Sustainable transformation is not an option, it is the only option

Sustainable transformation is not an option, it is the only option

As more and more societal challenges around people, purpose and planet are thrown at us, it is more important than ever that businesses understand and utilise the full remit of skills that the marketing function has to offer.

Arguably, the biggest challenge we face today is that of the planet and moving towards a more sustainable future. ‘Sustainable transformation’ is coming, and I believe it is bigger and more important than digital transformation ever was. Sustainability has, and will continue to change how business has to think, plan and behave at every point in the stakeholder chain. 

What has this got to do with marketing? Well, the role of marketing and the value it can deliver to an organisation if truly understood, is one that I continue to spend much of my time discussing and debating. Marketing’s remit is far more diverse than businesses realise and whilst it goes beyond just advertising and selling ‘stuff’, we also need to pause for a second, put our hands up and take responsibility for shaping the behaviours that have led to unsustainable levels of consumption and unmanageable level of waste.

However, the pandemic and the environmental crisis have helped to put marketing in a position where it can start to change how it is perceived and deliver value it is truly capable of. Data published in early 2021 from the inaugural edition of ‘The CMO Survey UK’ showed that 73% of UK marketing leaders believe the role of marketing in their companies has increased in importance. Businesses called on their marketing teams for insight, agility and adaptation of propositions and services, and to gain an understanding of how to communicate and retain engagement. And, perhaps most importantly, to be seen as a brand people could turn to, when trust was at an all-time low and uncertainty at an all-time high. Sustainability is no different; it also needs this level of input from marketing. However, the thinking needs to be longer term and the problem is far more complex.

"The time has come for organisations to stop viewing marketing as the function that spends the money and start seeing the value that it can deliver"

When it comes to delivering value, marketing needs to take a step back in order to move forward and deliver a better future. Sustainability gives marketers an opportunity to champion getting back to the ‘core of the brand’; exploring, uncovering and sharing not only what your brand does, but how it can make a difference. We see a lot of noise around brand purpose but for good reason, consumers are growing increasingly more ‘conscious’, employees want to work for organisations that share their values and investors are demanding sustainable development plans before they commit to any spend. Marketing has to play a significant part in shaping organisational strategy and communicating clearly and effectively the business case for change, as well as driving new behaviours in society.

Marketing still struggles to be heard and all too often that seat and voice at the top table isn’t there. The time has come for organisations to stop viewing marketing as the function that ‘spends the money’ and start seeing the value it can ultimately deliver. ‘Sustainable finance’ is surely a catalyst for change in the relationship between marketing and finance which has always been a bone of contention? Both functions have to appreciate and understand the greater cause, as all the evidence clearly points to the truth that good business is, in fact, good for business.

Marketers need to place a sustainable lens on everything they do. They need to educate themselves and the organisations they work for and lead on sustainable transformation. Why? Because we should all want the alternative ending, not the one we are currently heading towards.

This op-ed was originally published in Raconteur’s latest Future of Marketing and Customer Experience report.

Gemma Butler Course director CIM
Back to all