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"Taking B2B Green: Finding Business Value in Environmental Practices"

Nicole Zampino, Executive Director

For many years, creating environmentally friendly messaging was largely left to consumer marketing.  But today, because of expanding concern for the environment, and pressures filtering through the entire supply chain, a second bottom line is evolving for many B2B companies – and it's green.  Communication strategies for this messaging can be new territory for many companies, and, in some cases, can turn commonly held marketing beliefs on their heads.

Internal Efficiency is Valuable

At one time, if a company cut its own energy usage by 20% or reduced material consumption by 10%, the results were kept quiet.  Why?  No one wants their customers to ask for price reductions if a process costs less, uses less energy, or requires fewer materials.  Today, however, creating greater internal efficiency is a value that can be passed on down the supply chain even to the consumer level.

For example, if a new packaging process uses 20% less material and energy there is value in the initial savings, but there is a huge marketing value in that 20% figure as well.  In fact, that 20% snowballs through the supply chain all the way to the consumer with each party along the way adding to their green line.  In the end, brand owners can use that 20% as a differentiating factor to consumers on the store shelf, in advertisements, viral marketing, and PR.

For this to work, however, it's important to market these figures to the right people.  Brand owners and decision makers need to know that, as a supplier, you are offering something more than your competitor and something that can be used to differentiate their own products.  Good B2B communication targets brand and marketing decision makers instead of purchasing.  One party is rewarded for innovation and market growth based on the latest trends like sustainability; the other on cost cutting.  You can guess which is which.

Partnership Opportunities

One of the keys to good B2B communication is highlighting partnership.  Any level of service or partnership or specialized innovation elevates your product above a commodity. Environmental initiatives are an opportunity to work with customers more closely on typical B2B applications such as the installation of equipment, process efficiency, or waste and energy reduction. 

Customer testimonials and technical articles serve as a good 'one-two punch' when it comes to marketing these partnerships. For example, at ABI we will interview our clients' customers about their own initiatives and how a partnership approach has helped grow business and enhance environmental initiatives.  We then interview our clients' technical teams and write technical or thought leadership articles on their work adapting customer processes to reduce environmental impact.  This approach lends credibility to a program because it offers: a.) real information that can be applied to an actual B2B environment b.) real-world examples of success.

Credibility is Key

With an environmental communication strategy, credibility is absolutely essential.  Like any business initiative, it's important to ask no only what you are doing but what you are doing better than anyone else. Environmental initiatives are no different. Anyone can "spin" a green message, but this type of marketing is very thin and susceptible to a net zero effect if your competition is doing the same thing.

An environmental initiative should be in place that genuinely is working to reduce impact both internally and throughout the supply chain.  Does it need to be perfect or complete to begin communicating?  No.  Does it need to be genuine?  Absolutely.  And a credibility campaign backing up these initiatives will show how a partnership relationship with your company holds value beyond simple cost cutting.  That's just good old fashioned B2B marketing.

Without Marketing, It's All a Commodity

The environment is, more than likely, a long term trend rather than a short term fad simply because it is based on more than just notoriously fickle consumer tastes. Beyond saving the planet (which is, in its own way, also a financial concern), fuel costs, increasingly severe weather conditions, and unstable (or at least unpredictable) political climates – all make business more difficult.

Consumerism is a huge part of the economy. In the US, consumer spending makes up 70% of the total economy. Arguably, a stable consumer economy is essential to the overall economic health of the world. In many ways, B2B companies are responsible for this stability. 

In the past, B2B trends supported this notion in many ways.  Quality was the clarion call of companies 15 years ago.  Next came cost cutting.  Then, innovation was the catchword.  The B2B environmental movement is all of these trends rolled into one.  Quality, efficiency and innovation are essential to reducing dependency on materials and to overall impact.  B2B companies will be central to this movement  

However, communicating the implementation of these programs and promoting their success is key.  Anything, including good environmental practices, can be commoditized. Credible communication can ensure that innovation + efficiency + sustainability = value.

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