Sustainable brand building – a long lasting trend?

aware_ sat down with Pascal Staud, Co-Founder & Global Mobility Lead at Media.Monks, to talk about the importance of sustainable brand building.

Whether in ecological, economic or social terms, the pandemic has made it clear how important sustainability is – also in a corporate context. Many brands have become aware of how much they benefit when the company decides to make a sustainable commitment – both in terms of reputation and financially. Publishing a sustainability report is considered the minimum standard, while other companies are loading their brand with green labels or even changing their brand color to green. However, companies must be careful here not to implement measures where the marketing aspect is more important than the company’s behavior. Measures like these are quickly exposed as “greenwashing”; and the damage to the brand’s image is greater than the benefit to the company. Yet, green engagement is more than just a fleeting consumer trend. As a study by the British news service BBC Global News shows, 80% of consumers worldwide believe that a focus on sustainability increases the value of a brand. For just as many, companies’ sustainable actions are an important criterion in their purchasing decisions. 67% of respondents are even willing to spend more money on a sustainable product. People are now very aware of the grievances and global challenges. They do not want to be part of the problem, but part of the solution. That is why people are happy to delegate this responsibility to brands. By buying a sustainable product or service, they want to act responsibly and contribute to a better world. Brands that address sustainability issues are very attractive to them – but only if the purchase is not perceived as a sacrifice or a worse alternative. With this “deal” between consumers and brands, companies are bridging the apparent gap between their desire to make a difference and their profitability. So-called impact brands, such as Patagonia, show the attraction that can result (Cuenco; Markenfels; Brand Trust; Springer Professional; Monotype).

sustainable brand building

Together with Pascal Staud, Co-Founder & Global Mobility Lead, Media.Monks, aware_ talked about sustainability in a corporate context and how important sustainable brand building is. 

aware_: Can any brand become sustainable? Is there a step-by-step guide? 

Pascal Staud: Sustainability is a holistic principle. A brand can only be sustainable if the company is sustainable, if the products are sustainable, if the value chains around the product are sustainable, if the logistics are sustainable, and if the partners act sustainably. In this understanding, it quickly becomes clear that sustainability is not a quick approach. It requires a complex strategy, the management of an entire eco-system. If a company takes up this challenge, it will be possible to work in priorities and timelines and set goals step by step. The brand is the communicative focal point of this strategy, and it must be carefully considered when to communicate which steps and how. Can one make announcements, e.g., climate-neutrality by 2030? Is it permissible to communicate individual measures, e.g., supply chain traceability? Do you have to communicate internally first and then externally or at the same time? Each brand must decide this for itself in each individual case. But it seems certain that in the long run it will be difficult for brands that are not sustainable at their core. They simply become unconsumable because they are not socially acceptable. 

aware_: How important is transparency in sustainable brand building and what needs to be considered so that brands with their ambitions do not end up in the greenwashing drawer? 

Pascal Staud: The best remedy against greenwashing is simply not to greenwash. One should resist the reflex to hastily attach labels to oneself that do not stand up to scrutiny, just as one should resist participating in dubious testing standards or exaggerated advertising campaigns. Transparency in the gradual sustainability is accepted. Credibility is an essential part of sustainability. Responsibility is another partial aspect. And since sustainability sometimes also implies weighing up interests, it is good if a brand credibly faces up to its responsibility, even if this sometimes means a delay in achieving the sustainability goals. 

aware_: Is digital transformation an accelerator of sustainable brand building or perhaps even an inhibitor? 

Pascal Staud: Digital transformation is first and foremost energy-intensive and therefore not sustainable. In 2022, the internet will consume as much energy as the entire world did in 2011. Digital seems so lean and clean, but you have to be aware of this energetic responsibility. Only if these additional energy requirements can also be generated sustainably, i.e., from renewable sources, will the digital transformation itself not be a further burden in the pursuit of sustainability. Apart from this, digital development is driving the issue of transparency and with it all the possibilities of knowing more about one’s own weak points in sustainable value creation and thus eliminating them. However, digital transformation and sustainability are for the time being only temporally parallel global trends that are not directly causally related.

sustainable brand building

aware_: How do you manage to evolve with time, be innovative and ultimately sustainable, without losing the tradition of the brand? 

Pascal Staud: Hopefully, the tradition of a brand is not and never in opposition to sustainability. Even Formula 1, one of the biggest sports brands in the world, is ostensibly the opposite of sustainability, but its core is not kerosene or the internal combustion engine. The core is the race between man and man at maximum technological feasibility. And this technological feasibility is being driven in the direction of sustainability. This example shows that strong brands not only have to adapt to global trends, they can also take advantage of them by examining their core, to the extent that it offers starting points on the topic that no one else can play on in the same way. Sustainability is basically a great playing field for innovation, since neither a “business as usual” nor a “back to the stone age” are real options. 

aware_: How can brands communicate their sustainable commitment? 

Pascal Staud: Open, honest, transparent, verifiable, reviewed, shared. And above all holistic. 

aware_: Who are the role models for sustainable brand building? Are there best practice brands? 

Pascal Staud: The best examples naturally come from companies that have a sustainable business model at their core, the owners understand this as the foundation of the business and therefore did not have to adapt to a new global trend & standard in the first place. Citing Patagonia as an example here is not particularly original, but only logical. The renunciation of growth is so sustainable that the brand has become synonymous with a new approach to business far beyond its user base. But also, as said, for most other companies it will become a step by step approach. And there are many good small examples to be found. This can also be used in brand communication. Of course, only if the reality stands up to the promise.

About Pascal Staud
As Co-Founder and Global Mobility Lead at Media.Monks, Pascal Staud advises automotive and mobility brands to drive their marketing in the digital age. Having led STAUD STUDIOS, a creative production studio specializing in this industry, Pascal Staud brings more than 15 years of experience in the industry.  

For this reason, he also illustrates as a valuable expert of the aware_ Academy in the masterclass ‘Green Marketing’ the area of tension between sustainability and marketing – from strategy to implementation – without drifting into greenwashing.
You can register here for free 

– by Marie Klimczak 

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