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SMEs: The Marketing Challenge


How can businesses offering responsible products and services stand out to consumers? This report presents five strategies.

Thank you to Studio Roosegaarde for the use of this report’s title image.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are trying to carve out a share of the market for responsible products and services. For SMEs, providing these products and services can be a way to make sustainability profitable.

To gain market share, SMEs must communicate more effectively with consumers, and reach out to consumers to better understand their needs and expectations.

Réseau entreprise et développement durable (REDD), the francophone office of NBS, hosted an international symposium on sustainability solutions for SMEs. The symposium brought together students, researchers, government representatives and managers.

They asked: “How can businesses offering responsible products and services stand out to consumers?” Through discussion, they identified five strategies, based on concrete examples and emerging research ideas.

The full report, linked below, details these strategies and is illustrated with examples from SMEs. The report was written by Marie-France Turcotte, REDD director, with a team of collaborators.

5 Strategies for Marketing Responsible Products and Services

Research and experience show the value of these approaches.

1. Make a broader argument to avoid green marketing myopia 

Green marketing myopia means overstating the effect of environmental arguments on consumers’ choices. Companies often focus on the responsible argument at the expense of other arguments.

The responsible argument is even more effective if it is combined with other arguments. The essentials of marketing are still important. Talk about efficiency, quality, and price. Sustainability elements should be part of a whole presentation.

2. Fight negative beliefs about responsible products

Consumers may avoid responsible products and services if they feel that the products and services cost more or do not offer similar or better quality.

Whether sustainable qualities are an effective sales argument varies significantly depending on what’s being sold. Research shows that consumers will pay more for only some types of responsible products and services. Consumers appreciate the sustainable aspects of products with “soft” characteristics, such as baby shampoo. But sustainability can be less appealing in “strong” products, such as car shampoo, tires, trucks, and even mouthwash.
When selling such “strong” products, emphasize their “strength” or effectiveness.

3. Address the consumer’s tendency to walk away from responsibilities

There is a gap between what people say and do when it comes to their sustainability journey.

Consumers who are less likely to buy responsible products and services justify their behavior in order to feel less guilty. They say “It’s someone else’s responsibility” or “Responsible products and services don’t make a difference.”

SMEs can counter these beliefs by providing consumers with clear and simple information, sharing positive impacts, and providing examples of people like them who purchase responsibly.

4. Share the history of the product, service or business

There is always a story behind the products, actions and strategies of sustainable SMEs. Companies can share this story to stand out to consumers.

For example, a company might have created a responsible product or service in order to solve a social or environmental problem. Or, a company’s sustainability approach may stem from its essential principles.

Telling the story behind the product or service lets consumers better understand the company’s responsible actions and identify with the business.

5. Know the different needs of the links in your “chain of customers”

The “client chain” includes all the actors involved in the use of a product or service. Each member of this network sees the advantages of responsible products differently. For example, an SME may sell to a buyer interested in low costs, while the ultimate user may have more interest in environmentally-friendly products.

SME InnuScience has found a model moving beyond buyers and connecting to product users. Rather than simply trying to convince procurement departments by talking prices, InnuScience tries to better understand the needs of the main users of its product, maintenance workers. Only once the company connects with the maintenance staff will it meet with company buyers.

Five Paths Forward

As SME try to carve out a share of the market for responsible products and services, they must understand how to communicate effectively. Download the full report for more on these five strategies, including meaningful insights from SME leaders.

Then, consider the strategy that works best for you, and share your insights with REDD/ NBS: info@nbs.net.


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