There’s a famous quote attributed to Warren Buffett, in which he said,
“It takes 20 years to build,” a brand, “and five minutes to ruin one.”
Recent events, such as Volkswagen’s admitted doctoring of emission systems on millions of its vehicles, proved Mr. Buffett was right. That instant alone will cost Volkswagen billions of dollars in losses, including massive and measurable negative impact on its stock value and reputation. At one point, business and economic experts were wondering how much it would negatively impact the high quality reputation for German manufacturing in general, not just for Volkswagen.
Now, that’s extraordinary:
On the other hand, a company like Unilever, has a sustainable living plan that guides their work in gaining market share, and improving revenues. This plan is key to introducing and establishing their name in countries in which it’s lesser known than many of its own brands, such as Ben and Jerry’s, Dove, Lipton, and more than 30 others. As a business, Unilever considers the economic, social, and environmental indicators of its brands, and manages them accordingly.
It’s enabled them to be recognized as one of the best managed companies in the world. Brand reputation and sustainability are very closely linked. Mismanaging or being generally indifferent to your environmental and social footprint can have real and costly impacts to the bottom line, and to the brand itself. Though a companies brand is considered an intangible in a company’s profit and loss statement, it’s the most tangible and recognizable exemplification of who you are as a business, without it you’re lost.
Not sure where to start?
Look at the brand attributes that you’re best known for right now, quality, reliability, durability, innovation. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes, and try to identify how to better make the sustainability case for one or more of them. When Arm and Hammer Baking Soda established in 1846, identified an emerging consumer interest in usingmore sustainable cleaning products, it called out the legitimate green attributes of its baking soda formula.
This was a logical and authentic expression of the brand in the sustainable cleaning space,which it basically helped invent 150 years ago, but was barely recognized for. Arm and Hammer’s effort to highlight the sustainability attributes of the brand have met with great success, and the brand is more popular than ever. Ask yourself, is there a social or environmental issue that the brand is associated with, or could highlight and get behind? What role, if any, is the brand playing right now in helping to solve and tackle the problem? What tangible actions could the brand do to try and solve this problem? What difference will these actions make? Is the brand engaging with others to help make a broader contribution, or just acting alone? Here are some things to consider, tie sustainability to your brand’s core businessto ensure it resonates with customers.
For instance, if your brand sells wooden furniture, your sustainability efforts should include a focus on trees, and forest-related issues. Don’t do something unrelated to what people know you for, or customers won’t reward your efforts. If you do something irrelevant to your core business signage, you risk alienating or confusing your consumers. Sustainability strengthens brands, but greenwashing, putting more effort into talking about how green a product is, than into actually being green, damages a company.
Brand honesty and transparency go a long way with consumers. Disclosing what you’re doing well, and what you could be doing better will instill trust. Trust breeds loyalty, and customer loyalty contributes to brand sustainability.