Marketing 101: Beyond labelling. Inspire through stories
I’ve had some interesting questions and comments in response to my last post, Forced Certification, Forced Labour around marketing. If no label, what might we do instead?
First, I think we have to understand the growing limits to simply whacking a label on a product and expecting that to be sufficient. Consumers are more aware of the failings of certification schemes and the propensity for greenwashing amongst marketing staff in big corporations. There’s growing cynicism and labels, if people even bother with them, increasingly invite raised eyebrows. People can smell BS and often wonder what’s really happening? They sense disconnect between company sustainability claims and what they read is happening on the ground in far away places where raw materials are sourced. People don’t enjoy being treated like mugs either so assuming a simple label will do to convey a message to simple people is a bit offensive. While labels are being lathered around today, don’t expect that to last much longer.
If labels are on their way out, what’s on the way in?
When an NGO does an exposé against a company, they always back their campaign with stories of what they saw when they went to the field. They always, always capture the stories of the people living out there, affected by the company’s wickedness. These stories are rich, backed by photos, videos and interviews and capture the emotion of the situation. It’s hugely powerful and company marketing staff could learn a trick or two from the NGOs that berate them.
Not all companies are wicked. Many are working hard to act in a responsible way but we don’t hear those stories. We only hear about the bad stuff. When was the last time a headline cried, “Communities in Brazil love working with Company X!” or “Company Y is doing great things with smallholders in Indonesia”; “Workers in Palm Oil plantation Z tell us they’re well treated”. It doesn’t happen, but it could.
We just don’t get to celebrate much, miserable we are. There’s so little good news that we don’t often get to feel good, beyond buying organic, about the products we buy. The impression is that it’s all doom and gloom and that we collectively are part of the problem. Well, it’s true, we are all part of the problem but we can also be part of the solution. If a company is genuinely doing good things, it would be great to hear about it, particularly through the voices of those affected by the company’s operations. We can tell positive stories.
OK, you can’t put a positive story on a chocolate wrapper where a wee logo fits snugly. But we can still get the positive stories out there on websites, on social media. If a supplier has a great program to support smallholders, go to the field and speak to the smallholders. Capture their views – good and bad – about the program and write an honest piece about what they say. And that’s critical – honesty. Marketers can just as easily greenwash when writing a story as they can when printing a label on a wrapper. Don’t greenwash, don’t embellish, just get the views of the people and even if there are more improvements needed, if there are complaints, tell those stories too. Pictures, recordings, videos – these are vibrant media that engage people because they convey emotions.
Labelling something as ‘certified sustainable’ is a risk management approach to marketing, “If we’re certified, the NGOs won’t come after us so just get me the label!” In the far away recesses of global supply chains, that behaviour can have negative consequences as we’ve seen too many times. It makes marketing easy of course but it really isn’t inspiring. It's lazy. How about marketing teams challenge themselves to go beyond risk management and start celebrating the excellent work their company is doing? How about they inspire their customers in the same way they do with their products – it tastes best, it’s really good for you, it cleans whiter than white? They don’t have any issues there so why do they hit the conservative, risk management button when it comes to where their products come from?
I look to CEOs and Marketing Directors to get more positive, to move away from managing risk to creating opportunities to increase shareholder value by first doing good things and then telling the world about them.
Why wouldn’t you?
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