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Five reasons to prioritise sustainability in your brand’s playbook

Five reasons to prioritise sustainability in your brand’s playbook

By Julia Wilson 

Increasingly consumers are becoming more sophisticated in their ability to discern between true commitment to sustainability and action taken just for show. And they’re not afraid to call out that lack of authenticity on social media, in conversations with friends, or in any other channel.

This has made some brands hesitant – afraid of the brutal consumer backlash against well-intentioned efforts. Others are still sustainability sceptics. In our work with clients, I often hear, “Yes, consumers say they want sustainability, but will this actually boost my bottom line?”

There is a wealth of evidence that proves sustainability can boost the bottom line. In fact, when sustainability initiatives are integrated thoughtfully into the strategic plan, it can do everything from streamlining the supply chain to unlocking a new level of consumer love and loyalty. In our recent report, What’s Sustainability Got To Do With It?, we took a look at three categories: chocolate, coffee, and bath products, and found that sustainability boosted sales and units sold across the board.

Whether you’re well on your way or just starting to incorporate sustainability into your strategy, our latest global sustainability report, Consumers Buy the Change they Wish to See in the World, underscores these five reasons for doubling down:

Sustainability encourages a culture of innovation, pushing you to embrace new methods, technologies and ideas. Sustainability is a way to build authenticity, creating more transparency in your supply chain. Sustainability is a consumer-centric strategy. It requires you to understand and empathise with the concerns your consumers have, and how your brand can be a solution to help make their lives better.

Sustainability drives greater efficiency. For example, many companies set commitments to move towards manufacturing processes that reduce waste, requiring investment in research and development and sometimes the overhaul of supply chains. That upfront investment can pay off as your business benefits from a more efficient process and enhanced reputation.

The positive effects of sustainability are good for us, and they make us feel good too. That goodwill can cut across your employees, consumers, and other stakeholder groups.

Incorporating sustainability

One of the major challenges we hear companies express is knowing that sustainability is important, but not having a strategic plan for incorporating it into their brand or across the full product portfolio. The word ‘sustainability’ has increasingly become a catch-all term that, depending on the context, can encompass everything from environmental conservation to employee relations, and much more. Thus, for any company, it can seem daunting to incorporate all of these factors into their overall business strategy, and figure out

how it fits into their consumer marketing approach.

Create a sustainability strategy that’s authentic for you and your consumer

To do it right, companies need to invest in truly understanding their consumers and embed sustainability into their brand’s foundation. Authenticity comes through the end-to-end integration of sustainability into your processes and complete transparency with consumers along the way. That means pushing beyond feel-good marketing and labels on packaging to a fully integrated, interdepartmental execution. It requires collaboration across many teams, from sourcing and sustainability, to category managers and marketing leaders. Winning requires that sustainability be part of your short- and long-term strategic planning from start to finish.

Investing in sustainability is undoubtedly an individual journey for brands that can be impacted by industry, geography, product portfolio, community commitments and other factors. We’ve seen success when companies take a tailored approach consisting of multi-stakeholder engagement, cross-functional accountability and transparency along the way. For many brands, this approach will enable consumers to take note at the shelf, and in turn reward the brand along their path to purchase.

The practicality of strategy in retail

The practicality of strategy in retail

By Didy Andersson

The world of bricks and mortar retail is on rocky ground. The likes of Edcon and Massmart, among others, have suffered locally, and globally brands such as New Look, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer are struggling.

Those that are future-focused, having evolved, innovated and managed their efficiencies, are the pack leaders. Think Ikea, Target, Amazon, Alibaba. They have been nimble, relevant and above all they have launched imaginative products and services. They listen, and often co-create product line-ups with their consumers.

The questions are: Do agency strategists have a role to play in this aggressive landscape? And do modern day brands honestly have time for strategy at an agency level?

The nature of retail

The days of receiving a written brief, digesting it, trafficking it, and descending into a dark hole for a few weeks to emerge with a long presentation filled with content, as a result of ‘thinking’ are over. The days of a strategist being the automatic precursor to a piece of creative work (a bit like a pre-wash in a washing machine cycle) are also over.

The nature of retail is about designing solutions on the fly. The agency and their strategist should be a step ahead of the client, and ultimately have a seat at the chief marketing officer’s table to share the responsibility of key strategic conversations. The strategist should be another part of the future-proofing brains trust for the brand, working within the parameters of the business rather than the strictures of an agency.

Strategy is not something to be out-sourced, but neither is it something to be owned in-house. It would be irresponsible of marketers to not welcome external perspectives into their inner sanctum.

It has become more organic than ever before. And yes, I do still believe in the sanctity of the one-page brand mission and consistent brand golden threads. But not without a lot of imaginative, bold, and clever thinking that is executable quickly.

It is, after all, a marketing world of fast-paced technology, innovation and communication channels that didn’t even exist five years ago. Marketing tools have extended into voice activations (anything from ordering your coffee to getting your news), AI, intuitive data-based tracking and behavioural analytics that make it feel like you’re not being marketed to at all.

A truly useful communications strategy is really just a way to solve a particular business problem. The answer will not always be in a positioning statement or brand solution. Nor will it be what agency creatives like to call a ‘unifying thought’ or deep insight. More often, it comes from a lethally tactical activation and product solution – combined and played out as a killer blow in-market.

Co-creating powerful market plays

This new way of co-creating ‘powerful market plays’ with expert partners and cross-industry networks is considered to be the number one priority by CEOs and executives in future business development today. This idea, of building an ecosystem of experts rather than a static business of employees, needs a long-term vision more than ever in order to ensure that all partner members are on the same page before the real work begins.

Strategy, especially long-term, is about being different and consequently difficult to emulate.  It is the same for marketing and communications. Today’s strategies have to be built with the cornerstones of any modern business: sustainability, technology, employee culture and ecosystem thinking in order to stamp any form of authority on a shifting landscape.

In a recent article by Harvard Business Review, entitled ‘Sustainability Can Be A Strategy’, the research suggests that “some companies are creating a real strategic advantage by adopting sustainability measures that their competitors can’t easily match”.

Strategists are there to question, challenge, give opinions and build solutions, and this external perspective is still vital, notwithstanding the realities of business pressures, target audience knowledge (one can never have enough) and constant change. A strategist is not always right. They have opinions, just like everyone else.

And lastly: If there is one thing that strategists can do on their own in this new playing field it is help, rather than hinder, a marketer’s plan and vision. A practical, quickly implementable and forward-thinking plan that saves the client’s time and money is really all they are looking for in the end.

So put down the PowerPoint presentation and look around the table. Create work groups that ensure your audience, your consumers, your employees and your partners all have a voice at the outset. That is clever strategy. And it’s almost incredible what you can solve together.