Has The Way We Think About Great Brands Changed?

This is a year of phenomenal transformation in the way we perceive and judge brands, causing a powerful shift in our buying decisions as consumers.  Marketing tectonic plates are shifting, and fast, and there are significant implications are for every brand, big and small, including yours!

Ethical values have been steadily become more important over the last decade, but a company’s green credentials are becoming make or break values for brands as we consumers more readily consider the implications of our purchases.

Up until now, the barometer has largely focused on factors such as lifestyle, customer service, demand stimulated from ‘trend’ and even market power and dominance. But here we are today, a completely different landscape worldwide – socially, politically and economically – and with global forces marching us towards and uncertain future.  We have a disruptive Trump, a kingpin Putin, a powerhouse China, a fractious Brexit, a growing migrant crisis, and continuing humanitarian crisis from conflict in the Middle East.  However, to many those are just short term concerns, the big picture is an environmental time bomb; the early effects of which we can see all around us and on news reports from across the globe, with more extreme weather and the environmental impact from waste.

Presidents come and go, economies flux, but brands can span decades, generations, even centuries.  Moet & Chandon (1743), Barclays (1690), Cadbury’s (1824), Boots (1849) and Burberry (1856) are all brands with huge longevity and a rich history, but they are all changing.

It is hard to argue that the so-called ‘marketing age of experience’ could well be over, or certainly overtaken, as the race to be seen as a green brand emerges as a vital brand value.  This has left many businesses and brands uncertain about how they can change.  For brands not listening to customers on this issue, time could be ticking on their very survival.  Sounds extreme?  It’s not.

A recent example of a brand who has failed to consider how important green credentials are to its business is Walkers (1948).  This, one of the biggest food brands in Britain, failed to move fast enough when faced with a social media campaign aimed at shaming them and other crisp manufacturers to make their packaging recyclable.  It even lead to Royal Mail desperately asking people to stop posting back empty crisp packets in post boxes as protest.  The failure to manage their green credentials saw more than 330,000 people signing a petition asking Walkers to change the materials of their packaging to something that is recyclable.  It is said all publicity is good publicity, but maybe not so here and great harm was done to their brand value and will undoubtedly have downstream effects.

As we have accepted the facts about climate change and the impacts that we are imposing on the natural environment, there are undeniable signs of a shift in how we treat brands based on their green credentials and it is apparent that marketers must lead the way in helping brands move to a greener marketing era.

No one could have missed the social movement following each dramatic episode of Blue Planet II, fronted by the positively disruptive presenter and environmental campaigner, Sir David Attenborough.  Sights of plastic coffee cups, bottles, fishing nets and carrier bags swirling around tropical reefs left us feeling shocked and angry, sight of an ever-growing floating continent of plastic swirling at the centre of the Pacific left us saddened, but it was perhaps the frightening evidence of how plastic micro-beads are poisoning the very seafood we eat that has personally resonated and has directly moved us into action.

Judging by the shared reaction, green consumerism is no longer the view of the vocal few, it is now the mindset of a growing army of consumers signalled by their changing choices and loyalties.  It cannot be underestimated how the programme ignited a desire to be better, not only in homes but across boardrooms too.

Today, the world, at least our local world to start with, is changing but have no doubt this is going to snowball.  Why?  It is simple economics.  This sea change brilliantly threatens to have a global impact on corporate profits if businesses do not adapt their marketing and radically overhaul their brand values to align with a greener world.

Most global corporations are already taking note.  Many have shifted and repositioned and the days of just having just an Environmental and Sustainability Policy are gone.  At the very least, businesses and brands must at least appear green but some are thankfully taking it further. Iceland recently become the first major retailer to commit to eliminate plastic packaging for all its own-brand products, whilst Waitrose has stopped using disposable coffee cups, now saving 52 million cups a year from landfill herein.

But back to local – what does this mean for you and your business?

No matter your size and scope, if this topic is not already on your agenda, it needs to be factored front and centre in your brand thinking.

Start with revising your vision statement and determine how you can be greener in your company policies. Build an internal positive culture around sustainability, such as looking at your office supplies and encouraging staff to take ownership of their own environmental footprint and impact.  There are also other quick-wins: power savings, carbon emission savings, recycling, reduction of packaging, evaluating suppliers for their green credentials, reducing or eliminating waste going to landfill (reduce, reuse, recycle).

Going green will benefit your business in both the short and long term.  It could certainly reduce costs, there may be tax breaks, but it will retain and attract customers, it will inspire employees, it will enhance your reputation, and most importantly, it will be your small yet valuable contribution to saving our planet.


By Alex Ridings, Managing Partner

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