Earlier this week, Change, a brand innovation agency in Canada, launched “MapChange2010“, a new study comparing the real efforts that brands are making in fighting climate change, and the perception consumers have of those brands.
The results of the study showed that, across every sector (i.e. 10 of the largest consumer-facing sectors in North America), a brand’s actual sustainability record does not correlate with consumers’ perceptions and awareness. This means that, down the road, all of a company’s investments in sustainability may not pay off in terms consumer behavior or even brand equity/corporate reputation, which is directly undermining the ROI of sustainability itself.
This disconnect, or perceptions gap, often results from the brand’s failure to “talk to walk” in a credible and meaningful way. Therefore, Change developed what it calls the 5C’s of sustainability branding – a series of principles to follow when creating sustainability branding strategies:
- Consumer Facing: Looking at what the consumer is looking at.
- Competitive: To compete, brands must innovate.
- Core: Tying sustainability to a brand’s core business
- Conversational: Leveraging two-way conversations, rather than one-way announcements
- Credible: Sequence and objective credibility are key to sustainable brand success.
I would also add a sixth “C”: CONSISTENCY.
Consistency means a brand, a company undertakes sustainability initiatives that match the reality of its business and the image it conveys. This is critical for building trust, and durably affecting consumer’s perceptions and awareness. And ultimately consumer behavior. How?
- First, sustainability has to be more than just an one-off campaign. Sustainability must be incorporated into the brand’s DNA. It 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 or ‘cause’ too often, or engage in too many non-related areas. Every brand effort has to be mutually supportive in order to achieve the broader sustainability brand promise.
- Second, consistency is important in the sense that messages must resonate with the brand’s existing voice in the market place. More importantly, sustainability branding must be communicated at every possible customer touchpoint in a consistent way. The 2009 edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer indeed reported that people need to hear a message 3-5 times, from different channels or voices, in order to believe in it.
- Finally, as brand and corporate reputation are increasingly converging, with consumers not only looking at a product’s sustainability impact but also the overall environmental and social performance of the operating companies behind the brands (see the GoodGuide for instance), sustainability branding needs to be aligned with corporate communications. Such communications efforts have to be mutually reinforcing, not only with consumers, but also with a broader range of stakeholders such as employees, the media, etc.
And you, what do you think? Do you see any seventh ‘C’?