Roadmap to brand-strategic sustainability
CSR and sustainability programs are not doing enough positive work to promote brand loyalty and drive sales. Making sustainability more strategically central to business growth can change this.
The question is how to do this without harming the integrity of sustainability programs or inviting accusations that your company is cynically over-playing its good work.
Here’s where you can start thinking about how your organisation might achieve that. You need a (1) goal, (2) process, (3) ideas and (4) execution.
(1) The goal
Everyone wants to maximise the value generated by any corporate spend on sustainability (and marketing, for that matter). This is your goal; for sustainability initiatives to maximise all of the following:
- Social value – i.e. positive community/environmental impacts
- Corporate reputation
- Brand loyalty
- Employee and stakeholder engagement
Not all projects are going to manage this, but aim high and you’ll be heading in the right direction. We’ll now look at how you can aim high.
(2) The process
How do you create a project that does the right thing while simultaneously building brand loyalty and driving revenue?
Step 1 – ask that question in the first place. Many organisations don’t seem to. All too many companies treat sustainability items as something separate, to be set up, run and PR-ed in their own right.
I have yet to come across a company that avoids this pitfall all of the time. It’s not that this is outright bad - it does some work for the brand – but it promotes both a brand disconnect and a financial inefficiency.
Think about a bank showing it cares by sending 500 employees on a litter-picking exercise. Nice, but what does this have to do with their business as a bank? Could the same number of employee hours not have been put into something that also bolsters your brand and bottom line?
Step 2 – align internal stakeholders from all divisions to this aim. All too often teams beaver away without any creative or strategic input from anyone else. Co-creation accelerates innovation and gets everyone on board.
Step 3 – co-create ideas that can be executed to drive sales and increase engagement with your brand while saving the world. There are a number of techniques you might use to generate, test and launch these kinds of ideas. The main thing to remember is the resulting process/product/campaign could look nothing like your usual forms of execution. However, results can be, £-for-£, measurably more effective. Be brave.
(3) The ideas
Exactly what will work for you will vary. However, you can identify high-potential projects to test and execute from a fairly short list of indicators.
BtB empowers young people to take a stake in society as active citizens, including signing them up to vote. As part of their drive for the 2015 election, BtB wanted to run events to get young people talking about politics around launching a voter-policy-matching platform “Verto”.
So, BtB needed venues, but what were the success indicators for Starbucks?
- Social value – help a great NGO on its crucial mission
- On-brand – engage a key target audience while building both on their own history of bringing café culture to the UK and reinforcing association with the role coffee houses played in the birth of British democracy
- Drive footfall – bring people into Starbucks who would not otherwise have visited
- Boost reputation – associate Starbucks both with good community work and with being a place to go for community over coffee
- Create new customers and ambassadors – turn attendees, including sceptics, into returning customers (with friends!)
- Platform for wider commercial impact – ensure enduring impact, scalable beyond attendees, both by leveraging across channels and as a foundation for future marketing
- Engage employees – staff in stores made a difference and participated in a movement just by doing their jobs (all encouraged by their employer)
Now you have the indicators, how might this work for your company?
(4) The execution
The opportunity and how to make the most of it will vary a great deal. The key is hitting those indicators of joined-up thinking.
Returning to the bank example above – perhaps explore using that employee time to assist NGOs in their day-to-day activities using employees’ existing expertise. Many NGOs need business plans, financial planning, compliance reviews, financially astute trustees…
Taking this kind of approach is closer to core corporate strategy since it not only sharpens employees’ skills but also engages employees with the brand and gives them greater variety in their work. The external brand experience then benefits from the improved internal brand engagement. (Your HR colleagues will also love any improvements made to retention: just ask them what % of their budget goes on recruitment!)
It also reduces operational risk. If your staff are engaged with sustainability and can see how it relates to their work, things like Unilever taking a massive reputational hit from viral videos and major campaigns is less likely to happen. Unilever are leaders in the field, but something clearly hasn’t work: if sustainability were truly strategically embedded it is unimaginable that it would have taken 14 years (and counting) to deal with a spillage at one site.
This kind of brand strategic joined-up thinking is the holy grail. If it seems too big a culture-shift, try one project at a time – slowly turning the tanker. It’s actually not all that hard. An approach incorporating co-creation can do good, drive internal engagement and promote culture change. And you’ll get more effective marketing than business-as-usual too.