Andrea Learned

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Reaching Women Through Sustainable Business Practices

Sometimes the stars just align and consumer trends come together in a way that seems so natural. Consider, for instance, the women’s market and sustainable business practices. If you’ve been struggling to pursue each as a separate initiative, take heart. In many ways, you will come to powerfully reach today’s savviest women by taking steps toward sustainability—in what you make, how you make it, and how you then market it.

For women making purchasing decisions, many variables surrounding a product—beyond the basics of price/features—have long come into play. Women may perceive a brand to be unacceptable because they might perceive it has been slow on the environmentally responsible uptake, for example, or that its parent conglomerate’s executives have been in the news once too often for questionable ethics.

On the other hand, women may be perfectly happy with a brand and then notice that it competitor is sponsoring a local run for a cancer fund… inspiring them to consider at least a trial switch.

Consumers “naturally” consider a new product/brand when some element catches their eye as different and they assess that the switching process will be mostly painless. When such a brand change might also make a consumer feel good or reflect a lifestyle with which they like to be identified—all the better.

Let’s take Method brand dish soap as a case study:

  • Eye-catchers: Clever package shape and trendy scents, including the option of no scent (well, I guess that’s a nose-catcher).
  • Painless entry: It washes dishes like the traditional brands.
  • Bonus: Lifestyle-reflection factor (“green” products are in, and in many communities you are perceived to be cool if you use them.)

Of course, there may be a drawback, in the form of Method’s higher price, but just as with Prius and its amazing growth in popularity, a lot of people think those extra benefits are worth paying for.

With a triple bottom-line of making money for shareholder/owner, and doing well by not only employees/the community but also for the environment, sustainable business practices naturally address many common considerations of a woman’s buying mind, all the while creating relevant products.

Let’s map out a few ways that women’s buying and sustainable business are a fit:

1. Women tend to use both their left and right brains, taking in the facts/figures while also taking in the more emotional, including community-related, implications of a purchase.

Sustainable businesses operate with the shared goals of making money for shareholder/owner (left brain), and doing well by employees/community and the environment—which seem to be heavily right brain “touchy/feely” issues at first, but may well turn out to positively influence left brain issues like sales figures. Seventh Generation has become a well-known brand that exemplifies this practice.

2. Women think first of their immediate “constituents” (i.e., family), then add in their neighborhood, community and so on—seeing the connections between their consuming decisions and the broader good.

Sustainable businesses focus on the corporate and local angle first, then address regional, national and global considerations as they develop. GE is leveraging this approach now with ad campaigns that seem to humanize the behemoth down to the local, “we care about what you do” levels.

3. Women pay attention to whether the brands they buy and retailers they frequent seem to have good working conditions for employees and also support causes that resonate with what’s important to them.

A sustainable business builds corporate responsibility (which includes treating employees fairly), giving, and environmental programs right into their model—and transparently shares what it is doing on those fronts, and what needs work—with their customers. Google is consistently rated as one of the best places to work, with benefits that include a corporate commitment to environmental practices and to healthy/local foods in their cafeterias.

4. Women, moms especially, think and assess the longer-term ramifications of everything. They have long been driving the environmental movement by demanding nontoxic cleaning/household solutions, to start, and then looking at the broader ways they can ensure that their kids and grandkids will have a clean and safe world in which to live.

Sustainable businesses are aware of their energy use and carbon footprint, and are making choices to build or retrofit structures/facilities that address broader environmental concerns over the long run. If they can reduce packaging or make environment-oriented changes to the products they sell, they are doing it. Staid IBM continues to demonstrate a pretty progressive position with its dedication to improving on the environmental front. /

5. Women seek connections and common ground. They look for community in every walk of life and gravitate toward people and organizations that have shared values.

Being a sustainable business and reflecting that commitment throughout gives women an immediate cue that they might find a community of like-minded people—either employees or fellow customers—therein. Shared values are a great brand-customer conversation starter. Wal-Mart, a brand that has already promoted its folksiness in ad campaigns, is trying hard to become known for its sustainable practices and draw in that community of like-minded shoppers.

(More examples of brands that are getting noticed along these lines.)

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Brands that produce the quality and close-to prices of the products that today’s consumers seek, while tending to sustainability along the way, are making it easy for women choose them.

The triple bottom line of good for shareholders, society, and the environment fits to a T the “it all matters,” holistic way that women are known to buy. With the economic power of women inarguably growing, and with women really learning to leverage that power, sustainable businesses clearly have the advantage.

Even the big, traditional brands are noticeably backtracking a bit to change outdated practices and proclaim their new “responsibility.” They have seen the writing on the wall: An authentic and established sustainable commitment resonates with women, who tend to be the largest market for many of the products they sell.

Working toward more sustainable operations and delivering products with that intention behind them is in fact serving how women buy. And, that is good business with a double whammy.