​Companies and Consumers realise that their actions directly impact the environment. Dentsu’s Rise of Sustainable Media Report (published December 2021) revealed that 86% of people are concerned by climate change and 91% expect businesses to have a positive impact on the environment through their operations, while helping consumers make better, more sustainable choices.

Brands can no longer continue operating ‘business as usual’, best-in-class environmental performance is now a licence to operate.

At Merkle and dentsu, our greatest talent is our ability to influence the way that people think, feel and act. This is the insight that sits at the heart of our 2030 Social Impact strategy – our unique ability to change mindsets and influence behaviour, with a mission to inspire people everywhere towards a new way of living. The net zero transition is dependent upon human and societal behaviour change to create a circular, inclusive and low carbon society. And marketing is a critical enabler of consumer behaviour change.  

So, how can brands make sustainable marketing and consumption ‘business as usual’ to drive consumer loyalty?

Circular economy

Let’s use the circular economy to put sustainable marketing into context. The circular economy is a model for developing a more sustainable economy and is based on three principles:

  • Eliminate waste and pollution,
  • Circulate products and materials, and
  • Regenerate nature

The circular economy seeks to influence four consumer actions:

  • Longer use
  • Reuse
  • Refurbish
  • Recycle

These actions are essential for the transition to a circular economy. Brands have an opportunity and a responsibility to influence more sustainable behaviours. A practical example is designing and marketing products to be used and loved for longer - there are projections that five billion phones will have been thrown away in 2022, likely due to planned obsolescence (i.e. deliberately designing a product that will quickly become outdated). This is just one of many examples where marketing can play a critical role in reducing our environmental impact.  

Marketing propositions require the existence of a product or service. Sustainable marketing propositions also require an underlying sustainable capability. For example, a proposition rewarding reuse of a brand’s products requires the company to deliver a sustainable capability of:

  • Older replacement components, or
  • Backwardly compatible app-store applications, or
  • Additional customer budget for discounts and benefits

Sustainable marketing is the vehicle to promote the use of sustainable capabilities. That’s why, as a key influencer of consumer behaviour and driver of loyalty, marketing can become generational change agents.

Targeted marketing communications should be proactive to fully prepare the customer for the sustainable options available to them. Reactive communications are less effective. For example, the customer would be less motivated to take the necessary steps towards sustainability once they had purchased a new product. Indeed, in most cases the aim is to prevent the customer purchasing new products and use what they already have. Let’s explore this concept further, using practical examples.

Longer Use

Customers should be persuaded to use their devices longer, and to opt for higher quality and durable products which have a longer shelf-life. Product release cycles should also be extended to include significant and radical advancements.

Sustainable marketing

  • Promote complementary services such as apps
  • Provide maintenance tips and how-to guides

Sustainable capability

  • Focus on quality, maintainability, and durability
  • Extended product release cycles
  • Extended support for older models
  • Capture usage data


Customers should be persuaded to resale or donate their devices. The most convenient and fastest ways of achieving this should be communicated to remove any barriers.

Sustainable marketing

  • Provide discounts and other incentives to resale to approved resellers with free pickup and delivery
  • Provide discounts and other incentives to donate to approved charities with free pickup and delivery

Sustainable capability

  • Provide free or cheap pick-up and delivery options for donations and resales
  • Form partnerships with resellers and charities to monitor transactions


Like re-use, refurbished products can be made to look and operate as new products with minor repairs and maintenance. This maintenance work is usually carried out by certified partners or the manufacturer. The marketing aim should be to get customers to purchase refurbished products.

Sustainable marketing

  • Offer steep discounts on refurbished products for existing customers in upsell or cross-sell opportunities
  • Promote refreshment partners based on product usage and tenure


Sustainable capability

  • Create marketplace for refurbishment resellers
  • Provide consultation on refurbishment to partners


Provide clear communication on what is recyclable. Provide guidance to make it easier for the manufacturer to recycle products. This should be the default option with landfills being the exception.

Sustainable marketing

  • Offer favourable discounts on future purchases on products which cannot be refurbished
  • Clearly communicate how to prepare products for recycling

Sustainable capability

  • Products made with easily recyclable material
  • An established network or recycling partners
  • Easy to use pick service
  • Proximity to recycling centres

Returning to the mobile phone example through the consumer lens: if you have purchased a phone, there is a high chance you would have registered the phone with the manufacturer. Great, now the manufacturer can up-sell newer models or cross-sell apps. They can also:

  • Give you the best deals with trade-ins
  • Provide you with clear instructions on how to maintain the phone

By proactively encouraging the customer to behave with sustainability in mind, brands will eventually change their default behaviour. One of the core principles of sustainable marketing is normalising sustainable behaviour.

Trade-in options should be heavily encouraged by manufacturers of all electronic products, because manufacturers know their products best and so should be the best recyclers.

Consider whether Apple or Samsung have proactively offered you great trade-in deals for your old iPad or Samsung Galaxy tab, for example, 10%, 30% or 50% the cost of your next tablet purchase. If they haven’t, it’s time to ask, why haven’t they?

Next Best Action

I haven’t yet mentioned Next Best Action (NBA) marketing. Indeed, sustainable marketing is technology neutral. However, NBA is a natural home to deliver such communication. It enables the messages to be sent consistently and relevantly in an “always-on” mode of execution. “Always-on” reflects the need to normalise sustainable behaviour by presenting the message at every relevant and timely opportunity.  


Sustainable marketing is not a new concept. However, as the state of the planet worsens from lifestyles that call for more and more, the role of marketing in driving demand for sustainable behaviours is becoming increasingly important.

Capturing data related to sustainability capability usage informs companies and consumers of their progress in promoting them. Such data will be become a critical KPI for organisations in their sustainability journey, and will be used by savvy brands as a key motivator for consumer loyalty. 

Ultimately, a circular economy will mean less production. And what is produced should be highly durable, high quality and recyclable. The measure for growth will place sustainability as a critical indictor. This is currently happening – slowly. The rate of change will eventually be exponential. 

Organisations should prepare now for this new reality by investing in sustainability capabilities. They should also invest in promoting those capabilities to their audience, driving loyalty for the future amongst their customer base.