Compiled by Lourdes Abeyeratne


Sharmila Bandara explains how responsible communication impacts longevity

Q: What does ‘responsible marketing’ entail – especially as regards the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) segment?
A: Today, consumers are increasingly aware of the social and environmental issues facing the world at large, and prefer brands and businesses that take a stand and act on these issues over those that don’t. This refers to organisations that will do more good for the planet, not merely less harm.

Responsible marketing encompasses the entire value chain of a business. The concept revolves around running a business in a way that positively impacts the community and environment in which it operates.

This entails decoupling growth from environmental impacts; being responsible in communications with the consumer base; implementing ethical business practices such as sourcing raw material responsibly; as well as respect, dignity, and fair treatment of employees and vendors to name a few.

Q: And what is the importance of offering brands with purpose?
A: Marketing the functionality of a brand to consumers doesn’t make a meaningful impact any longer. We must understand that consumers are evolving at a phenomenal rate and increasingly holding organisations to account.

So it is very important that marketers shape a brand’s purpose to make a meaningful difference to the lives of consumers and society. Sustainability should not be solely the responsibility of the CSR function anymore. Rather, the distinction that needs to be made is in how we do business – i.e. ingraining purpose into the ethos to address a wider cause for the country or community in which one operates.

Q: In your opinion, are the concepts of responsible marketing and brands with purpose prevalent in Sri Lanka?
A: Yes. For instance, in the wake of 4/21 several initiatives were launched encouraging Sri Lankans to be open to their fellow countrymen irrespective of social denomination.

Meanwhile, another campaign was launched to position the Sri Lankan smile as a unifying force that binds all communities.

These initiatives captured how we as Sri Lankans standing united can be a force for good; dissipating differences and bringing people together; and conveying a message of peace, reconciliation and healing to strengthen the bonds that unite us.

The response to such initiatives has been encouraging, which goes to show that brands spearheaded by a strong purpose resonate with consumers.

Q: Which factors must businesses focus on as part of their commitment to responsible communication practices?
A: The basic premise of responsible communications lies in the ability to speak to the consumer honestly. It is important to communicate points of differentiation; yet, there should not be a misinterpretation of facts or attempts to mislead customers. Ethics and fair competition should not be compromised in the quest to win market share.

Misleading communications and misrepresenting data that is advantageous to a company only propagates negativity across the value chain, through consumer fearmongering and scare tactics.

Today, everyone has access to large volumes of data as well as a voice on social media. Responsible communications hinge on brands conducting themselves responsibly and refraining from misleading consumers with false or misrepresented information.

In the prevailing social media landscape especially, organisations must be transparent, honest, truthful and agile in how they communicate with their consumers. This is particularly relevant in Sri Lanka where formal regulations aren’t in place to screen such communications. As such, industry self-governance becomes vital if we’re to progress.

Q: What is the role played by sustainability in this scenario?
A: Organisations with a focus on sustainability know that today’s consumers want them to take a stand and act on wider issues facing the world. Moreover, they display an increased affinity with brands that have a ‘greater purpose’ than those that simply fulfil functional needs.

While this is the right and moral thing to do, the business agenda also needs to make financial sense to shareholders.

By conducting operations responsibly, businesses are able to ‘future proof’ their supply chains from phenomena such as climate change and water scarcity among other issues.

And with this approach, organisations are able to establish trust with consumers, drive growth and generate savings that can be reinvested in the businesses. This contributes immensely to long-term value creation and business longevity.

The interviewee is the Marketing Director of Home Care, Food, Refreshment and Pureit at Unilever Sri Lanka