Recently, I came across a book that advises marketers to push past their demographic research and trends analyses, and start focusing on how best to create solutions to customers’ real-world problems. Relevance: Making Stuff That Matters , by marketing consultant Tim Manners, spotlights an idea that I’ve been talking about for the past year: the need to shift from making stuff that is “less bad” to creating products and services that seek to be “all good.”
This is especially critical for any company that strives to be sustainable. An authentically sustainable company does more than merely conserve and maintain; it enriches and embellishes. It embraces a whole new mindset that moves from thinking incrementally about doing less harm to thinking expansively about leaving things better than we found them. It’s an incredibly difficult challenge—one that my Seventh Generation colleagues and I are just beginning to reckon with—but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
So last year, when I spoke at a national conference of grocery retailers, I challenged Kroger, Target, Wal-Mart, Publics, and other retailing heavyweights to consider the impact of selling billions of dollars of less-than-healthy products with less-than-apparent relevance for consumers. Products that take precious natural resources and either flush them down the drain or (after a brief life span) dump them in the trash. I encouraged them to think about how they could help create a world that’s rich in values, rather than a world that’s awash in useless artifacts. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be invited back!
Relevance strikes a similar theme. According to a recent review in the Financial Times, the book argues, ”many brand managers have made careers out of trying to make their brands ‘aspirational’…But, the author thunders, marketers are confusing happiness with materialism. ‘The entire advertising industry is built on the premise that we can buy our way into being smarter, sexier, cooler or more popular. Deep down we all know this is one big lie.’”
That’s just the type of thinking we need. If there’s a silver lining to this awful recession, it just might be that we learn how to consume smarter, and be the happier for it.