Sustainable Marketing Explained, Part 1

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The following is the first post in a three-part series on the concept of sustainable marketing.  

Click here for the second post in this series. Click here for the third post in this series.

Since launching Smash Communications, in April, whenever I’ve talked about the idea of sustainable marketing with people, I’ve been met with inquisitive looks. And that’s ok. It’s a new concept. That inquisitive look is part of the territory when you’re talking about something new. But it’s why I decided to write a series on the topic. Bear with me, as there’s a lot to cover. We’ll get to all the good stuff–but throwing a 4,700 word post at you would likely be too much, so I broke it into palatable chunks.

What exactly is Sustainable Marketing? 

Sustainability. It’s a been a hot buzzword for a while now. And I can see how you might be thinking “Oh you’ve got to be kidding me,” when used in context to marketing.

By definition, the word “sustainable” means: “a system that maintains its own viability using techniques that allow for continual use.”

And you’ll come to see that when I use the term “sustainable” with concern to marketing, I mean it quite literally.

Sustainable marketing utilizes internal resources to generate authentic, SEO-compliant content that resonates with the target audience, drives qualified web traffic, delivers inbound leads, reduces dependency on traditional advertising, is simple to distribute, and is both measurable and pliable.

Sound too good to be true? Well it isn’t. It just requires that you think a little differently about marketing in the digital age. Which, ironically, you’ll see is more like marketing in the human age.

The post that follows, along with the others in this series, explores, among other things, how and why sustainable marketing works, why you should adopt a sustainable marketing program, and how sustainable marketing differs from traditional marketing and advertising.

But first, I should qualify. After all, there are a lot of people these days who position themselves as expert marketers. And while some of them actually are experts, mostly what I see out there are people adopting theories established by others, then adding a tweak or a twist, and repurposing these theories as best practices that they sell to brands. Some of these people are amazing self-promoters, they just lack real-world experience. I, on the other hand, suck at self promotion. But I have been in the marketing and advertising business for a while, and even built a brand from scratch in 2009 into one of the fastest-growing companies in America in a little over three years by the utilizing concepts I write about here.

The Backstory

Every brand on the planet needs marketing and advertising.

And the best marketing and advertising starts with a quality product or service that people can talk about. That’s because the best that advertising can do is lift a brand for so long before the truth rises to the surface. If the product or service is solid, the investment in marketing and advertising has the potential to pay off long-term. If it’s not, then the marketing investment might help deceive the audience for a while, but in the end word will get around and the brand will fail.

Currently, most brands employ a traditional approach to marketing to the tune of 600 billion dollars spent on advertising worldwide. From television to billboards, and from banner ads to email marketing, we tend to follow trends in how we take products and services to market. Even when those trends are archaic and generate inconsistent ROI.

When you’re following trends, you’re already behind the curve.

In 2009, I partnered with an entrepreneur who had a great idea, but no marketing or advertising budget. As a brand builder and ad guy, I had to get creative in terms of how to take his product to market. I relied on tight branding, digital storytelling, and smart distribution via this new thing called social media.

It worked. In 2013, Boxman Studios was named the fastest-growing privately held company in Charlotte, and in 2014 was recognized as the #120 fastest-growing company in America by Inc. Magazine (with more than 3000% growth from 2009-2013). The explosive growth occurred without the use of traditional advertising, and 90% of sales were the result of inbound leads from the marketing efforts.

The first few years of building the Boxman brand, I was the only person creating and executing the strategy. Then I hired an intern, and when I left the company, I turned the marketing over to him. Boxman continues to grow based on the techniques I developed early on, they still don’t spend money on traditional advertising, and the marketing engine doesn’t stress internal resources.

And this is the core benefit of sustainable marketing: low wear, high yield, simple to administer, and measurable.

Sustainable marketing is literally sustainable.

With this case study in hand, in 2015 I launched my consultancy to help other companies grow by utilizing these effective, modern marketing techniques. But so far it’s been a slow go. It seems that people are guarded against change. Even when presented with a case study like Boxman Studios. Even when considering that the traditional approach is expensive, inconsistent, is ignored by people, and doesn’t always generate a ROI.

Yes, I believe that all companies can benefit from a sustainable marketing program. No, companies should not rely on this concept alone. We didn’t have the luxury of a balanced attack when we launched Boxman. But you do. Over time, however, a sustainable approach can reduce dependency on traditional marketing and advertising.

Marketing in the Age of Sharing

During my first copywriting class in college, the professor opened the semester like this, “All of you are very clever people. That’s why you’re here. But let me tell you one thing straight away—the best ad campaign you will ever create will pale in comparison to word-of-mouth.” Of course we all rolled our eyes, but over time, especially since 2009, I’ve come to terms with this statement being true.

When you have a product or service people that people like, people talk. And if they try your product and don’t like it, they’ll still talk. Which is why I always stress that the best marketing and advertising starts with having a quality product or service that people can talk (positively) about.

But before people can fawn over your awesome product or service, they need to actually know that you exist. That’s marketing and advertising.

Assuming you’re engaged in some form of traditional advertising (print ads, banner ads, billboards, direct mail, etc.), let’s take a look at how people who aren’t influenced by traditional advertising (a phenomenon we’ll cover in parts 2 and 3 of this series) find you.

The two ways most people discover you are through search, and word-of-mouth (people sharing). We’ll get to search later, but first let’s talk about what people share. Today they share digital content. A lot of it. Ideas that live online. And while the distribution vehicles vary from Facebook to Pinterest, and messaging to email, exactly what people are sharing, in various forms, are stories.

But before you run out and try to make a “viral video” just know this—you have zero control over whether anything you create goes “viral.” So instead of putting your faith in a roulette wheel, you should focus on simply telling your story in an authentic way that helps your audience find you, and also keeps them engaged.

Sustainable marketing works on three core tenets: content (storytelling), SEO, and distribution. All of which we will cover in this series.

In the meantime, reach out to me directly to talk about creating a sustainable marketing program for your organization.

Click here for the second post in this series.

Click here for the third post in this series.

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Jim Mitchem is a writer, consultant, and entrepreneur. He’s been in marketing and advertising a long time. He gets audiences to think differently about things. He published his first novel, Minor King, in 2015, is collaborating on a book called Gone Dogs, and is currently writing a book on sustainable marketing. He has a wife and two daughters. He likes dogs. He really hates writing about himself in third-person.

Image credit Edwin van Buuringen

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