The future of branding is activism

Landor senior strategist Ash Stapleton speaks to why during this time of climate crisis and global interest in sustainability it has never been more important for brands to take a stand.

I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” – Greta Thunberg. 

We are in a climate emergency. At this rate by the end of the century, the global cost of climate inaction will reach US$23 Trillion, equivalent to five 2008 financial crises every yearWe have less than 12 years to reverse the damage. Time is running out. While typically we might look to the government for the answer, quite frankly it’s not moving fast enough. We need all hands on deck. 

The good news, consumers believe brands can do more to address environmental issues than the government can, and organizations are responsible for 72 percent of carbon emissions. The potential for impact is significant.  

If you’re a business owner, an employee or a person responsible for managing a brand, the power is yours. It’s time for action. Let’s change our future.  

Unlocking the power of brand

Think about life today. We can stream limitless content on the click of a button, we ride with strangers from the internet and stay in their houses. Things we take for granted were simply not possible just 10 years ago.  

Great brands have the power to drive and impact consumer behavior, at speed—whether that be positively or negatively. The opportunities for brands and business to drive change and consumer behavior are huge, and the even better news: consumers are demanding it. 

The importance of brands to take a stand

A recent report by opr (Futures5) shows that embedding purpose within brands and organizations is now well ingrained. Brands are increasingly setting science-based targets, becoming emission positive and hiring sustainability consultants. What’s more, belief-driven buyers now represent the majority.   

This doesn’t necessarily mean your businesses’ sole reason for being must be for good; however, it should form a vital element of your strategy and it can’t just be talk. It must be authentic action. 

Take IKEA for example, they’re radically changing to remain relevant. With an ambition to be 100 percent circular and climate positive in their operations by 2030. They’re truly signaling change because it makes business sense.  

The need to change the scoring system

Without a doubt, the biggest hurdles when it comes to action are shareholders and profit margins. It’s been the main focus since the 70s, but times are changing and there is a better way—the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. This isn’t new, but it is growing. Demonstrated clearly by the rise of certified B-Corps, organizations are concerned about how they create value for non-shareholding stakeholders, such as the environment, the local community, customers or employees 

Harvard found the rise of B-Corps comes down to two reasons. The first, to demonstrate they are more “genuine, authentic and advocates of stakeholder benefits”, finding an opportunity to differentiate in a landscape of greenwashing and generic CSR claims or cause marketing. The second, businesses are taking responsibility that the “major crises of our time are as a result of the way we conduct business” and are looking “to redefine the way people perceive success in the business world.” 

This may seem altruistic, but realistically it’s simply following demand.  Recognizing that in the near future, measuring a business’s success primarily on short-term profit and shareholder value will become antiquated. There are more forward-looking ways to structure a business and remain competitive.  

The commercial benefit of activism

Taking an active and authentic stance on environmental and social issues isn’t just a nice to have—it can deliver a solid commercial benefit. Your employees will be happier, have twice the amount of job satisfaction and are three times more likely to stay with their employer. Beyond the internal benefits, brands have the opportunity to be more successful. 

Unilever’s most sustainable brands delivered 70 percent of turnover growth, Patagonia’s relentless ability to stick to their eco-friendly ethos has resulted in the company growing to be a $600M company with more than 50 stores worldwideIntrepid Group reported 17 percent revenue growth as a direct result of being a sustainable and purpose-led business and FMCG brands can claim more of that elusive shelf space because of increasing demand. 

The time is now

The environmental crisis is in full swing, but here’s the good news: great brands have the power to drive change and impact behavior en masse and fast.  

Consumers are demanding you take a stance, and progressive brands are recognizing the commercial impact of genuinely changing the way they do business —focusing on people, planet and profit. By subscribing to a different model early, brands can signal leadership and relevance and those who don’t, well, quite simply they will be left behind.   

It’s time for motivation and urgent action. Let’s go. 

This article was first published on Bandt Australia.