Are we experiencing a shift in communicating about sustainability toward an approach called “brand substance”? According to a report by Given London and Ashridge Business, we are. The approach draws attention to things like how a company demonstrates corporate responsibility and the most meaningful purpose behind their brand.
The report is based on a year’s worth of research on over 50 companies with some of the most well-known brands around the world. The authors had in-depth interviews with top sustainability experts. They talk about the impacts of the trend and strategies for building up brand substance.
The trend toward communicating “brand substance” has some key drivers, including customer demands for transparency, increasing government regulations, broader media coverage on sustainability, activism, and new generational demands for corporate responsibility. The researchers asked experts to rank companies based on their sustainability practices and they compared this with marketer’s perceptions on brand substance. They found that “doing good” was not enough to capture the hearts of marketers and sustainability efforts were going unnoticed. They identified this as an overlooked opportunity to market a company’s brand substance.
The research showed that tech companies in particular carried a “positive brand halo.” Customers tend to trust them more because they are so influential. However, the research suggests that when people know about a company’s negative impacts, customers could potentially turn against them.
Some companies inherently carry brand substance (like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s), while others have to add it on (like IKEA and Adidas). The report covers how brand substance has benefited these companies and even helped reform negative brand perceptions. There are some barriers to adopting a brand substance approach to marketing, because it’s challenges many accepted practices in the field. But the report offers tangible steps to overcoming those barriers.
As the demand for sustainability rises, marketing a company’s brand substance will become more critical for future success.
Read the full report here.