Posts Tagged ‘sustainable branding’
A business that strives to be sustainable but falls far short on its sustainability promises is committing “a greater sin” than a business that ignores sustainability but keeps its promises. That’s one of the findings of the new Sustainability + Branding Survey of sustainability advocates in business.
My partners and I in the Sustainable Branding Collaborative have released a summary report of the survey, which we conducted in late 2010. I encourage you to download a copy and see what your peers have to say.
When asked which is the “greater sin,” 78 percent of respondents said it’s worse for a business to make an effort to become more sustainable but allow its publicized promises on sustainability to far exceed its actual practices. Only 22 percent said it’s a greater sin for a company to make no claim or effort to become sustainable but otherwise deliver on all of its promises.
What’s clear from the survey is business executives committed to sustainability loathe greenwashing and value integrity. The findings validate the importance our group’s branding approach places on ensuring the sustainability practices of your employees and organization deliver what your brand promises.
Branding advice from sustainability proponents
The survey respondents’ top pieces of advice for companies branding more sustainable products and services include:
- Be honest, be authentic, “walk your talk”
- Build a solid sustainability foundation using methods such as The Natural Step Framework, whole systems thinking and triple-bottom-line accounting
- Measure, verify and certify sustainability claims, preferably using a third party
- Look at branding as a critical foundation for business success, not as a luxury
Does sustainability change branding?
Among other findings, respondents were almost evenly split on the question of whether the practice of branding should be different for an organization that is striving to become sustainable: 53 percent said no, 47 percent said yes.
Branding is branding, say the respondents who believe the practice of branding should be the same — regardless of whether a business is on the sustainability path. Those who believe the practice should be different say sustainable brands need to place a greater emphasis on authenticity, honesty and delivering on the brand promise than traditional brands do. They also believe branding must be approached as part of a comprehensive, company-wide effort to be sustainable.
No matter how you go about branding your business or product, the values of honesty, transparency and keeping your promises are paramount. Whether you believe these values can be instilled through traditional branding methods or require new approaches, the sustainability proponents in this survey strongly advise you to do what you say.
About the survey
The Sustainable Branding Collaborative conducted the Sustainability + Branding Survey November 10-17, 2010. The survey gathered online responses from 291 innovators and early adopters in the sustainable business movement.
“Promises are like babies,” an unknown author once said. “Easy to make, hard to deliver.”
Sounds like a good reason to never make a promise. Or better yet, good reason to think long and hard before making one.
Countless branding books and consultants describe a brand as a promise. That’s an inside-out view. If I’m on the outside looking at your business, I don’t care whether you make a promise. I care whether you keep it. My guess is millions of Toyota owners feel similarly today about that company’s promise of quality.
Promises have no value until or unless they’re consistently fulfilled. That gets lost among many who make their living in branding, communications and design. I used to be among them. Branding meant communicating a promise and persuading others to pay attention. If I did that well, I was doing my job.
My certainty about all of this gave way as I delved deeper into sustainability and carved out a sustainable branding practice. Everywhere it seemed, marketers were jumping onto the green marketing bandwagon. Meanwhile, consumer complaints of “greenwashing” kept growing as marketers used one hand to paint their companies or products green and the other to cover their eyes to the brown.
Words and deeds
Sustainable branding is not simply marketing communications by another name. It’s aligning what you stand for as a business with what people experience from you. Greenwashing does the opposite: It misaligns words and deeds.
Companies have been saying one thing and doing another forever. What’s changed is the technology and desire to call them out. Social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook and user-generated sites such as Yelp will expose hypocritical businesses in a heartbeat. And nowhere is the B.S. radar on higher alert than when a company speaks of social or environmental responsibility. People may overlook the advertisement that overstates a product’s benefits. But many can’t wait to bust the company that promises — and fails — to do good.
Carefully researched, considered and cultivated, a brand moves a business toward competitive distinction and customer relevance. Unfortunately, most businesses leave brand management to marketing communications. They equate branding with names, logos, taglines, messages, advertising campaigns and a consistent “look & feel.”
Where the buck stops
What our businesses say and how we look matters when separating ourselves as a brand. But not nearly as much as what we do as a business.
Want your brand to stand out from the crowd? Then let your actions do more of the talking. Nothing communicates as convincingly as a company whose employees, culture and operations consistently deliver a distinct, relevant product, service or experience.
This doesn’t happen by accident. It requires a CEO and senior managers who ensure their company walks it talk. Unless your marketing department runs the company, the branding buck must stop with the people who have ultimate authority to motivate, train or cajole everyone to deliver on the company’s core promise.
Stepping onto the path of sustainability makes this more imperative than ever.
When you pledge to build a more sustainable company, it’s like handing a magnifying glass to your customers, employees and other stakeholders and inviting them to inspect your every move. Witness the emergence of greenwashing watchdogs.
Living the brand
The prospect of greater scrutiny frightens some executives. Others say bring it on. They know integrity and accountability have always been hallmarks of great companies. And they don’t fear the added weight of social and environmental responsibility that a commitment to sustainable business practices demand. They’re simply trying to do the right thing.
But even their firms may need help living their brands. That’s why I’ve formed a team of experts in organizational development, sustainability, research, design and storytelling.
I look forward to sharing more about our collaboration soon. But you can be sure we’re clear on one thing: Making a promise is the easy part of branding. It’s the delivery we need to worry about.