Saturday, 11 April 2009

Interview for V-Marketing (China)

1. For the coming Earth Day (4•22), companies like the Timberland launch campaigns to spread their values of environmental advocacy and concern, and to advertise their green credentials. Do you think this marketing strategy effective? Why and why not?

Earth Day itself is not that big a deal, certainly in Europe (it is more of an event in America I believe). Some environmentalist are anti the idea of having one day when we focus on the Earth and 364 days when we go back to business as usual. But it is a media event and brands like Timberland can get more attention on those days. Rather like an American brand advertising during their Superbowl.

Whether it is credible to market your green credentials is another matter. Surveys show that Western consumers are increasingly choosing retailers and brands who they believe have superior environmental policies and practices. One recent survey in the UK found that 60% were doing this as much as before the recession and 20% were doing it even more than before the recession. The message seems to have sunk in.

Timberland has one of the best environmental stories in its market. For a boot maker it is quite extraordinary. I saw their CEO give a speech and was stunned by what they are doing at their factories and in their sourcing to reduce their carbon and ecological footprint. What Timberland do, which is smart, is label their products to tell you about this (rather like you would with food ingredient labels). I think that sort of approach is much more effective than the big TV advertising campaign which some American brands go in for. The word we use for that is ‘greenwash’.

Surveys show that people believe objective information (from journalists, certifying bodies) rather than company advertisements saying they are environmentally friendly. It's a bit different in the USA because so many brands are shouting about it, if you dont they assume you are not doing anything. In Europe companies are much more cautious about making these sorts of claims themselves. They know they will be questioned by campaigners and journalists, and they are not perfect.

2. Can you briefly explain how environmentalism transforms marketing strategy?

Innovation and education. You have to invent smarter products, services, processes to make a big difference to the total impact of your products. And you have to teach people to adopt it and trust it. A typical example is moving from selling fashionable handbags to renting them. There is a company in America which did exactly that. It meets the same needs, with a better price, and a much better environmental performance. It is even ‘cool’ because its innovative.

3. Why should marketers be pushing sustainability? What are the positive aspects of green marketing for businesses?

The main reason is we face an environmental catastrophe on a scale that probably hasn’t happened since human beings evolved 2 million years ago if we do not redesign our societies and industries very fast. Marketing can play a key role because we are very good at selling people new dreams. And also the side of marketing that is able to help innovation through insight into people’s lives. We can help people feel good about being part of this revolution. And we can find a good way through it. But it is nothing to do with what is good for marketing. If we don’t sort this out there will be no markets by 2030.

4. You once said, “Marketers have a key role to play in influencing the market and consumers to change their habits.” What do you mean by that? Can you give us an example to show how marketers can do that?

In most markets the key impact is not manufacture but usage. For instance with the motor car 27% of the impact is manufacture (and disposal) and 73% is driving. Marketing can persuade people what to drive, when to drive, how to drive. I have just been working on a project with the UK government for an advertising campaign all about that. In China, Beijing can tell people days when they cannot use their car. In the UK we have to persuade people to use their car less, to share journeys, to use other means for short journeys, to drive a smaller car. All of these things are good for the driver too, because they improve air quality and can save them a lot of money on fuel. But we need marketing to change people’s habits, to bring those ideas to their attention.

5. How will the current recession influence marketing strategy, especially green marketing?

The key message is ‘saving money, saving the world’. Because of the cost of materials and fuel the two do very often coincide. For a few years in the West ‘green’ became a luxury, fashion issue. Those sorts of markets are struggling. The recession brings necessity but there are still many opportunities.

6. What are the watch-outs for green marketing?

Don’t over promise and under deliver.
Don’t highlight one small detail and ignore the bigger picture of other problems.
Don’t try to treat it like a trend – this is not something you ‘exploit’ it is something to catch up with.
Don’t claim to be perfect (you aren’t, the best is you are trying).
Don’t forget the little things – it doesn’t all have to be big or showy. Don’t ‘sell’ this issue, invite customers to work with you together. Maybe even collaborate with your competitors.


sanooj said...

Good article, but I'm wondering if you have any sources for these data you cite? Thanks

John Grant said...

Thank you. Yes the main source for the first two (surveys say) points was carbon trust Green Expectations report out recently
The 27% embedded, 73% driving is from SMMT

I'm sure you understand that sources or links to english language websites were not strictly likely to be helpful in a chinese readership context. Also in their media there is much more emphasis placed on the phrase 'experts say' people seem more trusting or less cynical?

Both of these are on this blog somewhere, if you use the search function with keywords like report and survey you will find that I post links to nearly every useful data source I find