Is sustainability simply too important to be a selling point?

by Guest Contributor Sarah Mitson | September 04, 2019

Author: Sarah Mitson

Sarah Mitson
COO, Insights Offer
Kantar
https://www.linkedin.com/in/smitson/


I bought my favourite moisturiser last week out of habit, only to discover that Simple had made a packaging change. Not one that impacts how I used the product or makes the pack more beautiful, but one that makes me love the brand a little more. Simply discovering that your brand has done the right thing can be more powerful than being told it has.

As brands consider how they will drive long term growth, many of them are returning to the importance of brand purpose. Choosing a brand purpose that is credible and relevant is not easy – executing it consistently over time even harder. This is especially true for brands that want to be associated with building a more sustainable world. Not because this lacks consumer relevance, but because such a broad purpose can be hard to communicate and sustain.

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For those that genuinely want to make a difference, a long-term business strategy needs to be in place before committing to marketing activation. This strategy needs to be clear regarding the journey towards sustainability that the brand is taking, and claims need to be considered against both supply chain and consumer readiness. The Lush UK beauty brand was built around sustainability but, as they moved to ecommerce, how to pack products for shipping became an issue. By solving the problem with biodegradable packing peanuts, they have stayed true to their purpose, and even achieved some positive PR.

For consumers, how brands make the claim can be as important as the claim made. The claim needs to be proportionate and tied to the problem you are trying to solve. For example, given McDonald's' scale and the nature of their business, claims about sustainability need to be well judged. The entire McDonald's UK delivery fleet runs on biodiesel with almost half of that biodiesel coming from their own used cooking oil. Advertising this fact on the side of their lorries is a smart way to get the message out, at a time and place that makes sense to consumers.

Sometimes the best strategy is to make no claims, but simply do the right thing. The change to the packaging for my moisturiser was unannounced: the lid remains equally functional but uses significantly less plastic. It is a small step on the journey to real sustainability but it signals to me that they are trying.

Which brings us back to what it takes to be a successful brand these days. Research from the Institute of Real Growth shows that brand growth will increasingly come from uncomfortable places. Sustainability is a worthwhile brand purpose, but don’t be fooled, it is not simple. Businesses need to embrace brand purpose, not as a marketing tactic but as a business philosophy. And this is what I feel as a consumer when I consider my purchase choices: more than the product, the pack, or the price: ‘do I trust that this brand is trying to do the right thing?’

Given the increased consumer engagement with this topic, do brands need to start being more realistic about their sustainability claims? Please share your thoughts.

3 comments

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  1. Cecilia, September 15, 2019

    Agree with Verity. If you don’t work in the brand or marketing space, you won’t necessarily notice the difference, so overtly advertising this can be the driver of awareness AND change. That said, brands need to be careful about purpose/green-washing.

    The reality is that consumers are creatures of habit and convenience. They will only take notice if something disrupts this equilibrium. Advertising “purpose” or sustainability efforts is a step towards behaviour change.

     
  2. Elaine , September 05, 2019
    Thought provoking and inspirational. 
  3. Verity, September 05, 2019

    But would just simply advertising the fact that they are making their product more sustainable attract more people to them by doing it through social media because they probably have a larger audience there? 

    Although I like how Simple and McDonalds make their claims, their claim won’t reach their whole audience. 

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