Values-Based Marketing: How to attract guests through sustainability 

This article originally appeared in the May 2021 edition of TIAC Talk.

By Angela Nagy, CEO

As we begin to reopen our provincial borders to domestic visitors over the late spring and summer, many tourism businesses will be focusing their marketing efforts on meeting the pent-up demand for leisure travel. Not only are Canadian travellers eager, they are part of a growing international shift in consumer demand for more responsible business, where consumers are considering values-alignment in their purchasing decisions. 

At the same time, there are challenges with marketing sustainability, as the term itself does not always resonate with travellers. This makes it very important to connect with potential guests at an emotional level, instead of an intellectual one. While it may help you win corporate bids, using language like “LED lights” and “energy efficiency,” or going into details about your sustainable purchasing policy, isn’t necessarily going to make a guest choose your business or destination. Instead, reframe these positive actions in a way that shows your guests the benefits to them, i.e. how you’re helping them to reduce their own carbon footprint while improving the comfort of their experience, or how they are helping to support local farmers while tasting the authentic, fresh flavours of your region.

This approach is referred to as values based marketing, which is “an appeal to your customer’s values and ethics, shifting marketing from a product-centric approach to a customer centric-one, and then going even further and connecting your approach with your customer’s values,” according to Jacquelyn Ottman, the queen of green marketing and an expert adviser to the Fortune 500 and the U.S. Government on this subject. 

In her 2011 book, The New Rules of Green Marketing, Ottman found that 83% of consumers consider themselves some shade of green, and are choosing companies that share their own personal social and environmental values.  Organizations that aren’t doing a good job of connecting with consumers’ values are missing out on their share of this market, and risk rendering themselves uncompetitive. 

Dr. Philip Kotler, who has been hailed as the Grandfather of Marketing, and the world’s foremost expert on the strategic practice of marketing, is the author of what is widely recognized as the most authoritative textbook on marketing, Marketing Management, now in its 13th edition. In his latest book, Marketing 3.0 – From Products to Customers to the Human Spirit, he eloquently outlines the “how” of product-centric vs. customer-centric vs. values-centric marketing. 

Kotler states, “Over the years, marketing has evolved through three stages that we call Marketing 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. Many of today’s marketers still practice marketing 1.0, some practice marketing 2.0 and a few are moving into marketing 3.0. The greatest opportunities will come to marketers practicing 3.0.”

“No longer are consumers looking for just functional and emotional fulfillment. They are also looking for human spirit fulfillment in the products and services they choose. Consumers want to know that the values of the company they buy from are congruent to making the world a better place.”  

This is the essence of the shifts we are seeing in consumer behavior, and the key to values-based marketing for the tourism industry is resonating with travellers’ values by telling your unique and authentic stories of environmental, natural, cultural, and social good in a way that helps your guests feel like they are a part of it. 

When it comes to marketing sustainability, credibility is key. Ottman provides these strategies: 

  1. Walk your talk: Don’t just say your green or sustainable – make it real or risk being accused of greenwashing.

  2. Be transparent: Be open about the fact that you’re not perfect, but you’re trying;, showcase what you are doing, and identify what you’re working on to improve.

  3. Enlist the support of third parties: Popular and credible forms of third-party support include eco-labels, certifications,  and environmental product declarations, or sustainability commitments and pledges.

  4. Promote responsible behavior for your guests: What can they do to engage with you on your green journey? Recycling, turning out lights, or letting them know where they can go to learn about local natural and cultural heritage opportunities are all great examples.

  5. Focus on primary benefits: Focusing on primary benefits in a story that incorporates environmental responsibility as a desirable extra is preferred. So, the messaging about how your comfortable rooms are the best, or that you have the most scenic tours, would be your primary message, followed by your use of organic sheets or your annual contribution to a local wildlife conservation group.