With power shifts in Washington and misinformation spreading around climate change, it is gut-check time for corporate social responsibility and sustainability professionals. So, what goals should we set in Earth 2017?
Sustainability is a war for consumer market share
From an economics perspective, sustainability has always been a battle for the consumer. Sustainability is a question of human consumption. It is in a marketshare battle for consumers’ hearts and pocketbooks.
The great news is that consumers are aligning with their role in generating positive change. The 2017 Ford Future Trends report found that 47 percent of global adults agreed that individual consumers have the most power to affect positive change.
But here is the economic reality that every CSR and sustainability professional should write down and post on their bathroom mirror:
Sustainability will only win marketshare leadership if it wins on price.
Research points to 20 percent of consumers paying more for products with higher values. But for the other 80 percent of their procurement decisions begin with price. Adding convenience, authenticity, superior product attributes and values to a competitive price is the recipe for marketshare leadership.
CSR’s expanded role
Winning market share is the path for winning influence in any business. Growing revenues remains the No. 1 focus of American CEOs. Here are three steps CSR and sustainability professionals must take to win the type of organizational influence now held by marketing and sales:
- A singular focus on price competitiveness. Our profession should take great pride in its success at reducing costs by reducing environmental impacts. Now it is time to place the weight of our focus on winning price competitiveness. The great news is that the smart/clean technologies enabling sustainability’s price competitiveness are growing their manufacturing economies of scale. Winning on price is now possible. Doing so must be our profession’s performance goal.
- Drive authenticity to win customers. Isn’t it time, especially with Election 2016, to take the gloves off on the advertising of more sustainable goods and services? Think Pepsi versus Coke taste-test advertising. These ads were historic in proving the power of comparative advertising. They significantly moved Pepsi’s market share. Our profession must fight for, win funding of, and help implement this type of advertising for sustainable goods and services.
- Win millennials. Millennials are now the foundation for business success. In 2016, millennials displaced the baby boomers as the most employed generation in America. In 2017, they will assume earned income purchasing leadership. Urban millennials are the consumer force driving connectivity, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, smart cities, healthy lifestyles, diversity and renewable energy. They buy based on a product being cool with a purpose. They choose to work for companies that have sustainability and values incorporated in their jobs. CSR and sustainability professionals will win organizational influence if they enable their businesses to win millennials as customers and work associates.
CSR’s disruptive tension
This approach may sound like, or could be, career suicide. Most CSR departments are made up mostly of staff jobs with limited resources. They often are not included in marketing, sales, finance and operations meetings.
Destructive change is the process that can open organizational doors for CSR and sustainability professionals. Destructive change is revenue cannibalization of exiting products to win breakout revenue success for a superior product. It is being used by companies from Apple to Walmart. To win organizational influence, CSR professionals must become destructive change-agents and align with the other destructive change-agents in the organization.
If you are in an organization that appreciates the need to cannibalize an existing product to win market share, then step into this culture. If you are in an organization focused on protecting existing product market share, then acquire the knowledge and evidence to fight for revenue cannibalization as the 21st-century’s path for winning customers and growing sales. The great news is that there are marketing professionals who get it. There are senior officers who see the future and will take the risks necessary to win market share.
Earth 2017 has thrust an expanded mission on CSR professionals. It is to become their organization’s change agents and build the organizational network that will win market share through sustainability.
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