People–planet–profits for a sustainable world: integrating the triple-P idea in the marketing strategy, implementation and evaluation of service firms

Bart Larivière (Faculty of Economics and Business (Leuven), KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium) (Center for Service Intelligence, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
Edith G. Smit (Amsterdam School of Communication Research, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Article publication date: 22 April 2022

Issue publication date: 8 July 2022

4213

Abstract

Purpose

Numerous requests to also take care of people (i.e. societal impact) and planet (i.e. environmental impact) in addition to making profits (i.e. economic impact) urge service firms to rethink their marketing. In this paper, the authors therefore develop an organizing framework that integrates the people–planet–profits – also referred to as the “Triple-P” – concept in the marketing strategy, implementation and evaluation of service firms.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper uses a conceptual approach that is rooted in the service marketing, marketing strategy and communication literature.

Findings

The foundations of marketing strategy (Palmatier and Crecelius, 2019) and the Gaps model of service marketing (Parasuraman et al., 1985) guide both academics and practitioners regarding (1) why the Triple-P idea should be part of a company's marketing strategy, (2) how people and planet could play an important role in the implementation stage by integrating the Triple-P concept in the service marketing mix and (3) what impact could be achieved and evaluated by closing the five gaps identified by the Gaps model, while fostering a people–planet–profits mindset.

Research limitations/implications

The authors also identify areas for future research on this important topic.

Practical implications

Transformative value (people and planet) without profits is not attractive to firms. Profit-making organizations are in the best position to transform the world in a societal and environmental rewarding way.

Social implications

The Triple-P affects the marketing strategy, implementation and evaluation of firms and contributes to a better, sustainable world.

Originality/value

Marketing evolves from traditional over service and digital to transformative. Therefore, it is crucial to embrace transformative challenges in combination with economic returns, resulting in a new sustainable service era for marketers and managers.

Keywords

Citation

Larivière, B. and Smit, E.G. (2022), "People–planet–profits for a sustainable world: integrating the triple-P idea in the marketing strategy, implementation and evaluation of service firms", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 33 No. 4/5, pp. 507-519. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOSM-01-2022-0033

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited


1. Introduction

We need to wake up, we need to wise up, we need to open our eyes […]

We're on a planet that has a problem.

We've got to solve it, get involved and do it now, now, now!

We need to build a better future and we need to start right now!

(Sing for the Climate Belgium–Final clip, YouTube November 29, 2012)

Since 2012, individuals from all over the world have come together to sing and quest for a better world (https://singfortheclimate.com/). Over the last decade, an increasing number of people have shared their concerns about environmental (i.e. planet) and/or societal (i.e. people) issues. The examples are numerous, such as the Black Lives Matter campaigns, #HateforProfits boycott of Facebook, data and privacy concerns, calls for being more inclusive in working environments and public life, introducing more woman's names in street names, LGTB pride parades, removing statues of dictators at public places, climate change protests and concerns about plastic waste. In this context, more and more companies realize that merely focusing on making profits is not enough anymore, since profits need to be made in the presence of taking care for both people and planet.

In a response to this challenge, the current paper proposes an organizing framework that puts “People–planet–profits” on the radar of service management thereby intertwining important concepts from different disciplines. Specifically, drawing on the strategic marketing foundations (Palmatier and Crecelius, 2019) and the Gaps model of service marketing (Parasuraman et al., 1985; Zeithaml et al., 2013), this paper integrates the people–planet–profits – also referred to as the “Triple-P” – concept in the marketing strategy, implementation and evaluation of service firms. In doing so, economic returns (i.e. profits) are complemented with transformative value (i.e. via people and planet), thereby aiming at a more sustainable and better world in which people, planet and profits are simultaneously aimed for.

The remainder of this article is organized as follows: first, we detail on the people–planet–profits concept, and how this Triple-P concept links to transformative service research. Next, we discuss how people–planet–profits can become part of a company's marketing strategy, thereby building on the core foundations of marketing (Palmatier and Crecelius, 2019). Next, we illustrate how people–planet–profits impacts the marketing implementation via the 7Ps of the marketing mix (product, place, price, promotion, people, process and physical evidence). Next, using the Gaps model of service marketing (Parasuraman et al., 1985) as a theoretical anchor, we discern five important tasks for companies that aim to excel in people–planet–profits by (1) closing the listening gap, (2) closing the service design gap, (3) closing the communication gap, (4) closing the performance gap and (5) closing the customer gap. Finally, we outline potential research avenues to further enhance the understanding and management of people–planet–profits for more sustainable service marketing.

2. Moving from traditional to transformative marketing with people–planet–profits

The quest for embracing people–planet–profits is stronger than ever before (Böcker and Meelen, 2017; Gelles and Yaffe-Bellany, 2019). Nevertheless, the people–planet–profits concept is not new. Already in 1994, John Elkington coined the term “triple bottom line” as a challenge for business leaders to rethink capitalism. It was supposed to offer a radical new way forward, as businesses learned to stop focusing solely on profits and expanded their focus to include improving the lives of people and the health of the planet (Elkington, 2018). In business, bottom line refers to profit or loss, which is usually recorded at the very bottom line of a statement of revenue and expenses in balance sheets. Hence, the triple bottom line refers to two more “bottom lines” that managers should consider: social and environmental concerns. As Elkington explains, “the triple bottom line is a sustainability framework that examines a company's social, environment and economic impact.” Hence, the 3Ps – people, planet, profits – respectively stand for societal, environmental and economic impact and are defined as follows (Kraaijenbrink, 2019):

People: the positive and negative impact an organization has on its most important stakeholders. These include employees, families, customers, suppliers, communities and any other person influencing or being affected by the organization.

Planet: the positive and negative impact an organization has on its natural environment. This includes reducing its carbon footprint, usage of natural resources, toxic materials and so on, but also the active removal of waste, reforestation and restoration of natural harm done.

Profit: the positive and negative impact an organization has on the local, national and international economy. This includes creating employment, generating innovation, paying taxes, wealth creation and any other economic impact an organization has.

About one decade ago, the academic literature introduced another but related term: transformative service research (TSR), which centers on “[…] creating uplifting changes and improvements in the well-being of both individuals and communities” (Ostrom et al., 2010, p. 9). Recently, TSR's attention also goes to reducing suffering – such as helping and serving refugees (Nasr and Fisk, 2019) – and service inclusion (e.g. Fisk et al., 2018). Specifically, the TSR movement does not typically focus on traditional outcome variables, like satisfaction or loyalty (Anderson and Ostrom, 2015), that culminate in company profits, but aims at the creation of transformative value for society at large (i.e. people) and the environment (i.e. planet). Despite its relevance and its popularity within the academic community, the concept of TSR did not yet become part of the business lexicon, and as a result, this concept has yet not been adopted by many companies. In contrast, we expect that the people–planet–profits concept is more likely to be embraced by business (e.g. Table 1, in which we illustrate that the company IKEA makes use of the people–planet–profits lexicon), since – unlike TSR – profits are explicitly mentioned in the Triple-P concept, and profits in conjunction with people and planet make it more attractive to companies than concepts such as TSR in which the profit element is less salient. Indeed, most companies want to make profits (such that they can pay their employees and their infrastructure, grow, satisfy investors, etc.), and even nonprofit organizations aim to make enough money to be financially break-even. This reasoning reconciles with the “Ikigai” principle (Eatough, 2021) and the “shared value” concept (Porter, 2013). Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means your “reason for being”, in which “Iki” in Japanese means life and “gai” describes value or worth. Ikigai is the product of four qualities that are each required to obtain the status of Ikigai: (1) do what you love, (2) do what you are good at, (3) do what you can be paid for and (4) do what the world needs (Eatough, 2021). The concept of “shared value” is introduced by the renowned business strategist Michael Porter. In his TED Talk, Porter (2013) argues that counter-intuitively, profit-making companies are in a better position than nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to solve massive problems such as climate change. Specifically, he argues that when profit-making companies solve a problem – and in doing so meet customers' needs and wants – they make profits, which lets that solution grow. Therefore, Porter (2013) calls for a new business mindset of gaining profits while solving social problems, thereby aiming at both transformative and economic value – or shared value – at the same time.

In 2019, about 200 chief executives, including leaders of companies such as Apple, Pepsi and Walmart, came together to discuss and redefine the role of business in society and reflect upon how companies are perceived by an increasingly skeptical public (Gelles and Yaffe-Bellany, 2019). During these roundtable discussions, the company executives focused on “the purpose of a corporation,” and they concluded that companies should no longer advance only the interests of shareholders (i.e. profits), but should also invest in their employees, protect the environment and deal fairly and ethically with their suppliers (i.e. people and planet). Moreover, creating value for people and the planet while maintaining a healthy profit is also essential in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals that have been identified by the United Nations (UN) (United Nations, 2015). Specifically, the UN urge individuals and organizations to address 17 Sustainable Development Goals (https://sdgs.un.org/goals): #1 no poverty, #2 zero hunger, #3 good health and well-being, #4 quality education, #5 gender equality, #6 clean water and sanitation, #7 affordable and clean energy, #8 decent work and economic growth, #9 industry, innovation and infrastructure, #10 reduced inequalities, #11 sustainable cities and communities, #12 responsible consumption and production, #13 climate action, #14 life below water, #15 life on land, #16 peace, justice and strong institutions and #17 partnerships for the goals. As these UN goals reveal, not only people (e.g. #3, #5, #16) and planet (e.g. #6, #7, #13) goals are put forward but also economic goals that link to profits are part of the UN Sustainability Development Goals, such as economic growth (#8) and promoting industrialization and fostering innovation (#9). Interestingly, the UN also recommends companies and organizations to collaborate (#17) in achieving the other goals.

Finally, the RRBM (Responsible Research in Business and Management) movement – which was founded in 2017 – urges academics to engage in “responsible science” in line with these UN goals, thereby stimulating science for a better business and a better world (RRBM, 2017).

In sum, the Triple-P is gaining attention in academia (e.g. RRBM), business (e.g. Gelles and Yaffe-Bellany, 2019) and governmental organizations (e.g. UN), making it a relevant concept to gain further insight into.

3. Framework that puts people–planet–profits on the radar of service management

The importance of the people–planet–profits idea urges companies to reflect upon their marketing strategy, marketing implementation and marketing evaluation in accordance with the Triple-P idea. In Figure 1, we depict our organizing framework that puts people–planet–profits on the radar of service management. Specifically, this framework consists of three building blocks. The first building block is labeled “Marketing Strategy for a Sustainable World” and builds on the four foundational principles of marketing strategy (Palmatier and Crecelius, 2019) to explain why the people–planet–profits should be embraced in a company's strategic ambitions. The second building block is labeled “Marketing Implementation for a Sustainable World” and details on how the 7Ps of the marketing mix can get a people–planet–profit make-over. The third building block is labeled “Marketing Evaluation in a Sustainable World” and draws on the Gaps model of service marketing (Parasuraman et al., 1985) to assess the impact of the Triple-P model and guarantee a successful implementation.

4. Building block 1: embrace people–planet–profits as part of the marketing strategy

Marketing strategy is the process of identifying specific marketing goals. Hence, adopting a people–planet–profits mindset when formulating such a marketing strategy necessitates to simultaneously embrace these societal, environmental and economic goals when the company's ambitions are being identified and communicated. Many companies are successful in this endeavor. For illustrative purposes, Panel I of Table 1 provides insight into the marketing strategy of IKEA.

As is clear from Table 1, the marketing strategy of IKEA provides a nice illustration of a successful combination of planet (cf. Ambition 1: “within the boundaries of the planet”), people (cf. Ambition 3: “fair and equal social impact for everyone”) and profit (cf. Ambition 2: “while growing the IKEA business”) goals – which are three goals that are aimed for in combination (cf. “while”). Interestingly, these goals are not only identified they are also communicated to the customers and outside world.

As depicted in Figure 1, marketing strategy is based on four foundational principles (Palmatier and Crecelius, 2019). In this paper, we contend that (1) all these principles resonate with the opportunity to embrace a people–planet–profits mindset in the marketing strategy, although (2) the third foundation (i.e. consider your competitors) needs to be complemented with an additional “collaborative” instead of a competitive mindset.

Manage customer heterogeneity and customer dynamics with a people–planet–profits touch. “All customers differ”, and “all customers change” are two of the four marketing strategy foundations identified by Palmatier and Crecelius (2019). A careful reflection about the extent to which customers care about people and/or planet when developing a marketing strategy is therefore crucial. Indeed, considering the 17 aforementioned Sustainable Development Goals of the UN, some of these goals might be more salient to some (groups of) customers than other goals. For instance, for furniture stores, such as IKEA, (some) customers may experience the need and desire that the company also takes care of the environment via responsible consumption and production (UN goal #12) in combination with better managing forests (as part of UN goal #15), while other customer segments might attach more importance to societal challenges, such as gender equality or inclusiveness (UN goal #5 and #10). In this regard, it is equally important to understand the dynamics linked to customer heterogeneity: what individuals expect from companies regarding people and planet is likely to change over time (= customer dynamics), in which we observe a general trend that individuals increasingly expect companies to do a better job in integrating people and planet aspects in their business strategies.

Manage sustainable competitive advantage with a people–planet–profits touch. “All competitors react” is the third foundation identified by Palmatier and Crecelius (2019). This principle becomes highly relevant, as also a company's competitors may be aware of the first two principles, and act accordingly. Hence, it is important to firms to make their own branding (Keller and Swaminathan, 2020), which links to both identification (i.e. what is this company standing for in terms of people–planet–profits) and differentiation (i.e. and how is this identification different from competitors). Seeing all other companies as a potential competitor (i.e. threat instead of opportunity) follows a traditional marketing perspective. When pursuing people–planet–profits ambitions, however, adopting a service marketing perspective in this regard is also viable. Adopting such a “collaboration is the new competition” mindset results in considering other institutions as potential collaborators, which is also in line with the last goal of the UN Sustainability Goals (#17: partnership). In the service marketing literature, Tax et al. (2013, p. 454) introduced the concept of the service delivery network (SDN) and defined it as “two or more organizations that, in the eyes of the customer, are responsible for the provision of a connected overall service experience”. In this regard, when a company joins forces with another company (e.g. when a retailer collaborates with a transport company that delivers its goods at the homes of their customers), it is crucial that not only the profit aspects but equally the people and planet aspects are discussed and respected by all involved collaborators, such that in the eyes of the customer, the entire service experience is people and planet proof according to her/his customer needs.

Manage resource trade-offs with a people–planet–profits touch. “All resources are limited” is the last foundation identified by Palmatier and Crecelius (2019). Deciding what not to do and deciding what to do first (i.e. prioritizing) are also relevant in terms of people–planet–profits. In this regard, marketing research seems needed to decide how to make the best use of available resources such as people, materials and financial means to accomplish a compelling people–planet–profits result. In addition, it is important to decide on what tasks to do in-house versus outsourcing by partnering with other companies that may have other and complementary knowhow and resources.

5. Building block 2: embrace people–planet–profits as part of the marketing implementation

In the eighties, when the Gaps model (See Section 6 below) was proposed (Parasuraman et al., 1985) customer interactions with companies were characterized by traditional service encounters that represented a “dyadic interaction between a customer and a service provider” (Surprenant and Solomon, 1987, p. 87). Hence, the focus was on “dyadic, human and role-driven” interactions between customers and employees (Solomon et al., 1985) – i.e. yet without the infusion of technologies – and the goal was to achieve service excellence as being perceived by the customers (Bitner et al., 2010). The service encounter has much changed ever since.

In 2017, Larivière et al., coined the term “Service Encounter 2.0,” thereby referring to the rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) and corresponding novel digital technologies and devices, such as smartphones, advanced robotics, intelligent agents and the Internet of Things (IoT). This digital service encounter context has fundamentally altered the interplay between customers and organizations such that the concept of service encounter needed an update to match this digital realism.

Today, a transformative realism – that comprised both societal (i.e. people) and environmental (i.e. planet) challenges in combination with being profitable – further impacts the service encounter and the way in which customers prefer to interact with service providers. Hence, the service encounter enters a third era – which could be labeled “Service Encounter 3.0” – in which the customer will interact with the companies' products/services, employees, technologies and its SDN, and all these points of interaction should be made people–planet–profits proof.

In Panel II of Table 1, we use the company IKEA to illustrate how people–planet–profits can impact the service encounter via the marketing implementation of the 7Ps of the marketing mix: product, place, price, promotion, people, process and physical evidence. Marketing tactics are needed to achieve strategic goals. The 7Ps of the service marketing mix (Zeithaml et al., 2013), thereby serve as an ideal toolbox for such a successful marketing implementation. As is clear from Table 1, all these Ps of the marketing mix can be affected by people–planet–profits. Hence, a people and planet touch becomes integral part of the company's marketing mix in complement to more conventional marketing mix actions directed at making profits. People and planet goals are not merely mentioned on the company's website as part of their overall strategy (Panel I of Table 1), and they are also omnipresent in the entire service encounter, as being exemplified by means of the 7 Ps of the service marketing mix (Panel II of Table 1).

6. Building block 3: embrace people–planet–profits as part of the marketing evaluation – a Gaps model perspective

In this paper, we draw on the Gaps model of service marketing (Parasuraman et al., 1985) to assess and to guarantee a successful people–planet–profits implementation, i.e. the implementation is successful when all the gaps are closed. The Gaps model was originally introduced as the conceptual model of “Service Quality” (Parasuraman et al., 1985) and identified five gaps that needed to be closed (i.e. avoided) to achieve satisfactory service quality experiences. Four of these gaps refer to “provider gaps”, and one gap refers to the “customer gap” (Parasuraman et al., 1985; Zeithaml et al., 2013; Bitner et al., 2010):

Provider gap 1: Closing the listening gap. It is crucial to listen carefully to your customers such that there is no gap between the customers' expectations of the service and the company's understanding of those expectations. Especially transformative values, such as sustainability, are based in a complex pattern of social norms and personal motivations that are difficult to act upon (Meijers et al., 2019).

Provider gap 2: Closing the service design gap. Once a company understands what the customer expects, the company must translate these expectations into actual service designs and develop standards to measure service operations against customer expectations.

Provider gap 3: Closing the performance gap. The company needs to deliver the service in the way the service was designed.

Provider gap 4: Closing the communication gap. Even when a company has done everything suggested by the other three gaps to ensure service quality, there can still be a failure to meet customer expectations if communications about the service do not match with what is delivered. One of the greatest risks here is loss of credibility when communication is perceived as “green washing” by for instance using false claims or references to nature (Schmuck et al., 2018; Wonneberger et al., 2020).

Customer Gap 5: Closing the customer gap. The customer gap represents the difference between customer expectations and perceptions of service performance and is dependent on the former four provider gaps.

The seminal paper on the Gaps Model of Service Quality, published in the Journal of Marketing, is cited more than 38,000 times (Google Scholar, January 2022), and the Gaps model also served as the foundation and structure of the popular service marketing textbook “Services marketing: Integrating customer focus across the firm” by Zeithaml et al. (2013) that received about 24,000 citations (Google Scholar). The Gaps models thank its popularity to its relevance and applicability, even when service encounters change. Indeed, in 2010, Bitner et al. (2010) reassessed the suitability of the Gaps model in the new era of digital technologies, such as self-service technologies (like ATM and self-scans), and concluded that the five gaps were still very viable and applicable.

Echoing the work of Bitner et al. (2010), we contend that closing the five gaps is still viable and applicable to companies that want to embrace the Triple-P mindset, and in order to be successful in this implementation, closing the five gaps is still highly relevant. Panel III of Table 1 continues with the IKEA example and demonstrates how the company closes the five gaps while taking a people–planet–profits mindset.

Specifically, a successful marketing implementation of people–planet–profits can be achieved when the five gaps are closed:

The listening gap is closed: Ideas are co-created on how to simultaneously foster societal (people), environmental (planet) and economic (profits) impact. Just like aiming for service excellence and technology infusion in service encounters, the first gap that needs to be closed is to avoid listening to the customers and not being aware of what they expect from your company in order to become more sustainably linked to people and planet, on top of profits. In order to avoid this gap, it is crucial to reach out to your customers, observe and listen very carefully what is currently going on in the world. In “Better Together: Involving Consumers in the Ideation, Creation and Dissemination of Transformative Value”, Bilstein et al. (2022) describe how customers can be and should be part of the ideation, creation and dissemination of transformative value by taking care of the voice of the nonconsumer, helping the vulnerable consumer, paying attention to literacy and discussing the role of word-of-mouth.

The service design gap is closed: Expectations about societal, environmental and economic impact are understood and set. The company needs to develop standards to measure service operations against customer expectations linked to people, planet and profits. The 7Ps of the marketing mix provide an ideal toolbox. Companies need to make sure that the design of these Ps with a transformational touch is in line with what the customers expect from the company. Tsiotsou and Diehl (2022) provide the TVCSC framework in delineating “Transformative Value Creation through Service Communications” to explain how companies set their transformative corporate agendas and use different means to communicate these, for instance, social media, to promote sustainable behavior (Koinig and Diehl, 2021).

The performance gap is closed: Metrics to monitor the return on societal, environmental and economic investments are introduced and monitored. Companies use metrics to monitor service quality, overall customer satisfaction and customer centricity via metrics, such as NPS (net promoter score). Additional metrics seems needed to capture and monitor people, planet, profit success, as well as multiple, including newer methodologies to capture these metrics (e.g. Larivière and Kandampully, 2019). The paper “Environmental, Social and Governance Metrics Don't Serve Services Customers” by Rosengren et al. (2022) gives examples of metrics that do and do not capture the success of people–planet–profits.

The communication gap is closed: Firms (re)positioned and (re)branded the societal, environmental and economic impact for various actors. Most companies are already in business and have communicated before about their value proposition via their branding strategy. When companies want to enter the people–planet–Profit era, it is crucial that their communication about this rebranding or repositioning is correct, and not just a false, meaningless promotion. Leroi-Werelds and Matthes (2022) nicely describe the pitfalls of (re)positioning service brands in their paper “Transformative Value Positioning for Service Brands.”

The Customer gap is closed: Potential misalignment linked to societal, environmental and economic impact are managed. Building on the expectation–confirmation theory (Oliver, 1977, 1980), customers will assess their service encounter, and in doing so, they will also evaluate the firm's success regarding people, planet and profits. Especially in case of misalignment and dissatisfaction (i.e. when the expectations are not met), companies need to use the appropriate (service) failure strategies.

7. Putting people–planet–profits on the radar of researchers: some research avenues

The people–planet–profits framework proposed in this paper guides both academics and practitioners regarding (1) why the Triple-P idea should be part of a company's marketing strategy (box of Figure 1), (2) how people and planet could play an important role in the implementation stage by integrating the Triple-P concept in the service marketing mix (box 2 of Figure 1) and (3) what impact could be achieved and evaluated by closing the five gaps identified by the Gaps Model, while fostering a people–planet–profits mindset (box 3 of Figure 1). Going beyond digital and service marketing to transformative value creation (people and planet), in combination with profits, the framework motivates future research to contribute to a better, sustainable world. Table 2 suggests 12 exemplar questions that can guide future research.

The ten questions in Table 2 address the challenge of closing the five gaps which were central in the theme of this section of the special issue. Research to close the listening gap (Q1 and Q2) aims at involving voices of different stakeholder groups that may not only vary in different levels of saliency but might also be those voices that are not easily heard or the voices that dominate the discourse. Future research will face the challenge of balancing those different voices, for instance when opinions on sustainability differ greatly on social media (Wonneberger et al., 2020). The redesign of existing services in order to address all aspects of the people–planet–profits triangle urges companies to rethink current practices. Research such as scenario studies might guide those changes (see for example, Q3 and Q4).

Future research into performance (Q5 and Q6) should focus on new metrics in order to monitor the success of people–planet–profits. The contribution by Rosengren et al. (2022) gives a nice illustration of how these metrics might serve companies in closing the performance gap. Closing the communication gap needs questions such as Q7, Q8, Q9 and Q10 to test different ways of communicating about changes with different internal and external stakeholder groups. Finally, future research into closing the customer gap should focus on misalignment to avoid unrealistic claims that may backfire (Q11 and Q12) (Ischen et al., 2022; Schmuck et al., 2018).

Figures

Organizing framework to put people–planet–profits on the radar of service management

Figure 1

Organizing framework to put people–planet–profits on the radar of service management

Marketing strategy, implementation and evaluation with people–planet–profits: The IKEA case

Panel I: Marketing strategy goals compliant with people–planet–profits at IKEA
Marketing strategy ambitions
Ambition 1Healthy and sustainable living = inspire and enable more than 1 billion people to live a better everyday life within the boundaries of the planet
Ambition 2Circular and climate positive = become climate positive and regenerate resources while growing the IKEA business
Ambition 3Fair and equal = create a positive social impact for everyone across the IKEA value chain 
Panel II: Marketing implementation at IKEA: The 7Ps of the marketing mix get a transformative touch (i.e. people and/or planet)
Marketing implementation examples
ProductFor instance, the new Flodalen towels that are produced with a new technique that consumes less water and energy and the Huvudroll plant balls that are sold at the IKEA restaurants, as meat-free alternative with only 4% of the climate footprint compared to the traditional meatballs
PlaceFor instance, IKEA's policy to buy back old IKEA furniture, to give it a new life, and resell it with other second-hand IKEA furniture to customers in their “Circular Hubs” at their IKEA stores
PriceFor instance, IKEA aims to pay fair prices to all its suppliers in the value chain and has the ambition to sell affordable, but high-quality good to its customers all over the world
PromotionFor instance, in a magazine advertisement two men walking hand-in-hand are pictured (in contrast to a more traditional father-mother-kids family picture) and invited to shop at IKEA (thereby making clear that IKEA explicitly welcomes LGTB+)
PeopleFor instance, IKEA has a “social impact and human rights” manager, and the company wants to ensure that every worker at IKEA suppliers has access to decent employment with a fair income. In their IKEA store in India, for instance, the company made efforts to attract more female colleagues, especially since in this country women are less motivated by their families to work
ProcessFor instance, IKEA uses renewable energy in production and transport
Physical evidenceFor instance, new products in the store are sold and promoted via different signaling, thereby making clear to the customer that IKEA is both planet and people friendly. An example is the rectangular shaped Tiphede carpet that is promoted as being “not round-shaped, but circular” thereby referring to a circular economy (i.e. this carpet is produced with a circular approach in which only 100% recycled cotton is used)
Panel III: Marketing evaluation at IKEA: The five gaps are closed at IKEA
Marketing evaluation examples
Listening gap is closedFor instance, together with small scale farmers around in northern India, IKEA sources ideas from locals on how to reduce rice crop burning and translate waste into resources (i.e. baskets made from rice crop waste) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKcEfUGCePA&feature=youtu.be)
Service design gap is closedFor instance, by 2030 IKEA has the ambition to only use renewable (such as polylactic acid which is made from renewable sources like corn, sugar, beet and sugar cane) or recycled materials in their products that they want to sell to their customers (https://about.ikea.com/en/sustainability/becoming-climate-positive/what-is-climate-positive)
Performance gap is closedFor instance, more and more IKEA retailers have already succeeded in operating with 100% renewable electricity. In the meantime, IKEA's annual revenue (i.e. the IKEA group worldwide) has seen constant growth over the past two decades and evolved from 10.4 (in 2001) to 41.9 (in 2021) billion euros (Statista, 2022), thereby indicating that customers continue buying at IKEA
Communication gap is closedFor instance, on their website and in the IKEA sustainability report, the company clearly communicates to the broader audience that the company wants to excel in taking care of people and planet, while being profitable
Customer gap is closedFor instance, when some customers accused IKEA of greenwashing practices, the chief executive officer of IKEA, Jesper Brodin had to respond and reassure the customers (https://www.jumpstartmag.com/top-5-greenwashing-scandals-of-the-past-decade/) of IKEA’s good intentions

Source(s): IKEA's Sustainability Strategy Report (that is 19 pages long and freely available from: https://about.ikea.com/en/sustainability)

Future research questions linked to closing the gaps

GapsExemplar research avenues linked to closing the gaps
Closing the listening gap1. How to involve the voice of the customer and other stakeholders (e.g. investors, employees) in determining people–planet–profits goals?
2. How to gain best insight into which people–planet–profit goals are more versus less salient to different customer segments and other stakeholders?
Closing the service design gap3. How to redesign the “service concept” of the company and make it people–planet–profits compatible?
4. What is the impact of changing the service design following a people–planet–profits mindset on the way the product/service is delivered?
Closing the performance gap5. How to make sure that taking care for societal (people) and environment (planet) challenges can translate into (more) profits?
6. What metrics should be used and monitor assess societal (people) and environment (planet) success?
Closing the communicationgap7. What is the best way to communicate to customers that a people–planet–profits mindset is the “new normal” of a company's business objectives?
8. To what extent is a (new) purpose-driven identity aligned with the image customers hold towards the company?
9. What steps need to be taken to align identity and image?
10. What and how to communicate to other stakeholder (e.g. investors, nonconsumers) about the company's people–planet–profits strategy?
Closing the customer gap11. How to deal with failures to properly address societal (people) and environment (planet) challenges as being expected by customers?
 12. How to handle misalignment between what customers experience versus what the company pretends to accomplish with regard to societal (people) and environment (planet) challenges?

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments, and Prof. Sertan Kabadayi and Prof. Katrien Verleye for their insightful feedback on an earlier draft of this manuscript.

Corresponding author

Bart Larivière can be contacted at: bart.lariviere@kuleuven.be

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