BfG News Issue 19 - Editor's Column: Tackling the issues

19 Mar 2009|Added Value

Recession-obsessed brands who lose their sustainable focus may well find themselves left out in the cold when the global economy starts recovering. There is no doubt that every penny counts for today’s consumers who are looking to get the best “value” possible as they come to terms with their options – consume less, demand more for less or make new and different choices altogether. From research we conducted, we know that a brand’s responsible behaviour is increasingly seen as a driver of value. Indeed, sustainable issues can act as a benefit, but also by their absence, can constitute a detractor from value.

By tackling either a brand or category issue head on, brands have the opportunity to resonate most with consumers, affect consumer behaviour change and gain leadership in the process. The results are encouraging.

Who can forget the environmental furore around plastic bags in the UK last year? M&S, already established as pioneering sustainable initiatives with their “Plan A” campaign, gained leadership of this issue as the first retailer to charge 5p for plastic bags, forcing others in the category to follow. As a result, UK retailers gave out 3.5 billion fewer plastic bags in 2008, a drop of 26% from 2007.

Another issues lead example is Ariel tackling energy efficiency with their “Turn to 30˚” campaign. Over a 2 year period, this campaign has resulted in a total of 1 million UK households turning to 30° (estimated 41% energy savings), 60,000 tonnes of CO2 have been saved, and a staggering 89% of customers confirming that they would continue washing at 30 degrees. A number of other companies subsequently added their own ‘turn to 30’ messages but independent research showed that 88% of consumers who changed their behaviour to wash clothes at 30 degrees associated the message with Ariel, confirming their leadership of this issue.

These examples show how brands are starting to address their category shadows: a relatively new phenomenon for marketers. In the new responsible brand world, understanding both your brand and category shadow should become part of your sustainable analysis. Which are the issues that resonate most with consumers? What are the worst issues where your brand has the most impact? The latter will involve some form of life cycle analysis or impact audit; key information to understand where the biggest impacts of your brand lie and so carve out the opportunities.

Benchmarking against regulatory issues will help identify pending legislation that could elevate an issue that wasn’t relevant for your category yesterday, to a burning issue tomorrow. At present, the European Commission is considering applying more regulatory force to address the 10.3 billion tonnes of e-waste discarded each year in Europe. They are threatening to clamp down on the proliferation of mobile phone chargers if the manufacturers don’t self-regulate. Nokia have been quick to respond by launching their N79 Eco model which comes without a charger.

Examination of adjacent categories is also key as ethical and environmental issues are swiftly moving from one category to another. For instance, some issues relevant in automotive has moved to food (CO2 emissions) and organic & fair trade issues relevant in the food sector is now just as relevant in fashion. Today, disposable fashion is often reliant on sweat-shop practices, and continues to be a clear target for criticism e.g. Primark. To combat this in the UK, the Government has setup a voluntary scheme, Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) for the fashion industry, which launched at London Fashion Week recently. Green pledges include Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury’s to improve the sustainability of their clothing ranges.

To help our clients identify which issues they can tackle in a way that fits with their core brand DNA, we’ve developed a Sustainable Issues Wheel. Divided into 3 sections, the wheel explores: Public Health covering toxins, disease and healthy eating; Social & Economic Fairness highlighting poverty, fair trade and employee exploitation; and the Environment encompassing waste management and pollution, bio-diversity and resource scarcity, energy efficiency and climate change.

Japanese retailer, Uniqlo addresses the issue of disposable fashion by encouraging customers to return unwanted items for recycling and donation to refugee camps – tapping into Social & Economic Fairness issues. Whilst Howies and Patagonia, whose positioning is closer to nature, focus on Environmental issues. Howies’ ‘hand-me-downs range’ is designed to last from generation to generation.  Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles allows customers to trace, from design to delivery, 14 of their products. These initiatives resonate with consumers because they fit naturally with the brand’s DNA.

Consumers reward leadership. Those brands who plan their long term sustainable journey can grasp the opportunity to take up the leadership position in their category;  whether that is creating a campaign around the hot button of their category or “owning” an issue less core, but more distinctive. However, marketers need to be mindful that initiatives need to evolve so will have an individual journey of their own. Brands offer solutions; consumers engage with them and just by the fact that a brand has offered a solution at this point in time then raises consumer’s expectations once they engage.  Scenario planning for lead initiatives will be imperative for brands wanting to adopt a leadership position. But, as M&S and Ariel have shown, it’s definitely there for the taking.

Marie Ridgley, Managing Director
Added Value UK

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