STTC importer survey reinforces need for coordinated marketing

Photo Mariska Massop

The STTC Conference saw the main findings released from its European importers survey, looking at their experience of tropical timber promotion and views on market prospects and development.

The survey was commissioned from forest sustainability analysts and advisors Probos by STTC and IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative. It targeted key importers in Europe’s seven leading tropical timber consuming countries and, at the time of the Conference, 33 responses had been received in total from the UK, Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Italy.

Respondents were asked whether they expected tropical timber sales to increase, fall or remain stable. Only in the case of the Netherlands did a greater number anticipate an increase than a decrease. At the same time, the majority expected the share of the tropical timber market taken by certified sustainable material to rise.

The survey questioned importers on what they felt was needed in their country to promote sustainable tropical timber and what tools were used. They were asked how much support there was from trade federations and what level of knowledge or use there was of FSC and PEFC communications, the website as an information hub, tropical timber life cycle analysis, specification guides and other promotional material and resources, such as the Fair&Precious branding campaign.

Respondents felt there was market momentum for greater use of timber. “However, they had limited awareness of marketing campaigns and tools, what tools they did know they felt had limited impact and generally their own communication was ‘passive’ to non-existent,” said Mark van Benthem of Probos.

The key requirements from marketing, according to respondents, were generation of greater demand for tropical timber, which, according to importers in many countries, meant that end-consumers needed to be targeted. Establishing greater trust in tropical timber and certification schemes was also deemed crucial. To succeed, marketing also needed to be backed by greater and more consistent supply of verified sustainable material.

Initial conclusions from the feedback included that a more coordinated, less fragmented approach is needed in marketing, while at the same time, it had to be tailored to the requirements of each country. Companies also looked to their trade federations as marketing and communications hubs, so their investment and involvement was also important.

Respondents additionally raised the importance of verified sustainable tropical timber being price competitive and said price differentials between certified and uncertified should be tackled.

“But feedback was also that the onus is on the trade to take responsibility and insist that wood must come from sustainably managed forest,” said Mr van Benthem.

Mr van Benthem had also earlier directed some of the key questions on sustainable tropical timber marketing to the audience at the UK Timber Trade Federation’s Tropical Timber Forum in London. Comprising principally importers, delegates at the October event said in their experience the preferred term was timber ‘sourced from well-managed forests’ rather than sustainable. They also commented that lack of specification by customers meant the amount of timber they sourced as certified sustainable exceeded the amount they sold.

The consensus was that more and more collective trade-wide promotion of verified sustainable tropical timber was needed. Government and architects especially needed to be persuaded to specify it and the latter needed more timber training, said delegates.
Marketing lessons could also be learned from other sectors, including retail.

“Look at the example of the gin market,” said one importer. “Not long ago, it was an outdated, fringe product for the old-fashioned drinker. Now it’s the must-have, on-trend spirit for the young, fashion-conscious consumer. It shows what can be achieved with smart, inventive, targeted marketing and communication.”

Another STTC presentation gave a prime example of industry successfully working together in sustainable tropical timber marketing; a precompetitive collaboration in the Netherlands to promote wood from responsible managed forests use in civil engineering.