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The sustainable marketer: what will post-growth marketing jobs look like?

By Giorgio DeMarco, Lead Design Strategist

EPAM Continuum


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February 20, 2023 | 8 min read

Ever come across a symbiosis marketing manager or ethical signaling manager? No – because they don’t exist. Yet. Here, Giorgio DeMarco of EPAM envisages a marketing ecosystem rebuilt for a post-growth society.

A person in a visor in a futuristic, lens-flare-y, environment

What jobs can we expect to see if the world transitions to a post-growth mindset? / Drew Dizzy Graham via Unsplash

Marketing departments have always had very clear goals: increase awareness of a brand’s products and services, and drive sales. The specific method is up to the marketer’s intellectual (and, sometimes, moral) judgment – but will always involve generating emotional responses in the consumer and presenting them with opportunities to express and curate their identities.

On a planet of eight billion people and counting, it is no longer possible for brands to ignore the detrimental impact of consumption on the environment. They have a huge responsibility to act, as we all do, in turning back the doomsday clock.

Are marketers beyond the problem-solving phase?

Or, to look at the issue from a very different angle, are brands equipped to deal with the aftermath of the environmental crisis?

Unfortunately, the answers are yes and no. Most brands are moving too slowly on the issue. Marketing is increasingly focused on transparency, accountability and measurable results, and companies have started providing detailed information about their sustainability practices and their impact on the environment. But it’s clearly not enough to deal with the irreversible damage we’ve done to the environment.

But is there even a way for businesses to generate income without increasing consumption? And if there is, what would the role of marketing be within this system?

Meet the ‘symbiosis marketing manager’

Customers need transparency and clear information on sustainable practices. Marketing traditionally focuses on the final part of the value chain: what the customer wants. That means ignoring other opportunities.

But because companies operate within a wider ecosystem, made up of internal stakeholders, suppliers and customers (not to mention other firms, governments and non-governmental organizations), marketers may instead be able to identify assets across the chain beyond what is being sold to customers: opportunities to turn anything the company makes but does not currently sell into a product, creating new, more environmentally sustainable business models.

Brands must start collaborating with other companies and public entities for mutual benefit, exchanging and reusing resources (including energy, water and waste materials). This urban/industrial symbiosis can improve economic performance and reduce environmental impact, and it would require a new marketing figure: the symbiosis marketing manager (SMM). Expert in the circular economy, an SMM plans and manages a company’s resource overload and production by-product marketing strategy. They manage the relationships with all the actors in the ecosystem and understand their needs to increase sales of otherwise discarded resources.

What should marketers who still want to focus on final customers do instead?

The idea of de-growth, mainly limited to activists in the past, is now spreading to a much broader category of consumers. Brands need help adapting. Understandably so, considering that they must generate profits for their investors (in the current economic structure, at least).

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Wouldn’t it make sense for brands to start catering to this ever-growing mix of customers?

Some retailers, for example, have started using circular marketing, where products and services are marketed in a way that encourages reuse, repair, refurbishment, recycling and added value to pre-owned products. For example, Patagonia, a clothing brand, committed to sustainable practices and programs, launched the collection ‘Recrafted,’ where customers can find unique pieces created by putting together repurposed materials from second-hand Patagonia garments.

Brands with no perception of this new post-growth era we are entering risk missing out on profitable market and employment opportunities, and perhaps, more crucially, recent stories that resonate with consumers who are increasingly demanding products that are environmentally friendly and socially responsible.

Marketing products only won’t be enough

Here’s another job role for post-growth brands: ethical signaling manager.

Everything depends on what we attribute value to as a society. People have already started caring less about what they buy or own, and more about what they experience. Products are no longer the only symbols communicating status; the attention has shifted to opinions and actions.

Repairing a smartphone might become more meaningful than owning a brand-new model, by generating more social value and respect. In the future, we might need ethical signaling managers, responsible for identifying the most helpful and socially beneficial actions, seeing how they relate to the products and services their brand is selling and being accountable for their integration into the offering.

It’s time to rethink marketing teams from the ground up

We’ll leave the arduous verdict about Earth’s future to science. However, companies can still do something to try to turn back the doomsday clock as much as possible (while earning the loyalty of more customers in the process).

To do this, they need to rethink their marketing teams from the ground up, identifying new ecosystemic and synergetic opportunities while trying to figure out how and where new roles such as the symbiosis marketing manager and the ethical signaling manager would fit in. These are functions that would help increase a brand’s positive impact on society, the environment and investors.

Circular Economy The Future of Work Agencies

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Our diverse, integrated consulting teams apply a Systems Thinking mindset to get to the heart of our clients’ increasingly complex business challenges.


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