Creating a Sustainable Brand

By Henk Campher, Managing Director, Sustainability at Edelman

Creating a Sustainable Brand

We’ve come a long way down this sustainability journey. We’ve moved from making ourselves feel good through our actions to finding ways to benefit society and help the business bottom line. No longer do we just pay farmers a better price help them increase yields but we get the return through a steady supply of quality inputs. No longer do we simply cut carbon and energy but we cut the pennies off the energy bill. We don’t just stop wasting water, we stop the expenditure flow and secure a more sustainable water supply. Every good act had a societal benefit and a positive business impact on the business bottom line.

But has all “doing less harm” hasn’t really helped us embed sustainability into the heart and soul of businesses yet. Companies thrive and die by the business top line. And you don’t grow a business by cutting cost or spark growth by only looking at the business bottom-line. And that’s the holy grail of sustainability – going beyond cutting costs and helping the company grow and make more money.

How do companies make more money? Very simple – by selling more stuff. So from a growth perspective, we want to focus on those who can help companies make money – the consumer. Yes, investors will invest and give money to companies but only insofar as they believe that the company will make money through growth. Investors don’t stimulate growth; only increased consumption of the company’s products or services creates growth. So what we really need to focus on is the consumer in order to bring sustainability to the business topline.

So why aren’t they? Almost every consumer study shows the consistent changes in consumer behavior when it comes to sustainability. The SustainAbility, Globescan and BBMG study shows that we now have more than 2 billion aspirational consumers that combine style, status and sustainability. That is over two thirds of the global consumer population.

Edelman’s brandshare study shows that consumers overwhelmingly want to buy, use, recommend and support brands who share their values. It is the great unmet demand. In fact, 90% of people across the world want brands to share with them. Yes, the consumer is ready and they are ready to transform the world at a much faster pace than has happened so far. So why aren’t they?

The challenge is that the same study shows that only 10% of consumers think that brands share their values. They do not believe that brands meet their demand for responsible products and services. This “80% opportunity gap” very simply shows that there is a disconnect between what consumers want and what they believe brands give them.

The challenge is therefore not that consumers don’t care but rather that brands do not know how to bring sustainability to life for consumers. What is needed is not a change in behavior from the consumer side but rather better ways for brands to bring sustainability to life in and through their brands. We need a change in behavior from brands.

This is the great unmet demand – brands bringing sustainability to life for consumers. Embedding it into the brand and product in new and compelling ways for consumers to understand, support, advocate and buy.
How do they do that? By looking at the interaction between product and branding. A sustainable brand cannot exist if the product itself does not have any sustainability characteristics. Similarly, a sustainable product needs to differentiate in the marketplace through branding that resonates with the consumer. This is at the heart of a sustainable brand – combining the sustainability of the product and the brand to create a unique sustainable brand value proposition and identity.

In my book, Creating a Sustainable Brand: A Guide to Growing the Sustainability Top Line, I develop a model on how to create a sustainable brand based on the interaction between product and branding. It is when both branding and product dance together in harmony that the magic happens.

Of course the devil is in the detail as both product sustainability and branding are more complex than what is written in this blog. This book is not going to attempt to tell you how to create a sustainable product. That will take a whole new book. However, I do develop a framework to understand what is required from product sustainability if we want to know how to build a sustainable brand that consumers will love and buy. At the heart of this sustainable product framework is the insight that we traditionally focus too much on how a product is made (the value chain impact) and too little on the impact of the product itself (once it is sold and through its use).

Understanding what makes a sustainable product only tells us half the story of a sustainable brand. To create a sustainable brand we also have to show how sustainability is embedded in the brand and how it comes to life for the consumer. That is the other half of a sustainable brand that I explore in the book – the branding side.

The model developed in the book guides companies through the process to evaluate and/or create a sustainable brand. It gets us a little closer to making sustainability part of the heart and soul of business by making consumers and customers care. For the detail… have fun reading the book! Would love all feedback – good or bad.

Editor’s Note:

Business Fights Poverty readers can get 15% discount by using the code Campher15 in the voucher section. The book is available to buy here.

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