eg insulation). There’s an opportunity for a bank or similar to help people realise this financial opportunity.
The beautiful coincidence can be a new business model and new internet-enabled service or social community. New businesses are springing up to enable people to share objects (for instance car clubs are very popular), to borrow as if from a library (www.bagstealorborrow.com) to give away things they would have thrown away (www.freecycle.org has 3.5 million members) and so on. It’s the same type of beautiful coincidence which made eBay, Amazon and MySpace such big successes. With the internet you can do so much more than sell goods.
The beautiful coincidence could be a disruptive new technology. Like cars which are effectively powered by water. People are starting to call the new sector g-commerce and many such as Richard Branson are committing billions in investment to find greener alterative energies and technologies.
Green marketing is the most exciting source of new creative challenges and business opportunities since the internet. It’s also our moral duty to what we can to help, but that’s a different argument for another day! I’d argue that ‘the beautiful coincidence’ is not a rare exception – it’s actually a general principle for creative marketing anyway. Having several objectives to meet rather than one - in principle - makes for more interesting compelling ideas. ‘Make more money’ is a terrible starting point to differentiate a business. It leads you to focus on direct mail shots and cost cutting exercises. But dual objectives push you to have a bigger idea. Green and making green (dollars) can of course conflict, unless you actually start making changes to the business. Coming up with a beautiful coincidence means you have to overcome these conflicts and have a bigger idea; to meet people’s needs better while doing less harm.