Sustainability brand

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Sustainability brands are products and services that are branded to signify a special added value in terms of environmental and social benefits to the customer and thus enable the differentiation from competitors. [1] [2]

Contents

Overview

Sustainability branding is the process of creating and maintaining an identity of a specific product, service, or business that reflects special added value in terms of environmental and social benefits. [1] A brand is only perceived as being sustainable if it can credibly convey sustainability benefits which are noticeable by and relevant to the consumer. [2] A sustainability brand must have an integrated culture for success. The key to a sustainable brand is trust between the consumer and the brand, only when this is achieved can a sustainable brand truly generate a USP and reap the benefits of it.

Opposed to the term green brands which mainly focuses on environmentally sound business practices, sustainability brands additionally acknowledge the social dimension of providing products and services. This entails, among others, health and safety issues resulting from direct or indirect product use (consumption level) as well as the conditions under which a particular product is produced (production level). The physical protection and well-being of people at work (i.e. employees as well as workers within the supply chains) are important indicators of sustainability brands and sustainability marketing in general which adheres to the triple bottom line of ecological (environmental), social (equity), and financial (economic) sustainability. [1] [3]

A brand is able to evoke positive or negative feelings, especially in the context of sensitive social and ecological issues. The more positive the perceptions and feelings are towards a brand, the higher will be the likelihood of identification and loyalty amongst consumers. It is therefore crucial in sustainability marketing to build up strong brands. In doing so, companies face far-reaching decisions in the areas of brand positioning (1), sustainability brand name selection (2), and sustainability brand development (3), in order to create and build sustainability brands that consumers associate with social and environmental added value. [1]

Environmental marketing claims on products and packages need to be made (and read) with caution. Ambiguous greenwashing titles such as green product, green packaging and environmentally friendly can be confusing without specific definition. Some regulators, such as the US Federal Trade Commission, are providing guidance [4]

Sustainability brands vs. Sustainable Brands

Since the adjective “sustainable” might convey the notion of brands that have long-lasting success, implicating durable competitive advantage without any particular reference to a sustainability agenda, the term “sustainability brand” should be used to prevent ambiguity. Albeit subtle difference, the latter explicitly emphasizes the notion of brands which have built their brand image upon sustainable business practices that consumers value. Sustainability brands are commonly referred to in the field of sustainability marketing. [5]

Sustainability brand positioning and the 8 C's

Sustainability Brand Positioning and positioning in general is part of the brand identity and value proposition that is to be actively communicated to the target audience [6] and can be described as an iterative process, consisting of deliberate and proactive actions aimed at the definition of distinct consumer perceptions. [7] Sustainable brand positioning is the brand positioning of Sustainable products and services. Sustainable products and services should offer an improved social and ecological performance during the whole product lifecycle and at the same time they have to satisfy consumer needs and wants. Many of the first generation sustainability brands failed in the market because companies overemphasized the positive socio-ecological product attributes, while they neglected to focus on other product attributes such as performance, functionality or design, too. As a result, many products could not compete against conventional products. [1]

To build up and position strong sustainability brands, there are some guidelines to follow. Marc Stoiber [8] summed them up in The five Cs of Sustainability Branding: [9] Consumer Facing, Competitive, Core, Conversational and credible. Perrine Bouhana added to that concept “a sixth C”: Consistency. Martin Belz complemented and revised this concept to “8 C’s” of sustainability branding and describes them as: [10]

Core
Sustainability should be tied up to the key problems and the core business through assessing the socio-ecological impacts of products along the entire life-cycle of the products and finding out the socio-ecological “hot-spots” of the product-life-cycle.
Co-operative
The solutions to the main socio-ecological problems associated with products along the entire life cycle require - both in the process of innovating and marketing sustainable products and services - co-operations with suppliers, retailers, consumers, scientists, and other non-market actors (e.g. NGO’s).
Credible
Fundamentals of credibility are first the solving of key socio-ecological problems associated with companies’ products and second tying sustainability to the core business. Co-operations with trustworthy partners and the use of independent, third-party labels (e.g. labels like Bio or MSC) such as a high level of transparency (e.g. through an online tracking system, which enables consumers to see the world of behind the product) can additionally increase the credibility of sustainability brands.
Consumer Benefits
Socio-ecological characteristics or attributes of products usually just play an auxiliary role (no core benefits). To broaden the appeal of sustainability brands, the companies should emphasize the inherent consumer benefits of socio-ecological attributes, including efficiency and cost effectiveness, health and safety, symbolism and status. Further they should align socio-ecological attributes with benefits such as functionality, design, and durability to create “motive alliances”.
Conversational
Sustainability branding is more effective as a two-way conversation, rather than a one-way announcement. Inviting consumers to enter into dialogues about the sustainability process strengthens the brand-consumer relationship.
Consistency
If sustainability is key to brand positioning, this requires a kind of integrated approach to sustainability communication: it is important to communicate in a consistent way, including e.g. advertising, personal selling or online communication. In addition to that, the sustainability product brand has to be consistent with the overall environmental and social performance of the company.
Commitment
Sustainability branding not only requires the commitment of the PR department and the sustainability officers but also requires the commitment of top management and marketing decision makers.
Continuity
Sustainability must reflect the core values of the brand and contribute to delivering the brand promise over the long term. This means that a brand cannot change its sustainability focus too often, or engage in too many non-related areas.

Sustainability brand name selection

In the course of choosing the right name, Sustainability brands must first –just like brand names in the conventional sense- follow well-established rules. In general, a good brand name should consider three areas: [11] memorability (distinctive short name, evoking emotions…), strategic fit (they should relate to the actual product; ability to expand to other brands) and legal (legal protection under trade mark law etc.) [12]

Sustainability Brands however go one step further and incorporate something that conveys the notion of social and/or ecological awareness.

A popular example is “Better Place”, a global provider of electric vehicle networks and services that works in a joint venture with Renault Nissan Alliance Motor Company to promote the use of electric cars. [13] The founder, Shai Agassi, was intrigued by a question posed at the World Economic Forum in 2005 "How do you make the world a better place by 2020?". [14] Thus the name Better Place. It is not related to the product (electric vehicle) but to much wider social and ecological issues (depletion of natural resources, CO2 emissions…), which the company addresses or rather offers the solution for.

Sustainability brand names can be part of a new product launch, an extension to an existing (conventional) brand or be so new to the market that they create a product category themselves. Each of these approaches has specific strategic implications.

Enter Established Market

Entering a saturated market such as the one for conventional household detergents with a sustainability brand might prove extremely difficult. However, there are companies that have successfully entered the market and positioned their brand as sustainability leaders. Seventh Generation, for instance, is the US market leader in four product categories (Household, Laundry, Personal and Baby Care) with products that –in the words of the company- “protect human health and the environment.” [15]

Brand Extension / Aligning Existing Brand

Established brands can leverage their existing brand recognition to extend their name to new products, which are then marketed as socially and ecologically friendly. Tide, a popular detergent brand in the US, expanded its brand to meet the demands of the ecological conscious consumer by launching Tide Cold Water Detergent in 2005. The product requires only cold water and thus saves energy. In 2010, it was given the Green GH seal, which is only awarded after a “cradle to grave” examination of the product. [16]

Creating entirely new Product Categories

Sustainability brand names can also succeed if they achieve to create a product category for themselves where there is virtually no competition yet. When the car-sharing concept was fairly new, companies such as Mobility CarSharing in Switzerland did neither compete with car companies nor public transportation providers. [1]

Sustainability brand development

Sustainability brand development Sustainability brand development.png
Sustainability brand development

Sustainability brands are subject to constant change. A sustainability brand that is well established on the market, can be further developed into different directions. According to Belz and Peattie [1] four main options for development are possible:

To create a sustainability brand it is furthermore important to adopt the right channels for marketing according to Lauterborns five Cs. Advertising in this case can help to create awareness of the brand and thus form the new brand experience. [1] [17] Furthermore, it is obligatory for Sustainability brands to obtain one ore more ecolabels, leading to a higher influence on consumer behaviour and the perception of the brand. [1]

Sustainable brands vs. false advertising

With promises of sustainable and ethical practices in the fashion industry on a rise, businesses attempt to market according to these requests. An issue that is accompanied by this is that of companies greenwashing their values to bring in more consumers who believe they are supporting a good cause. [18] Companies like H&M and Zara have been called out by the Norwegian Consumer Council for failing to provide genuine information on why their brands are eco-friendly, thus leading to false marketing claims. Due to differing perspectives and interpretations of what it means to be sustainable, it can be troublesome to regulate honest sustainable practices.


See also

Related Research Articles

Marketing refers to activities a company undertakes to promote the buying or selling of a product or service. In 2017, The New York Times described it as "the art of telling stories so enthralling that people lose track of their wallets.

Market segmentation is a process of dividing a heterogeneous market into relatively more homogenous segments based on certain parameters like geographic, demographic, psychographic, and behavioural. It is the activity of dividing a broad consumer or business market, normally consisting of existing and potential customers, into sub-groups of consumers based on some type of shared characteristics.

Triple bottom line

The triple bottom line is an accounting framework with three parts: social, environmental and financial. Some organizations have adopted the TBL framework to evaluate their performance in a broader perspective to create greater business value. Business writer John Elkington claims to have coined the phrase in 1994.

Marketing strategy is a long-term, forward-looking approach and an overall game plan of any organization or any business with the fundamental goal of achieving a sustainable competitive advantage by understanding the needs and wants of customers.

Green brands are those brands that consumers associate with environmental conservation and sustainable business practices.

Sustainability advertising is communications geared towards promoting social, economic and environmental benefits (sustainability) of products, services or actions through paid advertising in media in order to encourage responsible behavior of consumers.

Green marketing is the marketing of products that are presumed to be environmentally safe. It incorporates a broad range of activities, including product modification, changes to the production process, sustainable packaging, as well as modifying advertising. Yet defining green marketing is not a simple task where several meanings intersect and contradict each other; an example of this will be the existence of varying social, environmental and retail definitions attached to this term. Other similar terms used are environmental marketing and ecological marketing.

Societal responsibility of marketing is a marketing concept that holds that a company should make marketing decisions not only by considering consumers' wants, the company's requirements, but also society's long-term interests.

A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered, communicated, and acknowledged. It is also a belief from the customer about how value (benefit) will be delivered, experienced and acquired.

The market environment or business environment is a marketing term and refers to factors and forces that affect a firm's ability to build and maintain successful customer relationships. The business environment has been defined as "the totality of physical and social factors that are taken directly into consideration in the decision-making behaviour of individuals in the organisation."

Socially responsible marketing is a marketing philosophy that a company should take into consideration; "What is in the best interest of society in the present and long term?"

Brand Identification for a good or service

A brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. Brands are used in business, marketing, and advertising for recognition and, importantly, to create and store value as brand equity for the object identified, to the benefit of the brand's customers, its owners and shareholders. Name brands are sometimes distinguished from generic or store brands.

Sustainable products are those products that provide environmental, social and economic benefits while protecting public health and environment over their whole life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials until the final disposal.

Sustainable distribution refers to any means of transportation / hauling of goods between vendor and purchaser with lowest possible impact on the ecological and social environment, and includes the whole distribution process from storage, order processing and picking, packaging, improved vehicle loadings, delivery to the customer or purchaser and taking back packaging.

Choice editing refers to the active process of controlling or limiting the choices available to consumers so as to drive to an end goal, specifically by banning things or imposing punitive taxation. The term has gained currency in discussions about sustainability.

Sustainable consumer behavior is the sub-discipline of consumer behavior that studies why and how consumers do or do not incorporate sustainability issues into their consumption behavior. Further, it studies the products that consumers select, how those products are used, and how they are disposed of in pursuit of their individual sustainability goals.

Customer cost refers not only to the price of a product, but it also encompasses the purchase costs, use costs and the post-use costs. Purchase costs consist of the cost of searching for a product, gathering information about the product and the cost of obtaining that information. Usually, the highest use costs arise for durable goods that have a high demand on resources, such as energy or water, or those with high maintenance costs. Post-use costs encompass the costs for collecting, storing and disposing of the product once the item has been discarded.

Sustainability marketing myopia is a term used in sustainability marketing referring to a distortion stemming from the overlooking of socio-environmental attributes of a sustainable product or service at the expenses of customer benefits and values. Sustainability marketing is oriented towards the whole community, its social goals and the protection of the environment. It requires the engagement of national and local governments, organisations and population as well as the necessary capital. The idea of sustainability marketing myopia is rooted into conventional marketing myopia theory, as well as green marketing myopia.

Open sustainability innovation is the use of open innovation in the development of sustainable products, services and initiatives. This is an approach to marketing for companies may prove to be advantageous as it is not point of sale based, but rather offers consumers information they have previously never been exposed to. Creating a basis for more long term conversational relationships. As a result of this conversational relationship between companies and consumers ideas about the importance of sustainability and how people relate to this through consumption can arise. By offering an open communication way of marketing to consumers, companies may ultimately gain a competitive advantage based on trust and disclosure. Thus not only will open sustainability innovations promote the use of sustainable products and services, it will actually create a snowballing effect to other companies who will have to adopt new sustainability practices in order to remain on the market.

Traditionally, market orientation (MO) focuses on microenvironment and the functional management of an organisation. However, contemporary organisations have widened their focus to incorporate more roles, functions and emphasis on the macro environment. Firms have been concerned with short run success and often not taken into account the long-run ecological, social and economic effects from their activities. Despite growth in the MO concept, there is still a need to reconceptualise the concept with a greater emphasis on external factors that influence a firm.

References

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Belz F., Peattie K.(2009): Sustainability Marketing: A Global Perspective. John Wiley & Sons
  2. 1 2 H. Meffert, C. Rauch & H.L. Lepp. 2010. Sustainable Branding — mehr als ein neues Schlagwort?! Marketing Review St. Gallen 27 (5) Pages 28-35
  3. Peattie, 2001
  4. "Environmental Claims". Federal Trade Commission. 2008-11-17. Retrieved 17 November 2008.
  5. J. Ottman.2010. The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools, and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding. Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc., San Francisco, California
  6. Aaker D. and Joachimsthaler E., 2000, Brand Leadership, FreePress
  7. Kalafatis, S.P., Tsogas, M.H. and Blankson, C. (2000), “Positioning strategies in business markets”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Vol. 15 No. 6, pp. 416-37
  8. The 5 C's of Sustainability Branding From "Maddock Douglas Innovation Engine: The Innovation Engine Community
  9. A Sixth ‘C’ For Sustainability Branding: Consistency – Sustainability & CSR Conversations
  10. Sustainability Marketing: The “Eight Cs” of Sustainability Branding
  11. Three Criteria of a Good Brand Name - Brand Development
  12. Kotler, P. & Armstrong, G. (2004) The Principles of Marketing, 10th edn, Upper Sadde River, NJ: Prentic Hall p. 293. for brand name selection in general
  13. Better Place | The Global Provider of EV Networks and Services Archived 2011-06-16 at the Wayback Machine
  14. Copenhagen Climate Council
  15. About Seventh Generation | Seventh Generation
  16. Eco Friendly Laundry Detergents - Tide Coldwater Laundry Detergents - Good Housekeeping
  17. Lauterborn,R (1990) 'New marketing litany: 4 Ps passé; C-words take over', Advertising Age"
  18. "How To Know If A Brand Is Sustainable or Not".

Further reading