As defined in a dictionary Sustainability is the ability to exist constantly.
As we examine the world today, the principle is applied to our world and our environment and the ability of the biosphere and humanity to coexist.
What, however, is a sustainable brand? Obviously an attention to the environment is key, but what is sustainability from a brand and business perspective?
On the 12th of February 2020 I had the privilege and pleasure of being invited to present a guest lecture at the School of Marketing at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. The subject of my talk was “How to build a Sustainable Brand.”
The difference between Customer Loyalty & Brand Loyalty
Many marketer brand owners use the term customer loyalty and brand interchangeably.
While people use the term Customer Loyalty and Brand Loyalty interchangeably, we need to realise that the two things are very different.
Customer loyalty is to a product, a commodity. Customer loyalty can be built with discounts, preferential pricing and bundling of products. The travel category is a prime example of this, consumers happily choose the airline with the cheapest ticket as long as a few basics are met. Laptops, Mobiles and similar technology products also suffer from the same issue. The fact is that consumers choose with their wallets. Loyalty is a misnomer
Does this therefore mean that Brand Loyalty - i.e. a consumers preference for a brand (regardless of price) is dead? Not at all. Let’s set the context by listening to Steve Jobs' simple explanation.
Brand loyalty is created when a brand connects with the beliefs and the desires of a customer. If you were to pen their desires on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, a brand’s product would help achieve the physical needs of a user and then also help meet the psychological and self-fulfilment goals.
What makes a sustainable brand?
A sustainable brand, put simply is a brand that will continue to make money, providing value to its shareholders and stakeholders. Be a source of employment for people who are proud to work for the said brand. For its customers, its a source of joy and enables fulfilment.
Sustainable brands do not sell a product
Sustainable brands don’t sell a replaceable product. They promote an achievable idea, the celebrate their customer, the consumer and the believer.
Take Nike for example. Nike puts a lot of research and invests heavily in the development of their shoe soles. However their marketing does not focus on the product. They honour athletes known and unknown. They celebrate their wins, they share in their losses. With this attitude, the brand becomes an enabler.
While a purchase brand will focus on selling the product, a sustainable brand encourages the use of the product.
Sustainable brands live their values and beliefs
Sustainable brands choose to demonstrate their values, by ensuring that the products they make live up to those values.
Patagonia is a prominent outerwear company and they have a focus on ensuring environmental sustainability in all their manufacturing and logistics processes. They even carry this into creating new garments out of old, post consumer garments.
Indian brands are also taking a stand, and asking for societal change. From the Tanishq ad which featured a second marriage for a mother, to the introduction of the collection from Myntra’s Anouk. In fact Anouk has broken many stigmas in talking about their products, but this one is probably most illustrative of pure love.
Sustainable brands inspire a community
Brands belong to their communities. They integrate into their surrounding and create a sense of self and belonging. Along the way they bring in their product
Starbucks in is the people business, they just sell coffee along the way. Most Starbucks become a recognisable landmark, and destination for their communities. Along the way - they drive change. See how this Starbucks worked to heal a scarred community and helped prevent suicide.
Sustainable brands respect their customers
Sustainable brands are respectful brands. They respect their customers - time, money and person. Privacy and customer safety also play a big role.
Around the time I first prepared my lecture, the fact that Avast Antivirus had been harvesting the data of all the customers who had been using their free software and was selling the data to advertisers was revealed. As recent as last week we were seeing apps like TikTok and Linkedin and Times of India actively harvesting the clipboards of iOS and Android users with likely ulterior motives.
Brands like Dove are more respectful of their consumer’s sentiments and their needs. See how Dove helps in breaking a consumers negativity about their appearence and how they actually look to a person in the street.
Sustainable brands do not emphasise service
Service is an inherent part of any product purchased by a customer. Customers require quick and easy access to service and support that is accessible.
On one hand you have brands like Samsung - who will advertise a vast and efficient service network, but where registering a request for service has the customer jumping through hoops (my experience), or brands like Swiggy and Zomato, who have handed service over to bots. On the positive side of things, there are brands like Apple, Amazon and American Express, where a high quality of service is actually a feature of the product.
Sustainable brands listen
Sustainable brands listed to what their consumers ask for, how they use their products and meet the challenge to adapt to their needs.
Microsoft’s Xbox platform is one of the leading gaming platforms out there. With an extensive back-catalogue, Xbox has games available for all types of players across all age groups. With an aim to becoming the most inclusive game platform our there, Microsoft saw how movement and control challenged players were developing systems that allowed them to play. Stepping up, Microsoft developed the Xbox Adaptive Controller bringing together all gamers.
Sustainable brands change the world
Brands don’t operate outside of our social world and planet. Brands which recognise this and work towards changing the world for good, will inspire their customers to do the same.
30% of Belgian cars are expected to be electrified by the end of 2020. But Volvo asked the question - What’s the point of a green car, if the electricity used to charge it, is dirty.
Who do sustainable brands talk to?
All Marketing takes into view a consumer group, and efficient marketing always focusses on having the right segment. But marketing segments are also limiting, and dehumanising. A sustainable brand should be able to respectfully understand and engage with each of their customers, with a clear understanding.
The consumer is not a millennial, nor a boomer. The consumer is not your wife, not a mom, or a graduate in their first job. The consumer is not a 18 year old girl or a 52 year old man.
The consumer is an individual, a part of a great whole, with the desire, and strength to change her world.
You may love her, respect her, fear her, but you cannot ignore her.
I started writing this essay early in March, post-covid, the importance of being able to inculcate brand loyalty has become more important for businesses.