Why sustainable brands now have a competitive advantage

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Research for Unilever shows that brands are missing out on £820 billion by not pushing sustainability.

An image from The Body Shop's 'Enrich not Exploit' campaign.

This throws up a number of questions for marketers. What defines sustainable? How sustainable is your brand? In short, does your brand actually have permission to ‘push’ sustainability?

First, we need to define the term. A sustainable brand should be one that sources ingredients that have a neutral or positive impact on the climate, uses renewable energy from concept to shelf, insists on carbon neutral transportation, and looks after its employees.

If your brand is not fully sustainable then there are steps you can take to ensure what you want to shout about is backed up by robust standards and practices. Sustainability experts like Futerra work with Unilever, as well as SAB Miller and PWC, and can kick your brand into a planet-loving, conscience-clearing, kinder shape.

Brands, and the multinational companies that own most of them, have a serious responsibility to educate and facilitate better choices at the point of purchase. After all, the directors of these big businesses and consumers that buy the brands have a great deal in common. They share one planet, and will increasingly experience the huge effects climate change will exact on us; but crucially some will also have children, who will hold the older generations to account as they see the world change around them.

The big barrier to wholesale transformation, in FMCG particularly, has, until this point, been all about one thing – money. It is pretty difficult to do the ‘right thing’ when the board is answerable to shareholders seeking short-term financial rewards.

That is now changing in a big way. Unilever are benefitting greatly from long-term thinking and embracing a sustainable strategy, as their brands who are leading the charge in this space are growing ahead of the market. Meanwhile, last year Tesla generated $10 billion of presales for their electric Model 3 car in just two days. Sustainability now makes commercial sense.

Spectrum of green

One in five consumers say they would buy a brand who effectively communicated sustainability credentials in their marketing, but many brands struggle to understand the spectrum of this audience, often defaulting to marketing generally to millennials. That’s a mistake. While there are those who think that the planet is already past the point of no return, others will buy into sustainability just to feel better about themselves. Let’s call this the Spectrum of Green. Where are your consumers on the Spectrum of Green? Light green? Or very dark green?

If a brand wants to communicate in this space then social media is a good place to start. Look to your existing communities for genuine insight into where your consumers sit on the spectrum. Embark on a full review of your social content strategy. Sustainability could become a content pillar in its own right or it could be weaved throughout the current content plan.

Working on the launch of The Body Shop’s commitment to Enrich not Exploit™, Media Bounty created a new social content strategy. Beautiful photography, gifs, cinemagraphs and video combined to celebrate the provenance of the ingredients and lives of the people producing those ingredients as well as the products themselves. Telling stories of the real people behind the products helped to humanise each product, as well as adding depth to the brand.

Brands who are not obviously sustainable but want to take steps to move into this area need to tread carefully before jumping in. It is a risky strategy to start eulogising about how sustainable you are if you are buying unsustainable palm oil. The key point here is to be honest and take your audience with you on the journey to sustainability. Consumers know that miracles cannot happen overnight but a brand will get respect if it is committed to progress and communicates in a warts and all way.

In a brave move in 2016, Energizer introduced the Recharge battery made with 4% recycled battery materials. 4% doesn’t sound like much, but it was a world first and they committed to increase these levels to 40% in the future. They have made a commitment to sustainability but communicate that they are only at the start. Guess what? Energizer is the fastest growing brand in the battery market.

Green growth

Here are our top tips for success:

  • Get the basics in shape. Ask yourself is your brand really sustainable? Tread carefully until you’re sure of your brand story.
  • Look at how sustainable brands that are in growth are acting. There is nothing wrong from learning from the best. Ben & Jerry’s make sure their social channels live and breathe their values, as well as talking about ice cream. One Sweet World is a perfect example of how they get it right.
  • Commit to sustainability. Understand it. Live and breathe it. Confidently communicate it.2016 was the year that The Body Shop went back to its roots weaving sustainable messages throughout its social content with Enrich Not Exploit ™
  • Inspire and, if you can, solve a problem. Adidas worked to solve the massive problem of plastics in our oceans by literally integrating the waste material into their trainers.
  • Use social listening to understand what matters to the audience. What are their priorities? Their social image? Their families? Price? Where are they on the Spectrum of Green?
  • Do not produce monolithic and one dimensional creative. Believe it or not, audiences are sentient human beings with different hopes, fears and dreams. Craft creative that responds to their passions, their hopes, their dreams, their position on the spectrum.
  • Most importantly. Commit to it yourself personally. Change your energy provider to a renewable supplier like Good Energy. Buy those brands with purpose in your weekly shop. Look at your car. Is it diesel? Cash permitting, change it. Support awesome charities like World Land Trust who in 2016 saved nearly 50,000 acres of critically threatened habitat.

In today’s world, there’s a huge shift taking place and the financial and ethical stakes are higher than ever. Effectively positioning your brand as sustainable now, means that not only will you speak to consumers in the local market willing to spend extra money on brands making a positive difference in the world; you’ll also be well placed to tap into the emerging markets across the globe who are now leading the way in sustainability, having witnessed first-hand the effects of climate change and water scarcity.

Jake Dubbins is chief executive officer of Media Bounty

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