Marketing is essentially a balancing exercise. On the one hand, if you try to create products and services which appeal to absolutely everybody, there is a very good chance that the result will be so bland and generic that they will appeal to nobody.
On the other hand, if you try to customize everything to the finest detail, you may well end up having a huge appeal to a niche that is too small to sustain a profitable business.
The usual (and often very effective) way to square this circle is to take advantage of any opportunity you find to appeal to a wide audience without compromising on whatever it is which gives your business its unique selling point.
One obvious example of this is the way increasing numbers of companies are making a point of using sustainable products whenever possible. This is viewed very favorably by the majority of modern consumers and can be done regardless of your business sector and without negatively impacting your company’s individuality.
Many consumers are prepared to pay a premium for sustainability
One of the reasons businesses may be concerned about choosing sustainable options is that these often come at a premium price.
On the one hand, this may, in principle, be recouped over the long term either in the form of direct savings (for example through lower bills for energy and/or water) or in the form of indirect savings (for example as a reduction in landfill waste and the cost associated with it).
On the other hand, the fact is that businesses need to balance their books in the short term and that means they need to sell products and services not just at a price their target market can afford, but at a price their target market is willing to pay.
The good news here is that the “race to the bottom” on pricing is no longer the powerhouse strategy it once was (albeit for a relatively brief period). Although modern consumers love looking for bargains, the modern definition of a bargain is unlikely to be the product or service at the lowest price, but the product or service which offers the best value for money.
These days, environmental (and ethical) credentials often form a large part of what consumers perceive to be the value of a product and they generally understand that investing in sustainable products carries a price that needs to be passed on to the end buyer.
Even free products need to be sustainable to be respected
While companies do (usually) have to sell most, if not all, of their products and services, they will usually give some away for free. In the online world, that generally means a free eBook (or occasionally a free audio download), but in the real world, it means physical products and services which are delivered in a bricks-and-mortar setting.
For practical purposes, that means free samples, promotional merchandise, and vouchers for services (or discounts on services).
If a company is practicing sustainability throughout its work, then its own products and services should score highly on this point. Their challenge, however, is likely to be to find promotional items that are both sustainable and within the company’s marketing budget.
Be careful of falling into the trap of “stuff”
One way to address sustainability is to offer promotional items that are intended to serve a functional purpose and, ideally, can be used indefinitely.
The problem with this approach is that the average person will already have bought themselves the functional items they need, precisely because they need them and there’s usually a limit as to how many multiples of functional items the average person can reasonably need or want in their life.
This is the reason why a considerable number of “functional” promotional items generally wind up in charity shops or bins (recycling and landfill) often within a very short space of time.
Astute marketing departments have long since grasped this and hence have shifted their attention to consumable items that actively get used, but this brings a fresh set of challenges.
Consumable items may be useful but they are not necessarily exciting
Consumable items are designed not just to be used, but to be used up completely (or except for a very minimal amount of packaging (which should ideally be either biodegradable/compostable or recyclable).
This means that they get around the problem of companies handing consumers items which are either going to be refused (because the consumer already has too many of them), stockpiled, unused (and probably forgotten) or moved on in some way (i.e. the charity shop or a bin of some sort).
The problem with a lot of consumables, however, is that they aren’t necessarily the world’s most exciting gifts. They may showcase a company’s environmental (and ethical) credentials but they can easily come under the heading of “worthy but boring”.
This, sadly, is likely to be particularly true of consumable items with good sustainability credentials as the companies which produce them will be limited as to what they can do to make them appealing. For example, many chemical dyes are horrendous for the environment and hence cannot be used.
There are natural dyes, but these tend to be expensive and could potentially increase the cost of the item to the point where it was too expensive for standard marketing budgets.
Promotional foodstuffs can be both “green” and engaging
The big exception to the above point is promotional foodstuffs, especially confectionery. This has long been used for its engagement value and, if you choose your source carefully, you can promote your company using confectionery with excellent sustainability credentials.
For example, you can get carbon-neutral confectionery and confectionery in biodegradable and/or recyclable packaging. If you opt for the perennial favorite of chocolate, you can find products that are part of the Fairtrade scheme or offer another form of commitment to responsible cocoa farming.
In short, sustainably-produced confectionery is both affordable and enjoyable, which means that your marketing department can have its cake and eat it.