We have now entered the sustainability era.
That’s why most brands are injecting their purpose with a sustainability mission. However, this has also created a context in which brands often end up sharing purposes with one another and struggle to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Many even have difficulties with credibility and face accusations of greenwashing.
Consumers are convinced that sustainability is something every brands needs to do, but they don’t view the efforts as particularly cool, sexy, or desired. They are sceptical about brands making a difference, both in their positioning and their actions. Sometimes, they even see brands as similar to governments, which always talk about sustainability, even though nothing seems to change.
After years of movements for social justice, people feel that brands should stand up and be accounted for, and that they should support the values they think are important. They also want proof. It’s not enough to speak out on sustainability, consumers expect brands to live up to their words.
This means raising your voice — and upping your game. A brand can’t get by with a slogan in a campaign; it has to be and do something more. It’s about doing something and making it visible. People should know what brands are doing and connect those activities to them. That enables them to create an emotional connection and lay the groundwork for desirability.
So, how we can make sustainability not only resonant, but also attractive to consumers?
Purpose is the ‘why’ a brand exists. Sustainability should add value to that ‘why’. It should not only impact people’s lives in the long term, but also find its way into all brand touchpoints, starting from product or service itself. Everything should be sustainable or connected to that perception.
Patagonia is widely known as an outdoor and adventure wear brand that leads the way in taking care of the planet. It rejects fast fashion, instead creating high-quality, long-lasting products with a repair and reuse programme. It even discourages customers from purchasing too many of its products, as evidenced by its famous ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ campaign.
‘My belief is that our biggest contribution has not been the money we’ve given away’, says Ryan Gellert, Chief Executive Officer at Patagonia. ‘It’s not individual issues that we’ve advocated for. It’s not scaling grassroots environmental activism through various levels of support. It’s proving that businesses can exist to do more than maximise the wealth of their owners, really consistently proving that in ways big and small over decades’.
People don’t buy Patagonia only for its sustainable behaviour. They buy its image, its attitude, and its personality.
But a healthy brand should also evolve over time. Patagonia has a rich history of sustainable sourcing, social responsibility, and making an impact on the environment — and that has changed over time. Today, it calls itself a ‘responsible company’, which means that its scope now stretches beyond environmental causes.
The main mistake brands make is to focus their attention only on sustainability while forgetting their brand value and how it can serve customer needs. When that happens, the brand breaks the connection, and its efforts toward sustainability become something adjacent to it, rather than central to its identity.
‘We feel like we have an obligation to find our place in the intersection between environmental and social justice, where we have the credibility and the voice to do that’, says Gianluca Pandolfo, EMEA sales director at Patagonia.
When choosing what areas to support and be vocal about, companies should consider three questions: Is the cause in line with our values? Can we create positive and systemic change if we support it? Are our employees willing to support it and speak about it?
Sustainability is a wide area of endeavour, and every brand needs to find its own way to contribute in line with its essence. Making an impact on employees, society, and the environment is central to being perceived as a sustainable brand. But in your brand’s rush to become sustainable, don't forget your customers. And don’t be afraid to be bold enough to collaborate with other brands to bring to life your contributions toward social responsibility.
Only in this way you can maintain connections and become an attractive brand for your consumers.
Do you want to know more? Discover more on Kantar BrandZ webpage.