The marketing sobriety chain: a thinking framework for marketing strategies

What framework can we use to ensure sober marketing strategies ? Whether you're analyzing existing systems, thinking about redesigning them or designing them from scratch, it's not easy to come up with a structured framework for thinking.

At present, responsible marketing and communications are still largely dominated by eco-design thinking. Business models are rarely disrupted.

But it takes more than a coat of organic paint to make the transition. And marketing teams can actively shake up the coconut tree with more radical approaches.

Work in progress: the sobriety marketing chain

In a previous article on UX responsible writing product page, I used the term "marketing sobriety chain". The main idea was to think of a marketing project as putting sobriety first.

That's the idea I'm trying to develop in this article. How to design a framework, a tool, a canvas, that could guide us in making responsible marketing choices.

At this stage, it's more a reflection that has yet to mature. This article will therefore evolve over time. So I'm going to version it and credit it (plus it looks classy 😉 ).

Versions and credits

March 14, 2024 - v1.0 - Initial version of article and visual (product version)

Authors :

  • Jonathan Loriaux, lead author
  • Marion Duchatelet, contributor

This article and its contents are published under CC BY 4.0 Deed license. You have the right to use, modify and share it, as long as you specify the original authors, provide a link to the license and indicate whether any modifications have been made.

Introducing the sobriety marketing chain

Nothing explains a concept better than a good drawing. So here's the current version of the marketing sobriety chain for physical products (we'll talk about services later).

The sobriety marketing chain - Product - v1.0

The central idea is that the first link in the marketing chain must be one that allows the citizen-customer tobe as sober as possible in its consumption (the top of the pyramid). The aim of marketing, however you define it, is to influence purchasing and consumption decisions.

Until now, the sole aim of marketing has been to encourage the act of buying. With the idea of responsible marketing, we also have the idea of responsible purchasing. L'purchase act should not only be considered from the point of view of impulse, the fear of missing out on a good deal (cuckoo FOMO). But it must also (and above all?) be in terms of social and environmental impact.

"Beyond pleasing myself, is my purchase responsible?"

With that in mind, the marketer has a huge responsibility. That of providing the right information for helping people make the most responsible purchases possible... which could be a purchase waiver.

In its current version, our The sobriety marketing chain consists of 4 stagesfrom the most sober to the most voracious:

1. Promoting renunciation

The renunciation (Cyril Espalieu spoke of the "Marketing renunciation"in the podcast we recorded together) is inevitably the the most sober consumption mode. No new items are produced. The renunciation is mainly triggered by a new awareness and requires good information on the consequences of producing new physical goods or using new services.

2. Increase service life

The slightly less sober (but so little) step is to do everything to extend the life of the object you wish to use. This is mainly repair. Rather than buying a new object because the old one is faulty, we prefer to repair or improve it. This limits negative externalities.

3. Enhancing the function

Buying the use or function of an object rather than its possession has many advantages. It makes it possible to pool certain objects, increase their lifespan, reduce energy consumption, etc. In a model based on usage, the increase in lifespan is mainly due to the fact that the economic agent, the consumer, is able to make the most of it. the object's owner has no economic interest in renewing it too often.

The most frequently cited example is the light bulb. When I buy a light bulb, I want to light up. Not to own the object. So, should I really own the bulb? Shouldn't I simply subscribe to the "light" service? Which would mean that my supplier would have a vested interest in optimizing bulb life and consumption as much as possible to improve profitability.

4. Resigning to ownership

As a last resort, if there really is no other option, we may consider recommending the acquisition of the property.

At first glance, some products are hard to imagine not owning. Here are a few examples, difficult to rent a zucchini... because you're going to eat it sooner or later (ideally early ;-)).

And yet, if we're creative, it's possible to come up with alternative models. Let's go back to the question of food with our zucchinis. Rather than buying vegetables, why not become a co-employer of the market gardener? We rent him a piece of his land and pay him for his work. This would guarantee a decent income, local food, control over specifications and seasonal produce. Here, we return to the previous stage. Rather than acquiring zucchini, we should concentrate on their nutritional functions.

This probably doesn't apply to everything, but it's possible to go very far in your thinking by using the sobriety chain.

The specific features of services versus products

In this first version of the marketing sobriety chain, we do not process services. These do not meet the same sobriety criteria as physical products. This question will be the subject ofworkshops to help mature the model.

The uses of the sobriety marketing chain

It's hard to use the marketing sobriety chain without bear in mind the impact on the company's business model. And that's a fact. There's no such thing as "more sober" marketing unless there's also a willingness to change the company's business model..

If the conditions are right, the marketing sobriety chain can be used to :

  • Providing food for thought on product design What priorities should be given to what type of product? Are there ways of optimizing product life cycles? Is it possible to switch to a business model that favors function over ownership?
  • Modify the price positioning On existing products, how can we encourage consumers to opt for the most socially and environmentally virtuous products? Is it possible to switch to a rental or subscription model?
  • Working on a brand positioning If sobriety is one of my values, how can I make it visible outside my organization? If sobriety is a reality in my organization, how can I embody it in my brand?
  • Designing an editorial charter or a writing framework : The written word is the best way to embody your corporate raison d'être ! What are the words that prove it? What character traits embody sobriety?
  • Recasting a product page What behaviors do I expect from my users? What steps will they go through to make a decision? How can I reassure them of my legitimacy in offering this product or service?
  • Create a communication media : When it comes to designing any kind of communication medium, you can legitimately ask yourself a number of questions. Which arguments should I put forward first? How do I prove my assertions? How do I prioritize information?

There are undoubtedly many other cases in which the chain can enrich your reflections. Don't hesitate to share them with us.

Weaknesses, conditions, reflections and other limitations of the sobriety chain

There are a number of conditions to be met before you can use this reflection canvas.

A reason to exist

We've already touched on this point several times in this article. The way of thinking implied by the sobriety chain comes from shake up traditional business models. To exploit it to its full potential, you need to be able to :

  • Have a raison d'être that integrates genuine social and environmental objectives;
  • Develop key indicators on social and environmental criteria;
  • Getting away from short-term thinking;
  • ...

Don't be too prescriptive

Moving away from a highly prescriptive business model doesn't mean we have to fall into a different, but equally prescriptive, business model.

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This means, for example be subtle about where to draw the line between need and want. What is considered a desire for some may be considered a need by others.

Example: I have a filter coffee maker. Not very practical when you only want one cup of coffee. Ideally, I'd like a coffee machine that serves cups. Is it a need or a want? For my partner, it's a need. For me, it's superfluous.

Changing narratives (gently?)

Our collective culture is constantly evolving, but needs time to change. Applying sobriety recipes also means changing the narrative to change our culture.

For example, the culture of ownership is still extremely strong in our societies. Why pay if you don't want to own? Can we be satisfied if we don't own?

When applying the sobriety chain, we need to think about the level of radicality that will be perceived. Is it desirable or acceptable? Is it not, in some cases, counter-productive and a disincentive to adoption?

Being inclusive

Changes in consumption patterns must not be exclusive. It would be totally incoherent to advocate an ecological and social transition accessible only to the most affluent members of society, those who are already the least discriminated against.

It also requires us to question ourselves as marketers. Most of us are privileged. So let's ask ourselves: are our marketing choices there to please us? To validate our own vision of society and reinforce our social status? Do we really think about putting these innovations at the service of the greatest number?

Admitting your weaknesses

Nobody's perfect! And if you say the opposite in your communications, you're liable to get a backlash.

It is therefore best to be authentic and sincere. Being transparent about what you're doing wrong, what you can do better, and how you can improve, will help you defuse some of the smear campaigns that often target "responsible" brands.

This will make a clear difference to other brands that boast about nothing. By the way, when you claim to be good, systematically source your claims.

Examples of putting the sobriety chain into practice

Here are a few examples of how the sobriety chain can be applied. They will be progressively enriched.

Example Bonobo: Design of an in-store poster on the brand's environmental efforts

For some time now, the Bonobo clothing brand has been more and more regularly displaying its commitments, whether they be on its websiteIn this case, it's in our stores. In-store, this means displays, slogans, labelling that is supposed to demonstrate the efforts made... and very often theuse of militant graphic codes.

Photo taken in a Bonobo store

So let's (quickly) analyze this poster using our marketing sobriety chain. Here's the text content of the poster in question:

INSTINCT by Bonobo

What if we did more and more?

To have (even) MORE GREEN LEAVES

Today, the Instinct range represents one product out of two in our collections. It's easy to spot, just follow the little green leaf !

Designing fashion that's + SUSTAINABLE

Wherever possible, we use organic or recycled fibres. Our goal for 2027 : achieve 30% of recycled materials.

Preserve + WATER

We have already reduced by more than a third our water consumption. That's good, but it's only the beginning. Target 2025: 50% savings !

The slogan "Et si on en fait toujours plus?" alone is a missed opportunity! It would have been interesting to take the opposite approach and say "And what if we always did less?

But let's take our marketing sobriety chain one step at a time:

  • Promoting renunciation : Unsurprisingly, this isn't Bonobo's main focus for this poster. Nor is it a focus on the commitment page of their site.
  • Increase service life : Again, nothing on the poster. The main focus is on eco-design. Even in the title "Designing more sustainable fashion", there's no reference to product life.
  • Enhancing the function The first two points are not addressed, and neither is this one. At no point does the poster mention Bonobo's mission, which is above all to clothe people.
  • Resigning yourself to ownership : It's all we've got left 😉

On a positive note, the poster includes quantified objectives. And that's good, even if we would have liked to know where we were starting from in order to understand the margin for progress.

As you can see, in this poster, almost nothing is aligned with the chain of marketing sobriety. You might object that this is to be expected, since the aim is to explain the "Instinct" project and to make people understand what's different about this range. But it still means that sobriety is not one of Bonobo's core values. We could have had at least one signature element of the style: "Before any purchase, think about repair and second-hand!"

It's all the more of a shame that the Beaumanoir Group's commitments of which Bonobo is a part, have largely adopted the various stages of the sober marketing chain. It seems that rolling out this strategy to all the Group's brands, right down to the marketing and communications departments, is taking some time.

Boulanger example: UX redesign of a product page

See our article on the subject "Responsible UX copywriting: Example of a Boulanger product sheet".

How can I contribute?

Critiquing, questioning, testing, linking with theoretical and academic references are all ways of contributing to the emergence of tools that will enable us to do marketing better and do business better!

Don't hesitate to contact us by email or on LinkedIn :

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