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Speaking Sustainably

Let's talk about (brand) love (and sustainability)

You thought sustainability was just an added bonus when it comes to brand loyalty? Think again.

One of the ah-has from the soon-to-be-released 2015 Eco Pulse study is that, indeed, a company’s sustainability or social responsibility commitment is a reason to love the brand.

In fact, when we asked Americans, “Can you name a brand you love?” and then asked, “Why?” environmental and CSR reasons were almost as prevalent as core functionality or performance features.

By the way, the brands listed as loved brands weren’t niche-y green brands; they were mainstream.

When we asked, “Can you name a brand you hate?” we also got a list of mainstream brands (including some from the “love” list), and again, environmental, social responsibility and product content reasons were just as prevalent as product performance/customer service issues.

The phrases “unethical/dishonest/immoral” and “corporate philosophy/political leanings” popped up just as frequently in the open-ended responses as traditional reasons for being mad at a brand/product, such as “bad experience.”

Perhaps most interesting of all: we saw an enormous jump in the percentage of Americans who say they’re putting their money where their hearts are on this issue.

When we asked, “Have you ever chosen one product over another or stopped purchasing a product based on the environmental record of its manufacturer?” 33 percent said yes — and 75 percent actually could name a specific brand. Just look at the graph below to see what a huge shift this is on both fronts:

Shelton Group sustainability branding

So, if there’s still any question at your organization as to whether sustainability is important — and whether you should put money behind telling the story — feel free to share these data points.

I’d go so far as to say social and environmental features are beginning to rival traditional, core features (such as quality and performance) in brand preference and product selection.

From a consumer perspective, we are quickly evolving to a place of “good guys vs. bad guys,” and more and more of us want to buy from the good guys. That concept fundamentally makes sense — and in a consumer reality where shelves are lined with seemingly endless extensions of brands (Tostitos Artisan Recipes Roasted Garlic & Black Bean Flavored Tortilla Chips, anyone?), trying to choose the “best” one has become confusing and mind-numbing.

Knowing something real and good (in a higher-purpose/helpful-to-all kind of way) about the brand becomes a clearer way to make a choice.

One last comment before I wrap this up: I was at a conference last week of folks who hold communications positions at our nation’s largest utilities. I asked if it was possible for people to love their utility, and this crowd all looked at me as if I were from Mars.

As they are set up, branded and marketed today, those “are you out of your mind” looks are justified. But in a future where utilities become easier to do business with, offer personalized options that customers actually want and, yes, embrace a commitment to the environment, I don’t actually think it’s outside the realm of possibility that a utility one day could make the “brands we love” list.

Any brand managers reading this post could see their brands on the list — provided your company makes a heartfelt, authentic commitment to something that creates value for our world, not just value for the stock market. And provided you tell that story in a heartfelt, pure way.

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Shelton Group

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