Some companies focus on low prices as a marketing technique; others focus on customer service. A few businesses provide insight into the company’s practices and philosophies.
By taking a page from food distributors, Timberland is taking a new approach to marketing its retail products. Starting this fall, the outdoor clothing retailer will provide a “nutritional label” for all its shoes.
The label has three sections: The manufactured section provides the name and location of the factory; the environmental impact section reports how much energy is needed to produce the item; and the community impact section provides information about the factory, including whether the company was assessed for Timberland’s conduct requirements or whether child labor was involved. Timberland also details community volunteer hours by its employees.
“Just as consumers read nutrition labels to learn more about what goes into the food they purchase, we think there’s an opportunity to educate consumers about what goes into the other products they buy – and about the company that manufactures those products,” Timberland spokeswoman Kate King said. “It is important to us to communicate openly about our business practices and the impact they have on our environment and our communities.”
King said Timberland monitors human rights standards at its factories.
“Timberland monitors global human rights standards through our Code of Conduct to ensure our product is made in workplaces that are fair, safe and nondiscriminatory,” King said. “We audit all our vendors, tanneries and major suppliers annually. Our Code of Conduct requires all employment to be voluntary, prohibits child labor and sets standards for freedom of association, labor hours, compensation, workplace conditions and health and safety.”
The company hopes that other retailers will follow its example, King said. The labels are just one way to inform consumers about Timberland’s policies.
“We hope our use of more environmentally friendly packaging and open, transparent communications about our business practices might encourage and inspire other brands to consider how they operate – and communicate about – their own business, and how to make it better,” she said.
Lex Higgins, marketing professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, said he thinks other companies will introduce their own version of the labels.
“I think companies, such as REI and other retailers who focus on Generation X as a source of their dollars, will definitely be interested in this approach,” he said. “The target market is a little more aware, a little more concerned about the broad field of globalization and the environment. Timberland might be a little ahead of its competition with this approach.”
Higgins said the new marketing techniques, particularly the labels showing the factory’s safety standards, will catch on with Timberland’s target market.
“Timberland isn’t marketing to the average consumer; they aren’t marketing to Wal-Mart shoppers,” he said. “Instead, they are pretty in touch with their target market, loosely defined as upper middle class professionals in their 20s and 30s. They’ve realized that their target market is concerned with these issues.”
Appealing to a specific segment is one way to compete with general retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Higgins said. As competition for consumer dollars grow, businesses must jealously guard their market.
“Niche marketing is just a way to maintain a sharper focus,” he said. “They’re guarding their territory. This approach is going to appeal to their market in a new way – it will reach people who are informed and aware. It definitely makes sense to me.”
In addition to the nutritional labels, Timberland also is boxing their products differently; using 100 percent recycled post-consumer waste fiber. The boxes use no chemical glues, and only soy-based inks, King said. A message on the inside of the box asks, “What kind of footprint will you leave?”
“Our goal is to reduce our impact on the environment while engaging consumers to take action,” said Jeffrey Swartz, president and chief executive officer. “This packaging and labeling initiative should make our industry more transparent and give consumers the information they need to make smart buying decisions.”
The marketing initiative also encourages buyers to take action. The shoeboxes contain a reusable waste bag to take on the trail. Children’s footwear includes information about birds and animals in the woods.
“Consumers can also reuse and fill footwear boxes with donations, such as canned goods, first aid items or clothing and send them to nonprofit organizations,” King said. “Links on timberland.com will help consumers find local or national groups.”
Generation X, in particular, will respond to the marketing techniques, Higgins said. As more consumers in their 30s become interested in a business’s global policies, they will turn to companies like Timberland for their products, he said.
“Generation X is at their peak earning capacity,” he said. “And retailers are thinking that baby boomers will stop spending as much as they age. So, they are looking to the Gen Xers and what they are interested in. This approach will definitely resonate with a certain segment.”