For an organisation to succeed in a market of fierce competition, they need to respond to the needs of their customers faster and more effectively than the competitors. Thereby their customers are satisfied and at the same time, organisations attain growth and meet sales targets in a short term. How sustainable is this model? Is it possible to retain their customers for long this way, by meeting their short term needs? Does the responsibility of an organisation towards their customers end with this? If not, what should an organisation do? The concept of sustainable marketing and sustainability marketing make arise here. According to Kotler et al., sustainable marketing highlights on identifying and satisfying the needs of the consumers and businesses today and continuing that in the future. Kotler et al. further makes it clear that a smoothly operated marketing system with consumers, companies and public policy makers functioning jointly with social responsibility and market ethics is required for ‘sustainable marketing’ (Kotler et al., 2009, pp 608-609). Sustainable marketing functions with its foundation laid on ecological, social and economical issues. Keeping this in mind, it could be summed up that sustainable marketing is focused on enduring customer relationships.
‘Sustainable marketing’ and ‘sustainability marketing’ is divided by a thin line. When sustainable marketing focus on just building the and maintaining long term customer relationships, sustainability marketing gives importance for improving it further too, again with economic, social and ecological issues as the foundation. Frank-Martin Belz and Ken Peattie defines ‘sustainability marketing’ as “building and maintaining sustainable relationships with customers, the social environment and the natural environment” ( Belz, Peattie, 2009, pp 31-32).
Frank-Martin Belz and Ken Peattie further describes that sustainability marketing is formed of six key elements and they are:
Sustainability marketing values and objectives
Sustainability marketing strategies
Sustainability marketing mix
Sustainability marketing transformation
Socio-ecological issues and consumer behaviour are categorised under an organisation’s macro-marketing environment. These two factors help an organisation to find the key socio-ecological concerns, customer needs and to unearth new prospects. The next two factors are parts of the development phase and find their respective roles in corporate levels in forming strategic marketing decisions. Sustainability marketing mix trickles down to the product level and sustainable marketing transformation is the stage at which organisations make conscious attempts to make their firms more sustainable by taking up their roles in the public and political affairs. Sustainability marketing brings up the venue for the organisations and consumers to jointly take responsibilities concerning social and environmental effects of production and consumption. This way sustainability marketing would impact the consumers and direction of the organisations in the future ( Belz, Peattie, 2009,pp 26-34).
Sustainable Consumer Behaviour
Consumer behaviour plays an important role in marketing. It is their decision which finally decides how successfully a company can foray into the market. A close observation and analysis of consumer behaviour would help organisations to develop marketing strategies that would satisfy consumers, way ahead of the competitors in long term. This would finally decide the sustainability performance of an organisation as consumers play a major role in accepting and rejecting products during the consumption process. Nature and behaviour of an organisations present and future customers are identified through market research. This would allow and organisation to segment their consumers into different groups built on commons characteristics. Based on this study, a company can develop its products which would cater customers exhibiting similar interests and characteristics. Again this study would give companies an insight on how much customers weigh the sustainability issues. Organisations would also identify customers who are highly conscious about the factors like the ethical or environmental issues. In their buying behaviour this nature is clearly exhibited and today’s world where the green and ethical practices are gaining huge importance, organisations should focus immensely in these areas. Apart from just retaining these customers, firms could also consider this as an opportunity to play their role in responding to the social and environmental issues. According to the conventional marketing perspective more focus was laid on the purchase phase of the consumption process as this directly translates in to finding the potential customers. However, when viewing from the sustainability perspective emphasis should be laid on post-purchase phase as well. Sustainability of products like automobiles, houses and machineries could be evaluated only at a later stage (Belz, Peattie, 2009, pp 76-77).
Effort is taken to understand sustainability marketing based on the different types of sustainable consumption contexts. One among those was the ‘purchase perception matrix’ through which an attempt was made to explain the variations in the consumer behaviour during the purchase phase. This is a two dimensional approach, based on 1) Degree of compromise and 2) Degree of Confidence.
Degree of Compromise
Degree of compromise directly translates to the higher price paid or going farer to purchase a product which is more sustainable. This also implies the extent to which a compromise is made when a product of lesser quality, convenience or performance is purchased.
Degree of confidence
Here it shows the confidence consumers have on the greater sustainability performance of a product and the organisation which produced it.
Certain other aspects considered while studying consumption behaviours are value, frequency, visibility, complexity, necessity and who the end user could be (Belz, Peattie, 2009, pp 77-80).
Different approaches are adopted by marketers focusing on sustainability. One approach is to find the specific set of customers who are really interested in sustainability and targeting them while marketing the products. This is a time tested method. However, it has to be noted that this is applicable only to a certain segment of the market which could be a small percentage out of the total customer base. This way a firm could easily miss out on a wider range of other consumers out there. A better strategy would be to introduce more number of sustainable products to the market. Another approach is to influence the consumers to move on to more sustainable products and there by changing their behaviour. Marketing more sustainable products to the consumers without widely labelling it with sustainability is the third approach. Consumers will definitely realise the sustainability on a long run (Belz, Peattie, 2009, page 82).
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Not all the consumers have the same view on the sustainability plan. Efforts were made to segment customers into different market groups on the basis of their attitude and a set of other behaviour patterns. British Market Research Bureau has developed segmentation for the UK Government’s Department of the Environment and Rural affairs. They segmented the UK population into seven different groups based on environmental dimensions and ethical consumption as follows:
Consumers with a conscience
Long- Term restricted
Sustainability Marketing Objectives
If an organisation is focused on short term economic goals, it will not make much difference in the aspect of its sustainability even if they show great efforts in line of social and economic issues. This is a combination that does not go together. Sustainability is always linked to log term relationship with customers and long term objectives. Hence, sustainability issues have to be taken into consideration while setting objective for an organisation. Sustainability marketing objectives points out the target an organisation desires to reach at certain point of time in the future. It also refers to what are the results they are looking forward to achieve at that point. At this point sustainability marketing objectives take us back to the pivotal three key areas.
Ecological objectives highlight the necessity to manage the ecological effects of a product throughout its life cycle. It depends completely on the sector it belongs to. In some cases, the ecological effect would play a role in the usage stage like in the fuel efficiency of a car and towards end at the time of disposal. Ecological objectives are very critical as they remind the sustainability marketers the effect of their products and services on environment through the life cycle of the product. Ecological objectives in sustainability are based on the following:
Towards the end of the usage the disposal of the products are posing a major threat to environment. Arrangements to recycle and re-use will add value to the sustainable marketing of an organisation. Organisations should provide consumers with required information to help them understand the effects in backdrop of environmental and social issues. Through this initiative organisations could meet a part of their ecological objective by making the customers aware of their green initiatives and environmental conservation plan. This not only works as a marketing strategy, but also creates the awareness in the consumers towards their responsibility towards the planet.
Products and services of a company are expected to function fine and not to cause any threat to the health and safety. Long term social objective in sustainability marketing of a firm revolves around the need to advance the safety of their products and services and minimise their health hazards. Social objectives of sustainability marketing also refers to the steps a firm has to implement to protect the well being of the people who are working for them. Consumers are increasingly becoming aware of such information and there have been examples of firms which got sidelined for the reason that they don’t have effective social objectives in place. Companies normally strive to enhance their positive social impacts and reduce the negative ones. A good number of firms donate voluntarily to contribute to the social, cultural and educational schemes. There are many organisations where in voluntary donations and contribution to the society is isolated from the main business.
Increasing the revenues and percentage of sustainable products may be an important economic sustainability object for a well established organisation. Customer satisfaction is an economic marketing objective which does not require a separate mention. The sustainability of a product would raise if the customer satisfaction of that product is high and this would enhance the chances of consumers purchasing those reliable products longer and more often. Their good experience with the product and the company behind manufacturing it would lead them to recommend to others as well. However, it is extremely complicated to make predictions of customers’ loyalty towards the products and services (Belz, Peattie, 2009, pp 114-118).
Marketing strategy and sustainability
Marketing strategy of a company will always be a combination of measures taken after a number of discussions and planning at depth and also the other decisions taken in accordance to the current situation in the market intending to take the company through to success. Strategic sustainability marketing focuses on how sustainability marketing values can be converted into a marketing strategy that could be applied in business. Belz et al equates the sustainability marketing strategies to strategies devised during a warfare and are built up on three different ideas. 1) Meeting and tackling the competitor in the market in order to attain business success 2) Focus on issues of the organisation, efficiency and measures and 3) Based on how well an organisation is adapted to the business environment, to face the challenges and arise successful out of it. It is considered that those organisations which could face all the challenges posed by the economic, social and ecological environment and adapt to them well would be considered the fittest.
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As discussed earlier the marketing strategy of an organisation speaks about the vision, mission, corporate strategy and goals and the marketing strategy is built completely depending on the industry an organisation is into and the business environment. Survival in the industry facing the challenges and tackling the competitors is important and that is carefully planned in the marketing strategy. Building sustainability marketing strategies help firms to spot risks, threats and opportunities. A sustainability marketing strategy of an organisation is strengthened through the efficient administration of economic and human resources of an organisation. Again, sustainability market strategies should be based on the market choice and competitive advantage. A market choice could be further expanded as the market an organisation should be competing in. Careful study of the aspects and characteristics of the market should be done in order to strategise the position of an organisation in the market. This would in turn reflect in the long term sustainability of the organisations. The competitive advantage revolves around the key strengths of an organisation to stay different and ahead of the competitors. Focus on social and environmental performance could be a competitive advantage over the competitors (Belz, Peattie, 2009, pp 126-135).
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