The intersection of sustainability and profit = brands
Luc Speisser, global chief innovation officer at Landor & Fitch, explains why getting consumers to believe in sustainability initiatives will elevate brand reputation and generate revenue. He shares five lessons from the company’s experience in sustainability and profit.
Today, brands are powerful instruments of change for consumers, stakeholders, and society-at-large. They are intertwined with consumers all over the world and profoundly incorporated into their everyday life and the choices they make. In return, consumers spend on brands they love and strongly advocate the ideas that are embedded in a brand’s philosophy and image. From Patagonia to TOM’s, Levi’s to Adidas, when a consumer believes in your sustainability initiatives, your brand experience lifts in reputation, awareness, and profit.
Consequently, companies that own successful brands, which are followed by a large group of loyal consumers, have the power to modify, if not completely shift consumers' lifestyles, value systems, attitudes, and behavior. As a result, being socially responsible is a critical element of a brand’s marketing strategy and concept, given that sustainability implementation can trigger massive change amongst consumers and accelerate revenue across the organization.
However, brands are facing a herculean challenge on cost. All stakeholders – from consumers, to employees, to regulators, to investors – expect more. Brands must invest heavily in sustainability, while also recognizing the underlying challenges that persist for their business.
Something needs to change.
Of course, compliance with the ever-shifting expectations and standards is essential: companies must reach parity in their sustainability strategy. Yet finding a point of differentiation is where organizations can unlock the greatest returns. How can companies embrace sustainability in a differentiating way? The brand is the missing piece of the puzzle. Brand drives differentiation, change, and ROI. Therefore, brand-led sustainable actions can help create brand preference and value through meaningful differentiation.
Businesses can shift in two ways: by transforming to become more sustainable, and by creating new sustainable-native brands and business models. From exploring and experimenting with new sustainable materials and technology, to making it inclusive and accessible to all, there are many ways your brand can show up as a leader in the sustainability sector.
But the process can be challenging, and so, I want to share five lessons we’ve learned from our decades of experience working with leading global brands and organizations across sectors.
- Don't just react, create: look at sustainability through the lens of innovation
Sustainability represents a massive business opportunity. To make the most of it, businesses must go beyond compliance, which leads to commoditization. They need to innovate and come up with their own unique solutions in the sustainability space.
- Be different: build on your brand to help you stand out from the green sea of sameness
The key is to link sustainability to brand. Taking a brand-led approach enables you to stand up and stand out. Companies that play their cards right and approach sustainability in a meaningful, ownable and differentiated way – going beyond compliance alone – are sure to reap the rewards.
- Be vulnerable: be transparent about the challenges you are facing
No brand can solve all its sustainability challenges or change entirely from a day to the next. There are no “bad” or “good” brands: any brand that’s on a journey to improve is legitimate, as long as they act, not just speak on sustainability. Wherever you are on your journey, communicate your shortcomings and challenges meaningfully and transparently.
- Be humble: don't try to solve everything on your own, nobody can anyway
Innovating for sustainability is a massive and complex challenge that should not be attempted on your own and should be embraced by everyone in your company - not just the C-suite. Partner with others, both outside and within your company. The greater the collective intelligence that can be brought to the table, the better equipped a brand will be to solve sustainability challenges.
- Make money: remember that sustainability is about bringing together three indivisible pillars: people, planet, and profit. Otherwise, it is simply not sustainable for businesses.
If you want to make a real impact, choose your fight. You can’t champion everything, but you can champion something. No one brand can tackle all the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It’s all about focusing on what creates both relevance and difference to unlock sustainability ROI: connect sustainability to what you do best (your business) and what makes you unique (your brand).
If you’re at the intersection of profit and sustainability, learn how Landor & Fitch can help your brand. Through Landor & Fitch, we can determine your sustainability focus, ideate on your brand experience, and ultimately, bring this to life for your stakeholders.