Local companies must embrace sustainability marketing to remain globally competitive

Local companies must embrace sustainability marketing to remain globally competitive

Local companies must embrace sustainability marketing to remain globally competitive

Did you know that the average American consumes about 43 times as much as the average African?  There is also very good evidence that the average cat in Europe has a larger environmental footprint in its lifetime than the average African.  Given these statistics, one may think that the issue of sustainability concerns the developed nations and has nothing to do with us here in Africa.  However we are among the people most vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as floods, extreme storms and droughts.  Africans are also among those least responsible for climate change.  There is therefore need for us to change the way we think about sustainability.

Corporate Africa is best placed to pioneer this process. Companies in the developed countries are now considering sustainability as a way of business creation and innovation, and a catalyst for change.

Local companies also need to start seeing sustainability as a central component of their core business strategy so as to become globally competitive. Jason Clay, Senior Vice President at the international conservationist WWF asserts that sustainability has got to be a pre-competitive issue for companies.  There are 2 reasons why companies care about sustainability.  The first being their resources.  Companies care about availability of their supplies and the big risk from living on an unsustainable planet, is not having any product at all. The second reason is reputational risk.  People want to buy, use, recommend and support brands that create, not destroy social capital.

All these are key indicators for sustainability marketing.  Sustainability Marketing is the process of promoting, selling and distributing a product or service in such a way as to educate customers of the multiple benefits of valuing human, economic, and natural capital.  It is integrating sustainability into a company’s marketing plan & strategy by transferring corporate sustainability commitments into meaningful marketing goals.  The starting point in sustainability marketing is connecting with what customers really care about. The challenge lies in making the serious issue of sustainability shareable, aspirational, appealing, cool and progressive.  Real connections are cultivated through the passion points of consumers.  To be viewed as authentic, brands need to bring sustainability to life for consumers in ways that will resonate with them.  The Dutch brewing company, Heineken achieved this through a daring campaign called Dance more; Drink Slow. Not many beer companies would encourage their buyers to consume less however this groundbreaking global campaign, urged responsible consumption by providing consumers with aspirational examples that encouraged a change in attitude towards moderate drinking. Heineken’s goal was to make drinking in moderation the cool option.  Another example is the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.  The worldwide marketing campaign launched by Unilever in 2004 is one of modern marketing’s most talked-about success stories. The campaign expanded to include billboards to television ads, online videos, workshops, sleepover events and the publication of a book and production of a play. The aim of the campaign was to create a real change in the way women and young girls perceive beauty.  It turned out to be one of the biggest conceptual advertising campaigns of the decade and through it, a Dove Self-Esteem Fund (DSEF) was developed to free the next generation of women from self-limiting beauty stereo types

It is clear that sustainability marketing creates brand trust.  The more people trust a brand, the more likely they are to be inspired to action by it. There could not be a more compelling reason for marketers in local firms to take a keen interest in sustainability marketing.  Imperial Bank is leading the way in sustainability marketing in Kenya. With 2.2 billion children under 18 years old i.e. a third of the world’s population, businesses large and small inevitably interact with and have an effect on the lives of children. The bank has therefore identified children’s rights as a core sustainability concern and has made a commitment to implementing the Global Rights and Business Principles for Children.  Imperial Bank is now working with its key stakeholders to fulfill and champion children’s rights.  Other local companies such as Safaricom and KCB are also reporting on sustainability.  More companies need to get on board.

Six out the world’s ten fastest growing economies of the past decade are in sub-Saharan Africa.  Our investment case as a continent is compelling and large global firms are paying close attention to the continent.  One example is Coca-Cola whose development efforts in Africa in total will reach US$ 17 billion by 2020.  Through various programs, the company is targeting to address problems such as food security, local ingredient sourcing, safe water access and sanitation.  Sustainable and responsible investors in Africa such as Coca Cola have been, and continue to be, a force for positive change in the way we do business.  United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon states that more and more businesses are seeing that sustainability not just in the common good but that sustainability is common sense.

Today’s leading brands are evolving in the area of sustainability marketing and communications through thought-provoking ads, creative mission marketing, social media campaigns and other successful stakeholder engagement.  To remain competitive, local companies need to begin to consider sustainability as integral to their business strategy. Concerned marketers should learn from what the best brands in the world are doing and be the champions of this change.

Written by Muthoni Kanyana; a consultant specializing in Sustainability Marketing, Brand Development and CSR Strategy- @hmuthoni