What sustainability teams can learn from brand and marketing teams to crack the brand purpose code

As brand purpose becomes a mainstream business idea, brand and sustainability teams are beginning to work together more closely. Traditionally, these teams have very different ways of working - different governance structures, different measures of success and even a completely different language.

What sustainability teams can learn from brand and marketing teams to crack the brand purpose code

So, what can sustainability practitioners learn from their brand and marketing colleagues about how to develop sustainability strategies that create value for the brand and the business?

Invest in insight

Sustainability teams have always sought the input of external stakeholders as part of the materiality process. But frequently, customers aren’t a big part of this. Unless your sustainability strategy is relevant for your customers, it’s impossible to make it core to your brand. And without this, it’s difficult to move beyond managing risk and reputation to creating more business value.

Brand and marketing teams are often brilliant at this. They spend time and budget getting under the skin of their customers – understanding the world they live in, their behaviours and motivations, and what they want from the brand. This crucial insight helps the brand stay relevant and helps create a brand story that connects with customers emotionally because it genuinely matters to them.

For example, when Axe launched a new brand positioning supported by a campaign to help young men connect with the concept of the changing nature of masculinity, it was in response to a genuine customer need. Axe recognized that it could play a role in exploring the answer to ‘what it means to be a man’. The result was an ambitious campaign from a brand that had previously dealt almost exclusively in macho stereotypes and “fallen angels”. As a consequence, Unilever saw a reappraisal of the brand among an audience with changing needs and values.

At Given, we’ve been pioneering an approach called co-creation to help our clients build their purpose and develop ideas that create positive change. The approach involves bringing together big groups of customers, experts and colleagues to develop ideas and solutions to purpose-related challenges. It’s a powerful tool for generating valuable customer insight, helping us understand what customers care about most and how they can have the biggest positive impact on their relationship with the business.

A ruthless focus on simplicity

As sustainability practitioners, we know that the world we operate in is complicated – full of interconnected and often nuanced issues. But when you consider the multitude of propositions, product benefits, new product development, channels, messaging and metrics, are things really that different for brand marketers?

One of the big differences is that brand marketers know how to cut through complexity and express complicated business ideas with simplicity. Brand purpose ideas should similarly be simple to express. They should be a single idea or vision to unite employer, consumer and corporate audiences.

H&M Conscious is a great example of a simple, unifying purpose strategy that works as a distinctive CR and sustainability brand story, a bold and ambitious vision for the business (to use 100% sustainable cotton by 2020) and through Conscious Exclusive, creates the basis for a communications campaign that makes sustainability desirable to customers and provides a reason for them to engage.

More sophisticated ways to inform decision making

Best practice sustainability teams set long-term strategies, with clear goals for the changes the business will create in the world. Typically, these are underpinned by shorter-term KPIs to help keep the strategy on track. However, these KPIs are frequently only reported against annually and can be a blunt tool to diagnose potential issues.

Brand marketing teams have adopted more sophisticated and responsive approaches for keeping the business on track in delivering brand and marketing strategies. For example, NPS (net promoter score) provides a decision making tool where brand teams can spot what they need to change. Although critiqued for its simplicity, NPS provides a fast, actionable metric for teams to get a sense of customer satisfaction so they can identify and react to challenges quickly.

Apple uses NPS to systematically listen to its customers and manage its business based on what it hears. An example of where the business benefitted from using NPS in a reactive way was when it changed its disgruntled customers into loyal customers by gauging how effectively each of their stores were performing, and then personally calling each customer who gave a low score. Research showed that each customer who was contacted would bring in on average an extra $1,000 worth of business within a year.

As purpose is fast becoming an essential ingredient in the mainstream marketer’s toolkit, sustainability and marketing teams can and must work together. For both sides, it’s a new way of thinking that we call brand purpose with substance, involving marketing initiatives that demonstrate responsibility, communicate brand values and express a meaningful purpose that will have lasting impacts on the business, customers, and ultimately the world.

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