Building brands in a changing society

Brands May Be Hiding Their Best Assets

Consider it to be the opposite of greenwashing.

While some companies get a lot of mileage from limited but well-publicized sustainability activities, others do good works but don’t get the credit they deserve.

A number of leading global brands are making respectable investments in greening their operations, bringing sustainable products to market and supporting local communities. Yet without the support of a global brand banner or advertising campaign, their sustainability efforts go unnoticed by consumers and other stakeholders.

It seems unlikely that major brands would miss an opportunity to broadcast their sustainability achievements to the marketplace. However, this is precisely the situation of companies like HP, Hyundai, Danone, IBM and HSBC, according toInterbrand’s Best Global Green Brands 2011 report. They are all noted for being environmental leaders whose green activities are under-communicated and are therefore under-appreciated by the public.

While it may be admirable to pursue a sustainability agenda without needing public recognition, these companies are actually doing a disservice to their brand.

A company’s stance and actions on sustainability have become important components of its brand architecture. Corporations are increasingly held accountable by consumers and other stakeholders for a growing list of issues, as noted inLandor’s 2011 Trends Forecast. This includes how they operate, where inputs are sourced, how products are made, and how employees and constituent communities are treated. Social media channels guarantee that missteps are broadcast widely and in real time.

Just as a poor performance against sustainability measures can harm a corporate reputation, strong performance can bolster a brand – as long as those successes are effectively communicated.

When there is a gap between sustainability performance and public perception -when companies are doing more good than they share – they miss out on important gains to their brand value.

Importantly, the market is still in a position where sustainability is a differentiator – for now.

While consumers don’t want to pay a premium for green products, the majority across all countries say it is important to buy from environmentally-friendly companies, as found by the Cohn & Wolfe Green Brands survey.

Backlash over green washing, or the overstating of sustainability credentials or benefits, remains a risk. Still, those brands with credible stories shouldn’t wait too long to tell them. Otherwise their careful investments in sustainability will have become table stakes in an increasingly environmentally and socially conscious marketplace.



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