More On Socially Conscious Marketing: What Actually Works

Two weeks ago, I wrote a column that covered the sceptic's point of view on socially conscious marketing. It generated a lot of feedback in my various inboxes.

The gist is that a growing body of research not only tells us that consumers care about brands and businesses that showcase they have a social conscience (for the environment, for their workers, for societal issues, etc.) but that these consumers are actually prepared to pay more for brands that do, and ditch brands that don’t.

And then there is the reality of actual consumerism, or how consumers are voting with their wallet. We are happily ordering everything for delivery, thereby adding pollution through delivery trucks and planes, plastic packaging and the like. My conclusion was that it is easy and convenient for consumers to express their desire for a socially conscious brand or business, but that in the real world utility and convenience are more important.

Consider travel carbon offsetting, which according to the website Smartertravel, " has reached the mainstream, most prominently on some of the major travel booking sites, including Expedia and Travelocity. "

Most airlines also offer options to buy a carbon offset, and some are even experimenting with biofuel instead of kerosine. But the International Air Transport Association says  in 2018 just 1% of passengers offset their carbon emissions through voluntary programs.

Most marketers tout their social marketing efforts through campaigns proclaiming that they aim to be carbon-neutral by date X, or that they are otherwise transitioning to greener options, friendlier workplaces and better worlds. Consumers are appreciating this, but it has had little impact on the world we live in, as we can see every day.

We do need to recognize and give credit to a small number of marketers that have figured out a real, socially conscious competitive advantage directly linked to their business. I saw an excellent presentation by Contagious as part of the World Federation of Advertisers #buildbackbetter webinar program. In the presentation, two examples stood out.

First there is Ikea, which will buy back your gently used stuff as well and resell it secondhand This is very smart on all counts, not least for Ikea, which has created a whole new source of revenue.

And then there is Dutch chocolate bar producer Tony Chocolonely. This Dutch company pays above-market prices for its chocolate bean growers, keeps close tabs on its supply chain and offers yummy chocolate at scale with a real world USP. The company has grown its international footprint steadily and is already outselling many established manufacturers in some markets.

These two companies show how you can be socially conscious through marketing ideas that are fully integrated into the core product offering. In doing so, their consumers will have no difficulty accepting the positive intent and believability of the effort, and it does not cost them anything extra. That approach is probably the only way a marketer can successfully do “real” socially conscious marketing.

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