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The Marketing Director For A Sustainable Future

Next month, all eyes turn to San Diego for Sustainable Brands 2012, the world’s premier brand and sustainability shindig. The idea of a thousand marketers in one place, all talking sustainability, got me thinking about how this might play out over the years. If, as is suggested, ‘the revolution will be branded’, those responsible for brand marketing will need to play an increasingly important part. I imagine most people attending would agree, but what and how exactly?

In previous articles I laid out what two such functions - the brand manager and innovation director  - need to do to move us towards sustainability. Lets turn now to the chief protagonist in this transition – and explore the role of the Marketing Director for a sustainable future.

They will seamlessly integrate sustainability into their marketing plan & strategy effortlessly transferring corporate sustainability commitments – to decouple growth from environmental impacts - into meaningful marketing goals. In practice, this will mean finding tangible ways to creating social value within environmental limits through the products and service they offer, ensuring the brand satisfies customer needs profitably and sustainably.

Part of their job will be to keep on top of cutting edge market research trends like LOHAS, ethical consumerism, or B2B-based corporate reputational rankings. They will understand the value, as well as the limitations of consumer insight for sustainability, being skilled at handling such tricky, future-focused questions when procuring research. They will also look beyond consumer insight to wider industry sustainability insights, on resource shortages or environmental pressures, from World Resource Institute or UNEP amongst others. (S)he may frequently switch from insight to foresight using sustainability scenarios, foresight and futures techniques to catch a glimpse of how they must respond to, and shape their future.

The Marketing Director will select and manage marketing suppliers - like communications, research or innovation consultancies - based on their creative skills, their competences AND sustainability literacy. These will need to support and deliver against brand, business and sustainability objectives and a key part of this selection process will be reviewing suppliers own sustainability performance and commitments.

(S)he will focus the brands’ business development and sales pipeline on disconnecting their volume of sales from increased profitability  by steering the portfolio towards premium-ness or value-adding, non-material services. They will have an eye on the next big opportunity, targeting sustainability pioneers and partners for co-development projects with the aim of building broader sustainability competences to cascade down to other customers and help move markets.

The sustainable Marketing Director will be an expert at manipulating the Marketing mix to achieve their commercial AND sustainability goals.

(S)he will see innovation as life-critical – to the future of the brand and to future generations. They will use Lifecycle Assessment and other analytical tools to give them intricate knowledge of the impacts of their core products, which they will continuously improve. (S)he will use innovation tools, like closed-loop design, green chemistry, Cradle-to-Cradle and Biomimicry for their next generation of sustainable products and services.

They will find creative ways to set a pricing strategy that ensures their product price reflects the full environmental costs, systematically internalising their external impacts. They will be exploring the most efficient place to sell and distribute, via online or group sales to increase efficiencies, while experimenting with distribution innovations like on-demand manufacturing, where products are made to exactly match, not massage consumer needs, in a waste-free dance of supply and demand.

Responsible marketing will be a red line through all promotions. The brands’ communications strategy will be led by non-exploitative messaging that shuns conspicuous consumption or mindless materialism, building brands that create, not destroy social capital. (S)he will have an in-built greenwash-o-meter, with a razor-sharp focus on their next sustainable behavior change campaign.

The Director will manage the team by setting bonuses and incentives that reward material efficiency per satisfied customer, rather than total sales. (S)he will strongly support the Innovation Director and Brand Manager with their own sustainability targets previously outlined. Two key measures of success will be tracked, the first being: metrics for how sustainability is contributes to brand value; the second being the Social Return on Investment (SROI) or benefit to society from their brands’ activities

Finally, the Director will champion sustainable marketing competence and excellence across the business. They will be at the root of brand-driven employee engagement and culture change programs, which help recruit, motivate and retain a sustainability literate workforce, based on belief that your staff is your true sustainable brand ambassadors.

This probably sounds like quite a lot for the average Marketing Director, on top of their day-to-day. Yet I lifted the above work areas from a generic Marketing Director job spec posted online, and then embellished it with a sprinkling of sustainability and creativity. If additional, sustainability goals like these would probably be too much for even the greatest marketer, super-human though they may be. The point is, as brands weave-in sustainability as a central component to their core strategy, this will be integrated not separate. It’s the job, not the bolt on.

And if some of this is right, which I think and hope it is, I’ll leave you with a thought for the forthcoming San Diego event (or simply your next team meeting). In case you find yourself parked next to a Marketing Director, tap them on the shoulder and ask to compare their job description, objectives and deliverables against the above checklist, to see if they’re on track. I’d be fascinated to hear your findings…


Chris Sherwin is Head of Sustainability at Seymourpowell, one of the world's leading design and innovation companies.

[Read more about Chris Sherwin]


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