By Denise Klarquist, Marketing and Brand Strategy Consultant

One of the topics in REV’s Circle curriculum focuses on sustainable branding. Brand is a pretty nebulous topic for many of those outside of the marketing field; and even for some of us who work in it daily. If you focus on meeting production goals, managing facility efficiency, or hiring and training staff, sustainable branding is probably not something that keeps you up at night.

But here’s why you should care. Apple and Samsung have been vying for the top spot in smartphone sales for years. Apple has been narrowing the gap, overcoming Samsung’s lead in Q4 of 2014, while also posting an $18 billion profit, up 33% from the prior year. While Samsung spends nearly $4 billion on advertising to sway consumers, Apple spent just a third of that, relying on its avid fan base to promote its products. It’s Apple’s reputation and connection to customers, more than its promotion, that fuel its success.

Now consider this. Based on data from their customer contact center, Hewlett-Packard Company determined that customer interest in product and supply chain sustainability was connected to more than $24 billion of existing and potential revenue in 2014.

How people feel about your brand is directly tied to sales and profits, and so is their interest in sustainability. Click here and read more about the success of REV Sustainability Circle participant companies.

Sustianable BrandingSo what do we mean by “sustainable branding”? A brand is much more than a logo and name. It is the expectation that people hold in their head, based on, as David Ogilvy says, “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.” Essentially, a sustainable brand is really what has come to be the expectation of any good brand today — one that is authentic, honest, transparent, relevant, and seeks long-term value over short-term gain.

If all brands should strive toward these attributes, why even use the word “sustainable”? The key is really understanding these last two qualities: relevancy and long-term value. In increasingly competitive markets, customers will chose the “smarter” product – one that is less wasteful, less harmful, more beneficial; one that is relevant to the way they think today. As awareness builds, customers will expect brands to have a sustainability strategy. Moreover, customers will not only shun, but will out products and companies that dismiss or abuse sustainable practices.

Intel understands this. Its “audacious plan” to completely rid its supply chain of conflict minerals responds to consumers’ growing awareness of conflict minerals and an upsurge in demand for so-called ethical electronics. While Intel states that they “initiated this effort simply because it was the right thing to do,” Sustainalytics expects the effort to pay a “reputational dividend”. Reputation strength is long-term value for Intel.

SeaWorld, on the other hand, has witnessed the backlash of being blind to a sustainability trend was becoming relevant to their audience. The company has suffered a 84% collapse in profits over the past year as customers have deserted the aquatic theme park company since the release of the documentary Blackfish that claimed it mistreated orca whales.

The key to building a sustainable brand isn’t just about incorporating sustainable practices into your operations — adding more energy efficient lighting and HVAC, recycling, and installing more drought tolerant landscaping — though these kinds of initiatives are essential. It’s about aligning your core brand promise with the aspects of sustainability that are relevant to your customers, and then communicating that authentically and transparently. Read more about how Metropolitan Golf Links  has already garnered recognition for their sustainability effort including a 2003 Governor’s Environmental and economic Leadership Award.

As an example, let’s take a hypothetical California golf course (though I’m assured numerous actual ones are already on this path). It’s wonderful that they’ve adopted a host of sustainability initiatives such as a paperless office, reusable water bottles for their members, and composting food waste. Communicating these in their member newsletter though may do little as people drive by and see green fairways after allowing their own lawns to turn brown. However, making an effort to educate the general public about recycled water irrigation practices and turf reduction (based on their own initiatives) through public “water conservation tours” and signage for example, aligns with what’s relevant and builds their overall community reputation.

Every interaction that a customer has with a product builds the brand in that customer’s mind. The amount of material in the packaging, the ease of finding company information on the website, the appearance of company vehicles that roll down the road, how a job interview is structured — all of these contribute to how people perceive your brand and their inclination to buy. It’s everyone’s job to help create a sustainable brand. And it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the profitable thing to do.