Marketing for good is good long-term marketing

Most companies say they would sacrifice a chunk of this year's margin for a chance of substantially increased profits in 10 years' time. It makes sense. But do they actually know how to do this and, more importantly, can they?

Karl Weaver, global chief executive, Data2Decisions

Today’s marketing fixates firmly on the now, from programmatic ads to real-time tracking. Short-term returns are nec-essary, but this can be at the expense of long-term planning; few marketers can honestly say they would take a hit today to help solidify their brand in five, or even 50, years’ time.

Unilever is one business that has consistently looked to the distant future. In 1887 Lever Brothers (one of the companies that helped form Unilever) built Port Sunlight on the Wirral – a site for its soap-factory expansion and a village for its workers. William Lever called it a form of profit-sharing – but rather than monetary returns, it provided housing, improved living standards and security. Until the 1980s, all the residents of Port Sunlight were employees of Unilever and their families.

This ethos persists – in particular, in Unilever’s market-ing strategy. It’s a strategy that has helped produce 4.9% growth over the past five years alone.

The Dove ‘Campaign for real beauty’ and Persil’s ‘Dirt is good’ and ‘First day of school’ share a thought: there is a narrative, an idea that challenges the conventional brand-to-consumer proposition. It is not simply "Buy this product", but "Join us, share our values and support what we do: parents and teenagers banish your insecurities."

As Jennifer Bremner, brand director of skin cleansing at Unilever, says: "We believe that conversation leads to brand love and brand love leads to brand loyalty."

Persil: Unilever brand’s ‘Dirt is good’ positioning challenged convention

This concept transcends marketing and Unilever supports environmental and developing-world projects with both products and profits. It is not without PR crises or brand faux pas, including run-ins with Greenpeace and the Rainforest Alliance, but it consistently appears as a business with brands that have a purpose.

Marketing for good helps you plan for future brand perception. Research from Boston Consulting Group found that responsible-consumption products will account for 70% of the total grocery growth in the US and Europe in the next five years. Focusing on this trend may come at the expense of some short-term profit as spend is adjusted from shifting units now to changing brand messaging for a sustainable future. That’s the conundrum – or balance – companies need to deal with.

Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy; they look at reviews, are less likely to buy because old-school marketing con-vinces, and seek purchase-decision affirmation. This is especially true of millennials, a valuable target group.

If a brand gets it wrong, the repercussions can be severe. After a damaging documentary, negative press and websites such as Where Happiness Tanks, Sea World theme parks went on the defensive with a positive conservationist message. 

However, goodwill marketing is insufficient if there’s a mismatch with perceived reality – Sea World’s target customers engaged with models of authority that held a strong contrary opinion, from Harry Styles to emotive viral news stories. Sea World’s narrative and proposed brand purpose collapsed.

Deliver value in a strategic way

This value shift – presented in market-ing and in action – can come only from the top of an organisation, holistic in impact. Employees and consu-mers need to understand and buy into a brand’s purpose, one that’s delivered consistently and continuously.

Developing a long-term, positive reason to exist, mark-eting for good and planning for infinity has its roots in hard data. Analysis can statistically disentangle its impact from environmental or short-term factors. Like other marketing, analytics tracks as KPIs inform and evolve.

Metrics for purpose

Data2Decisions can help quantify how different marketing messages could have an impact on sales and profit in the short and long term, and help understand the trade-off that might be made.

Digital data can be highly advantageous to brands when they understand which metrics are leading indica-tors of longer-term sales – for example, social-media end-orsements about brand activity. Wider metrics are also needed to monitor how authentically a brand behaves against its marketing messages – its inv-estment in the community, R&D policy and being resp-onsible to employees. Getting the right mix of metrics in place is the first step in building the case for marketing for good.

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