Does marketing really have a place in a sustainable world? Part 3: The one with promotion.
Updated: Aug 6, 2020
Welcome to Part 3 of this mini series of articles about marketing's place in a sustainable world. I had hoped to write this sooner but life has taken over! In case you missed them, the first was on Product, the second looked at Price and this article will be all about Promotion. Spoiler alert: I do think promotion has a place in a sustainable world. And I've put four suggestions at the end...
Spend, spend, spend
Whether it's Multibuys like BOGOF's and 3 for 2's, money off vouchers, free gifts with purchase, giveaways at events or in store, or price reductions and sales, we can't seem to go very far without being exposed to some sort of enticement to spend our money. We're bombarded with messages to buy this, save that, love this offer, get this now for a limited time and on and on it goes.
Offers and promotions benefit big business. Much more than they benefit customers. And of course, much more than they benefit the planet we live in.
Why promotions can't exist in a sustainable world
I won't dwell too much on the psychology of buying as I've covered that in my previous article, "Why Consumers Must Become Extinct in a Sustainable World"
But this emotional attachment to buying stuff is fuelled by promotions. That 'buzz' from getting a bargain in a sale. The satisfaction from picking up multibuy offers so we can 'stock up' and save 20p.
Promotions are there to sell more stuff. To sell more stuff that we don't really need. And if we're buying more stuff, it means businesses are making more, which keeps the big wheel of capitalism turning. And continues to line the pockets of fat cat stakeholders and boards of Directors. Promotions entice and manipulate and serve no other purpose than to shift more product and massage the sales figures.
The problem with 'Sales'
Sales used to be something that was confined to January or end of season. You know, when we could pick up a pair of flip flops in October so we could put them away for next year's one day of summer.
But now it seems sales are a continual feature on our high streets and in shopping centres. Constant racks of reduced priced clothing. Shelves full of unwanted merchandise. Stuff that's not sold at full price because a poor judgement has been made about taste and 'fashion'. Stuff that's not sold because there's far too much of it and supply has outstripped demand. And why wouldn't it? With so much stuff around is it any wonder there's a surplus of everything?!
And what happens to all this stuff that goes unsold? I'll save answering that question for another article...
How promotions can exist in a sustainable world
But of course, humans are humans. And we're not as rational as we think we are. We are emotional. We are largely driven by emotions and so it's going to take a seismic shift to change the behaviours of self confessed, 'shopaholics' (a word that suggests shopping is an addiction, an illness, yet is a label that is worn with pride when someone describes themselves as such).
People still need to buy things. Whether that's through want or need. So perhaps we just need to rethink how promotions could actually be used to promote sustainability?
So here's the Born Sullivan Top 4 suggestions for utilising promotions. In no particular order...
Utilise complementary product offers to encourage people to try products they might not have. This can be seen in unsustainable brands through the cleanser/toner/moisturiser offers, shirts and ties etc. Recently I finally made the switch to a beautiful copper coloured metal razor with blades. There was a box with everything I needed in it from one brand (razor, soap, blades). But it was actually less expensive for me to buy the razor separately with a different brand of shaving soap. So lets see some offers to help people feel like they're getting more bang for their buck.
Loyalty schemes. Could your sustainable business offer a loyalty programme or incentive to keep coming back? You know, a lot of people say they want to be more sustainable. But we all say things they don't mean. And whilst the intention can be there, the actions don't always match. For whatever reason. So set up a loyalty card - get 10 stamps and we'll give you a soap. Money off when you spend £X amount. These types of offers just need some thought. And a spreadsheet with margins.
Start a Club. People love being part of something. Create a club that people could pay a small fee to be part of which gives them member benefits. Almost like a continuous crowdfunder or cooperative.
Product of the Week/Month. Choose a product that you want to make a feature of and create a space in your shop or website that brings attention to it. Use this as an opportunity to educate and inform. To highlight the benefits and to encourage people to buy it.
So there's just a few promotions that I think could work in a sustainable world. Not a 3 for 2 or BOGOF in sight. We can utilise promotions to encourage people to buy what they would buy anyway. And to spread the sustainability message. And we can absolutely 'steal' the tactics of big business in order to do this. Without f@cking up the planet in the process.