Sustainable Development is key to the success of a brand:
You want to show your clientele base that you actively care for the environment and the future of the planet – thanks to an ever greater number of polls, you know that this is what they want.
The main challenge comes from the fact that your brand must emphasize your sustainable development and / or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) actions – those two terms not being synonyms like so many tend to believe -, but without overdoing it, not to appear opportunistic.
To succeed, you must promote the work of your sustainability teams in the most appealing possible way, very much as you would for any mainstream advertising.
In fact, some brands made their Sustainable Development vision their mainstream communication – think Ben & Jerry’s or Levi’s jeans made of garbage campaign.
Finding the best balance between advertisement and sustainability is difficult but not impossible:
Major brands such as GE (Ecolmagination), Toyota (Prius), or Timberland (Earthkeepers) succeeded greatly and gave a positive boost to their image beyond their expectations.
On the other hand, some got it totally wrong (Nestlé or Mosanto for instance), either because of their line of business (Mosanto), or because they never found the angle that would give them the green seal they need – sometimes due to past major environmental issues they never really recovered from (Nestlé, BP).
In order to give your brand the push it needs to get a positive green response from their targeted markets, there are five major tools you can ‘play’ with:
Now, let’s look at those five tools in detail…
1. The most powerful way to communicate is to use a powerful voice
You’ll say that you’re not L’Oréal and you can hardly ask Blake Lively to speak on your behalf!
L’Oréal, or Nespresso with Georges Clooney, speak to the planet.
If you brand is national or regional, you may find a local celebrity who will have a greater impact on your market than a distant Hollywood star.
In any case, your spokesperson must have a positive image to convey your sustainability message:
You want to select someone that publicly share your targets and represents your brand and beyond.
What do I mean by ‘beyond’?
It means that, by selecting your brand, consumers will make a citizen accomplishment.
This is not only about purchasing a good or a service, it is about doing good for the planet, for the environment, for the neighborhood, for a group of people.
The powerful voice can also come from an affiliation.
Take the Fair Trade Foundation, for instance.
By joining them and being allowed to print their logo on your products and communication, their voice give a much heavier weight to your message.
Your branding takes immediately a greater and better power and is instantly recognized by hundreds of thousands of people ready to buy from you, all around the world.
2. Use a Candide approach to sustainability
There's a growing list of brands supporting environmental and social entrepreneurship through partnerships, contests and other kinds of third party sources.
The aim is to develop a sustainable portfolio of activities without the need for the company to develop too many internal efforts:
It looks good on your firm’s Web site dedicated page, and the cost is minimal.
Unfortunately, if I may say, this approach doesn’t fool consumers.
If they appreciate that your company is actively helping your local Red Cross or Red Crescent branch, they expect you to demonstrate real involvement.
The best approach is to call for your workforce in the most genuine Candide way:
No one needs to be a CSR or Sustainable development professional to bring great ideas!
Look around your place of business, and you will find ways to assist the needful – as we demonstrated in a previous article.
Your clientele will much more appreciate your involvement in making your immediate environment a better place to live in, rather than sending money to a cause on the other side of the world.
3. Surprise your audience
The Levi’s approach that we mentioned earlier in this article (jeans made of garbage campaign) is a powerful way to strengthen their brand by picking their clients – and everyone else - curiosity:
Levi’s clearly stated ‘We are different, and on top of all, we care for the environment’.
For instance, don’t tell your target clientele ‘My hamburger is the best of the world’.
Even if you believe it to be true, you will never be able to prove it, and consumers expect that kind of statement to promote your product.
On the other hand, at a time when more and more people are shocked by the way animals are handled in abattoirs, mentioning that your hamburgers are the best not only because of your grandma’ recipe, but also because you buy only beef that were humanly treated from birth to their end (lived freely in green pastures, were treated with respect even at the abattoir, etc.), you will make a difference and your voice will be heard among all of your competitors.
4. Change your P&L to recognize sustainability
It is weird to notice how many companies develop great internal and external sustainability tools… without wondering about the impact of these strategies on their bottom line!
In fact, every SCR and Sustainable Development decision and action must be seen as a managerial decision with a positive, or negative, impact on the company’s overall performance.
Therefore, it only makes sense to adapt the firm’s Profit & Loss (P&L) report accordingly.
For instance, all initial costs must be considered as investments and a Return On Investment (ROI) report must be attributed as much as possible to every action.
To get back to our hamburger example, being able to promote your restaurant in such a way, requires to modify deeply your supply chain:
Hence you need to clearly identify profit or possible loss related to this management decision.
5. Your company’s culture must support your sustainability approach
We discussed this issue more in detail in previous articles.
But it is a fact that, to be successful, your sustainability strategy must be part of your real company’s culture – in other words, it shouldn’t be there ‘only because you must have one’ – and everyone must believe in it.
Never forget that if there's something that brands and people have in common, it's that internal thinking, nature and their individuality are necessarily projected externally, one way or another.
Therefore, you cannot pretend too long that you believe in sustainability if you are not.
What’s more, because your employees are your brand, they must ‘buy’ your Sustainable Development strategy.
If they don’t, your policy will fail, your customers will see through you, and they will eventually turn to the competitor that will effectively deliver a tangible and proper sustainable approach.
As a consumer, do you try to buy from sustainable companies as much as possible?