According to a new study from Dentsu and Kantar exploring the role APAC marketers play in achieving corporate sustainability ambitions and SDGs. The report “Marketing a Better Future” notes that with the exponential growth of Asian economies, spending power is moving East with the region shaping global consumption trends, which gives “Asian consumers and companies a new and unique responsibility, especially as the region is expected to bear the brunt of climate-related catastrophes.”
There is a wide consensus that consumer behavior urgently needs to shift to more sustainable habits and lifestyles. This, says the study, puts businesses, brands, and their agency partners at “a nexus of need and opportunity.”
The report says that as the bridge between brands and consumers, marketers have a unique opportunity, and therefore the responsibility, to be generational agents of change influencing consumer behavior, as well as driving customer-informed innovation.
According to Kantar’s latest Global Issues Barometer, climate issues are a key concern with nearly 60% of consumers globally saying they experience eco-anxiety which is driving increased consciousness and desire for action. In tandem, system-level changes are needed to reach global sustainability targets and ensure the planet’s future.
Marketers are ‘failing’
The Dentsu-Kantar study says that marketers are failing, however, to grasp the opportunity. The inaugural study of over 70 brand marketers in 12 markets across Asia-Pacific found that only one in three (34%) marketing and insights teams are ‘executing against their sustainability plans and measuring progress’.
This compares unfavorably to 46% in supply chain, and 51% in corporate strategy. The study identified two significant intention-action gaps, the consumer intention-action gap and the organizational intention-action gap, where marketers’ challenges are rooted.
A ‘philosophical revamp’
In order to achieve deep, needle-moving advancement in sustainability, the study found marketing functions need a philosophical revamp: to be given a mandate to drive innovation beyond short-term sales KPIs, to create growth that is good for society and the planet as well as business.
Corporate sustainability transformation and sustainable consumption need to become the organizing principle around which marketing functions. The study predicts that by making this radical change, brands will be able to drive the behaviour and lifestyle shifts required to achieve the 40% – 70% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that the sixth IPCC assessment report estimates as achievable.
“”It is clear that sustainable consumption has to be the organising principle of marketing teams, who must now instead focus on inspiring people everywhere to a new way of sustainable living.”
“Meaningful progress in sustainability requires an ecosystem level effort where businesses, consumers and civic society, policy makers, regulators and capital providers work in harmony,” said Dominic Powers, Chief Growth Officer, dentsu Asia Pacific.
“Marketers must not only be empowered by businesses to drive innovation that can fuel deep change, but they must also revamp the entire philosophy behind the way the function is designed, which is predicated on selling more.
Powers goes on to say that “It is clear that sustainable consumption has to be the organising principle of marketing teams, who must now instead focus on inspiring people everywhere to a new way of sustainable living. To do this, brands and marketers must reframe their constituents to include ecosystem partners that co-own the sector’s value chain and its carbon footprint. By positioning themselves as the change agent between the larger ecosystem, customers and their company, marketing teams will be uniquely positioned to drive relevant, resonant, step-change innovation that will help ensure a sustainable future for us all.”
Trezelene Chan, Head, Sustainability Practice, Kantar APAC added, “We already know that the consumer intention-action gap is a problem for marketers, with 56% identifying it as a major challenge. Only 17% of Asian consumers actively change their behaviour to be more sustainable, despite 98% of Asians saying they will.
“Our study reveals, however, that the organizational intention-action gap is an equally important challenge to be addressed. Although 73% of marketers believe sustainability is important for business continuity and value growth, the study uncovered tactical and fundamental barriers that hinder marketers from taking on meaningful sustainable leadership.
“These include focus on short-term sales growth targets above all other KPIs, lack of clarity within the marketing function around metrics of success in relation to sustainability goals, and lack of adequate resources or capability building for sustainability within the marketing function.”
Chan added that “Innovation, collaboration and ownership across the different business functions against a clear set of sustainability goals will be required. Sustainability initiatives by the brand need to address consumers’ and the planet’s needs holistically and simultaneously. This means a whole new mindset for marketers and their corporate leaders.”
You can download the full report here.
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