Sustainable Marketing: Principles vs Profit?

By Ellie Pocock on Tuesday, 14 February 2023

“ESG considerations are very much front and centre, consumers look to brands to lead in this space, but our communications have to reflect the challenges facing customers in society right now.”

            Julie-Ann Douglas, Head of Brand and Social Impact, Royal London

As we head further into what is an already challenging year, this was just one of the incredibly valuable pieces of insight shared at our latest panel event with the FSF where we were joined by a fantastic panel; Julie-Ann Douglas, Head of Brand & Social Impact, Royal London, Ylva Oertengren, Chief Operating Officer, Simply Finance, Ziba Goddard, Chief Consulting Officer, Cowry Consulting and Louise Mason, Head of Marketing, Tesco Bank, chaired by our CMO Fiona Couper and kindly hosted by Janus Henderson.

The backdrop to the conversation being the mammoth task of striking the balance between purpose-led communication and messaging compatible with the cost-of-living crisis in what is an ever-evolving landscape.

And it was clear from the conversation that the challenge is not an easy one. While for some ESG considerations run through the very DNA of businesses, it can’t be ignored that people’s priorities shift in a crisis. And so must marketing strategies.

"There is a difference between need and appetite, and we have to flex our communications accordingly"

             Julie-Ann Douglas, head of Brand and Social Impact, Royal London

Julie-Ann Douglas125x125

"Priorities shift in a crisis. We can see it now and we saw it in the pandemic"

              Louise Mason, Head of Marketing, Tesco Bank

Louise Mason 125x125

So, what can we do?

Delivering the right message, to the right audience at the right time came through loud and clear in the debate – so people can make informed and conscious decisions, even if these decisions are just small. And we know how important this collective shift is for us to make the transition to net zero, even if the change feels small now, it can make a big difference in the future.

"Heterogeneity is hugely important to achieve the change that is needed"

               Ziba Goddard, Chief Consulting Officer, Cowry Consulting

Ziba Goddard 125x125

And the panel agreed that if there was ever a time to invest segmentation analysis, to walk in the shoes of your customer, then now is the time to do it.

When thinking about sustainable investment and talking to investors, or potential investors (which is a pretty chunky part of the population) the panel highlighted the importance of taking a dive deep into people’s mindset to explore impact desire, impact trade-off and impact apprehension, amongst many other factors.

And there is much that needs to be done to empower people, to give them the knowledge that they are investors, they should engage with how much is saved in their pension and they can change the funds their pension is invested in, if they like. Julie-Ann shared that Royal London research showed that just 2 in 10 people have made changes to their pension portfolio. Education that comes hand in hand with a seamless customer journey is key to engaging people, and not losing them along to the way.

And something that Ziba mentioned here struck me – ‘default strategies are the most powerful tool in a behavioural scientists toolkit’. And that’s because they rely on that sense of inertia that is ingrained us – especially when it comes to dealing with our finances.

This got me thinking…what if, just like auto-enrolment, it was mandated that any default pension savings had to be invested into a sustainable default fund. A lot to unpack here (probably enough for another blog so I’ll leave that for another day).

Back to the panel debate, and the current landscape is also changing marketers channel mixes.

The conversation touched on the polarising of audiences and the need for communications to become more granular, more efficient and more targeted focussing on helping existing customers, rather than chasing down for acquisition. And this includes branching out into new territories, like influencer marketing for the team at Tesco Bank or onto platforms like TikTok.

Looking to the future our panel was keen to stay away from making predictions. And who can blame them after our shared experiences of the last few years. But the overall outlook was optimistic.

"‘We’re here to help businesses weather the storm and build a sustainable path for their future’"

              Ylva Oertengren, Chief Operating Officer, Simply Finance

Ylva Oertengren125x125

Right now, companies have to be supporters of their customers, be it businesses or consumers. But, as consumers look to brands to lead the way, ESG can’t be ignored and so it must remain integral to communications strategies. And at the heart of these strategies there needs to be helpful messaging to the right customers, at the right time.

Marketing strategies will have to continue to flex and meet consumer need, but at the core there is the emergence of a new model – one that puts sustainable messages at the core.

With thanks to our panel for their insight and candour.

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