As consumers, it is important that the purchase decisions we make have a positive impact on the environment. In fact, according to a 2015 Nielsen report, 66% of consumers surveyed said they would pay more for sustainable goods. With two out of three consumers valuing brands and organisations that are sustainable, it’s time for businesses to make sustainability a mandatory consideration when planning their brand strategy.
This is not a new revelation; however, there is confusion around how brands can best represent their commitment to sustainability. In addition, if a brand is well established, making the necessary changes can be daunting.
To amplify sustainability through your brand, you need to first consider the following:
1. Are you committed to it?
2. Can you prove it?
3. How can you make your message believable?
In terms of commitment, your sustainability strategy must be embedded into your overall business strategy, not just your brand strategy. It should be part of your future investment strategy and weave through your company objectives. It needs to be embedded into your organisation’s culture – be part of your employee value proposition, have buy in from the team, which will in turn flow through to your consumers.
In terms of proof, you need to identify proof points that demonstrate your commitment to sustainability. Which elements of your product or service reflect your commitment? What are you doing to lessen the impact of your product or service on the environment?
When it comes time to communicate about your sustainability efforts through your brand and marketing channels, messages need to be clear and consistent, talk to consumers’ environmental concerns and deliver with integrity and authenticity.
As brand experts, we have seen many brands do sustainability well, and some that have failed. There is definitely a recipe for success when it comes to the brands that have succeeded in positively presenting their sustainability focus through their brand strategy, brand story and communications.
In terms of building sustainability into your brand and communicating this to the market, there are 5 key ingredients for success:
Consumers are savvy and cannot be fooled. Demands for transparency and authenticity by consumers mean companies need to be honest about the claims and promises they make. It’s no longer good enough to just talk the talk. A brand is a promise kept. You must prove to your customers, and to your employees, that you are working hard on keeping and living up to your brand promise.
A great example of a brand with integrity is IceBreaker. Not only do their products live up to their promise, they also commit to sustainable agriculture. They use merino wool from New Zealand and promise that the wool can be traced back to the farm it came from. They are dedicated to supporting the farmers and creating a sustainable business model, based on genuine trust and mutual concern for animal welfare and protection of the natural environment.
The quality of a product is usually judged on one thing - does it stand the test of time? Brands renowned for good quality products are also seen as sustainable and environmental purely because you only need to buy their product once in your lifetime – the product should outlast you and even be passed on to the next generation. In today’s throwaway society, this is not often the case and therefore brands that produce high quality products are highly valued by consumers.
An example, which you may have been lucky enough to inherit from your grandparent, is Le Creuset. Recognised around the world as the market-leading, premium quality range of cast iron cookware, Le Creuset was established in 1925. For almost 100 years, their brand promise has come with a lifetime warranty - and even though they have innovated over the years, their core brand promise of a quality, long-lasting and chef-preferred product has been upheld.
A lot of what is heard in the media about the state of the environment and the world is often doom and gloom. In terms of brands, focusing on the positive ways in which the brand or organisation is being sustainable or ethical is a much more palatable approach. We don’t want consumers to be guilted into not purchasing. We simply want to make them feel good about purchasing - and having a positive impact on the environment at the same time.
An example of a brand that promotes and celebrates positivity is TED. TED is a non-profit organisation dedicated to spreading ideas in a really easy-to-digest form of short talks (10-18 minutes). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. TED’s mission is to “spread ideas” by tapping into the knowledge and diverse opinions of passionate individuals. At their core, these ideas are usually all positive, which means the tone is set for the TED brand through every individual who presents a talk.
Many brands and organisations are dedicated to sustainability, however it is not their core focus, and so they don’t tend to talk much about it. It is important that consumers are aware of your efforts, so you need to make sure the good you are doing is visible and talked about by consumers. This can be achieved through sharing positive stories via your social media or blogs, publicly announcing new initiatives via PR channels, and asking employees to share stories.
Another way to increase visibility of your brand’s sustainability is through the products or services themselves. An example of this is Who Gives A Crap toilet paper. Not only is the product and packaging made from environmentally friendly materials, the company also donate 50% of their profits to help build toilets for those in need.
Sustainability issues can be complicated and often grey in terms of fact or fiction. Especially when it comes to scientific claims, brands can risk providing too much and too complex information for the consumer to take in. This can result in consumers switching off to the good that you are doing. The KIS (Keep It Simple) rule applies in your brand messaging when it comes to the positive impact you are making. Consumers need to understand it, trust it and want part of it.
Sukin is an Australian, all-natural skin care brand. Their promise - “what we leave out is what makes us special” - is the essence of a simple message. Their packaging is also kept simple, effectively communicating all the ‘nasties’ that they leave out.
If you google ‘best sustainable brands’ or ‘ethical and responsible companies’, you will no doubt find that Patagonia makes every list. Patagonia’s mission statement, “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” says it all. Sustainability and the environment is at the heart of everything they do. They tick all the boxes when it comes to these key ingredients of building a sustainable brand.
An increasing number of organisation leaders are finding ways to transform their brands through incorporating sustainability into their brand and overall organisational strategies. You don’t need to be saving the world as many of the examples we pointed out in this article show - even a toilet paper brand can make a difference.
Ultimately, no matter who your target market is, it is important to base your strategy on insights over instinct. A deep understanding of your consumers and what matters to them is at the heart of choosing how your brand will tackle sustainability. Brand research can help. And ultimately, to build a strong, credible and loved brand, your sustainability initiatives must align with your brand’s positioning and values.
To learn more about how to apply these principles to your brand, don’t hesitate to contact us.