[This is the last in a series of five guest posts looking at the importance of brand strategy and effective marketing for green and ethical businesses. For post one, click here, for post two, click here, for post three, click here, and you'll find post four here.]
OK, to conclude our posts about good-for-the-world branding, we’re going to call out the brands that best exemplify the qualities we discussed. Think of it as the Oscars of green branding, only no acceptance speeches or silly statues. (To avoid anything that smells of self-promotion, we’re not including any brands that our company works with.)
RELEVANCE & PERSONALITY AWARD. For those who haven't read the other posts in this series — by relevance, we mean finding points of intersection between sustainability and values that are more deeply entrenched in our culture ( you know, like aligning your branding with people’s existing values, rather than trying to make them care about something new). Ben & Jerry's does this beautifully. People like brands that are fun, happy, true to themselves and avoid pretense, and this is what Ben & Jerry's manages to be so well. They took a stand on global warming when it was more politically contentious, and they did it brilliantly. Instead of lecturing people or scaring them, they came out with an initiative centered on an ice cream flavor, One Sweet Whirled, and a song by the Dave Matthews Band (staying true to Cherry Garcia-jam band association heritage). And they did this 4 years before Al Gore broke out his Inconvenient Truth. They have since entrenched their leadership position by sponsoring Ben and Jerry’s Climate Change College, and by giving away free ice cream to anyone who signs up for a renewable energy tariff with UK company Ecotricity. They are a superb role model for how to reach beyond the choir.
CREDIBILITY & AUTHENTICITY AWARD. Black Spot is a rebellion in the form of a brand. The most effective branding is simply the conveyance of your institutional realities. And Blackspot was created from the ground up to institute the realities advocated by its founders, Adbusters, who spearheaded the "anti-brand" as a way to put their money where their mouth is and to prove that products can be created without exploiting workers or manipulating minds. The shoes mix organic hemp fabrics with recycled and reclaimed materials and are made in a union plant. To further enact its values, Blackspot treats people who buy its shoes as co-conspirators, not consumers -- every pair of shoes comes with a number that gives you access to company forums that determine pricing and communication strategies.
BE MORE THAN GREEN AWARD. For us, when we think of authenticity, we actually think of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap, even before Black Spot. Every bottle features Dr. Emanuel Bronner's 30,0000+ word discourse on unity — making it crystal clear that this brand means what it says down to its bones. But we didn't choose them for authenticity — why? Because they do such an awesome job of being more than green. First off, their quality is sterling − they make an outstanding 100% organic product. Furthermore, executive compensation is limited to 5 times the salary of the lowest paid employee. Their packaging is also made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic, and instead of trying to increase productivity by automating (i.e. using machines and firing human beings), they maintain a craftsperson-like production process that values every one who works there.
It doesn’t end there though. As the world gets more like them, they continue to lead. They spearheaded the initiative for stricter organic certifications in the Health and Beauty category (and in so doing, generated a lot of publicity that reminded people of the organic integrity of their own products — smart branding move!). They are leading the battle to legalize hemp farming in the U.S.. They've helped spearhead a Domestic Fair Trade initiative. And they've realized Emanuel Bronner's wish for unity by establishing a Fair Trade program that unites both Palestinian and Israeli farmers. In the world of businesses with a higher mission, this company rules!
INTEGRATION AWARD WINNER. This wasn't one of our topics, but we wanted to call out Patagonia for the genius work they do in integrating their messages of commitment to outdoor adventure and the planet. They make it obvious that you can't really have one without the other. And like Black Spot, they make you feel like you're joining the brand, rather than "consuming it."
A SPECIAL SHOUT OUT TO BROMPTON. Brompton is a British-based company that makes excellent folding bikes in their own facility in England, an impressive contrast to the outsourcing that dominates most of the bike industry. In terms of branding, they do a very simple yet very remarkable thing that demonstrates the best way to develop credibility with your market — their web site includes a candid, objective guide to their competition. If a brand can stand up and honestly and openly tell you to look at their competitors and to consider them as an equally valid option, then it stands in good stead to win your credibility and trust – it’s like when a shop keeper tells you they don’t have what you want, but you might want to try the guys down the road. Ultimately, you’re much more likely to go back to them for something else, or at least recommend them to your friends.
Actions speak louder than words. That seems a fitting way to conclude this series. Thanks to all those who've dugg us.
This post is the last of five focusing on the marketing advantages of businesses that care as much about the planet as profits. The first post addressed the need for sustainable businesses to differentiate themselves from their competitors and the second post addressed the need to align sustainability with people’s existing values. The third post looked at how sustainability can bring authenticity to a brand, and the fourth post explored the importance of being more than just green.
Jerry Stifelman is founder and creative director of The Change, a brand-strategy and design agency that works exclusively with companies and organizations that make the world more sustainable, equitable or authentic.
[Disclosure: This guest post was arranged through TreeHugger writer Sami Grover, who also works for The Change as the company's Director of Sustainability and Media Liaison]