This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School’s MBA program. You can follow along here.
By Patrick Holmes
One should not be faulted for imagining sustainability as a future filled with cars that run on electricity, hydrogen and beer. Such technology reduces waste and pollution while lowering overall demand for substances extracted from the Earth’s crust. Such potential technology can do great things, but to focus on it may cause one to miss the benefits of existing technology.
The bicycle is a 120-year old technology. The fact that bicycles are cheaper, more efficient and safer than automobiles may contribute to the growing adoption of this old technology in US cities. As use increases, so does the bicycle culture. People that are proud of cycling identify with others that feel the same. The growing culture attracts people who seek authentic and meaningful experience.
Many small businesses in cities seem to be following a similar trend. Where a company in a certain industry nauseates users due to sterility, a new venture rooted in an authentic or meaningful experience can differentiate itself. Cycling is increasingly becoming a popular medium by which this authenticity is provided. This is a subtle form of marketing that draws people in by letting the company’s actions speak directly to customer values. It is possible to market an experience through the operations of an authentic company.
As with the fair trade movement, coffee is setting the trends for experience. At least two coffee companies in San Francisco, Bicycle Coffee Company and De La Paz Coffee, deliver their product to offices, retail stores and cafes by bicycle. Bicycle Coffee is so committed to not using automobiles that they sometimes transport coffee directly from their warehouse in Oakland to San Francisco in large buckets on BART. Both companies can attribute part of their success due to their decision to pursue sustainability based on personal belief rather than advertising opportunity.
It is not likely that any of these businesses sought to exploit the growth in bicycle culture in San Francisco as a marketing ploy. Their product, place and promotion do involve cycling though, so the marketing mix is integrated into their business whether they know it or not. The method of adopting sustainability used by these companies, whether sustainability means a concern for the environment or concern that cars separate you from the life of a city, can serve as a guide to other business and technology: Take care to internalize sustainability first before you sell others on its merits.