BfG News Issue 15 - Editor's Column: Entering into a Sustainable Dialogue with your Consumers

15 Sep 2008|Added Value

Marie_Ridgley(1)Over the last five years, sustainability has been growing in awareness on the marketing agenda, and in prosperous times it appeals to the self actualisation tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  However, what happens to these ideals and aspirations of a ‘kinder’ way of living in a recession? Two key components to concentrate on for your brand’s survival in these uncertain times are value and brand experience. There will always be a role for ‘pay less promotions’ (‘basic’ range or product bundling) but savvy consumers are also looking for value delivered through a greater emotional involvement and experience. We believe sustainability can deliver on both. For example, E.ON’s “see the energy you use” campaign delivers on both saving consumer’s money and a differentiated sustainable brand experience via their website. To achieve this Holy Grail, brands need to find that elusive “sweet spot” where the brands’ values, value proposition and sustainability strategy overlap.

We’ve already looked at the importance of having a clear view on what your brand stands for as well as where sustainability sits in your value proposition. Clearly, not all brands should approach sustainability in the same way as there are several factors to bear in mind, from the brand’s personality, to the core proposition, and to what level sustainability should be translated into a consumer dialogue. Knowing where to start is often the issue for many brands, so we have developed four sustainable brand models to help guide clients on the journey – the Crusader approach, the Harmonist approach, the Changeling approach, and the Selector approach. There’s also a fifth model which relates to brands that have embraced sustainable practices but choose not to do anything in a consumer facing way.  Ultimately we believe that sustainability will be a tablestake in doing business, so at some point brands operating the fifth model will need to choose a consumer-facing approach, as outlined below.

The Crusader brand does what it says on the tin. Built on strong ethical beliefs with a cause led approach, these brands embrace a specific issue and raise consumer’s awareness around it, taking leadership, but, not necessarily for the category as a whole. Authenticity comes from being constant and evolving. Take for instance, the Co-op bank, who has evolved from pure ethical investment “We don’t invest in arms. We don’t invest in countries where there are dictatorships”, to embracing a much broader agenda – climate change. This is a good example of how a Crusader brand’s cause can grow bigger and broader. The watch out for this model is not to be too niche or too worthy, and to remain culturally relevant.

The Harmonist brand has created equilibrium between the brand’s values and tone of voice with the issues it engages in. Sustainability is seen as a guiding principle and authenticity is an intuitive part of the brand aura. So whenever you read the packaging from an Innocent smoothie, or visit their website, or experience their latest campaign or music festival; it all seems to hang together, with an underlying good, ethical message which is believable. The biggest challenge the Harmonist brand faces is again, cultural relevance. As the brand grows and becomes more mainstream, maintaining authenticity, whilst keeping abreast of the issues within a bigger infrastructure and potentially, with a bigger footprint, will be its biggest challenge.

The Changeling brand is a brand in transition. These brands have made the decision to make sustainability a part of their brand DNA and are on the journey to being a Harmonist brand; a fundamental repositioning. They show commitment through category leadership, pioneering issues and are willing to take risks. Authenticity is displayed by showing positive intent and action, embracing responsibility and being open & honest about their journey in their consumer communication. Stuart Rose’s commitment to position Marks & Spencer at the cutting edge of responsibility is a clear example of this.  Giving the company 5 years to tackle five major challenges: climate change, waste, sustainable raw materials, fair partnership and health, as set out in their ‘Plan A’ (because there is no Plan B) strategy.
And finally, the Selector brand has a clear brand positioning and a clear idea on how and when sustainability issues will be incorporated to sit with their core values. Most brands fit into this model. When communicating about sustainable initiatives, they demonstrate pragmatic commitment to single issues and encourage consumers to get involved.  Authenticity for the Selector brand is about being true to the core brand, and being credible in terms of substantiating the individual responsible initiatives that are being taken. Take for instance Tesco, who stand for making life easier, encouraging shopper loyalty and providing good value for money. When they communicate about sustainable issues, they translate their brand story very well; providing recycling stations at their stores and rewarding their customers with Green Clubcard points. The watchout for Selector brands – they are most susceptible to Greenwash claims.

Being clear about the type of dialogue you enter with your consumers and your brand’s sustainable aspirations is essential. Defining your brand’s personality will help to create the emotional halo needed to build trust, which is paramount to delivering a credible sustainable message and value proposition which consumers can engage with at all touchpoints.

Marie Ridgley
Managing Director, Added Value UK

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