Author The Trillion Dollar Shift
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Is sustainability key to brand personality?

23rd Sep 2020
Author The Trillion Dollar Shift
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Consumer expectations of brands have never been higher. Ten years ago, brands needed to have a killer product. Five years ago brands needed to have a slick user experience on their website. Now, brands must have a personality.

Millennials and generation Z no longer want to buy from faceless corporate machines. They want to buy from brands with heart, values and authenticity. They want the brands they buy from to be a force for good. They want to know their purchasing habits are having a positive impact on people and the planet - not just on a company’s bottom line.

Sustainability is key

The brands that thrive over the next decade will have a sustainable brand personality. It now pays to be sustainable. In the US 87% of millennial internet users are willing to pay more for sustainable products. Brands can be a tremendous force for good, yet they must demonstrate this with action rather than words. In the digital era, transparency is essential, whether you like it or not.

Brands build consumer trust by ensuring end-to-end transparency and being upfront about information concerning production, pricing and policies. And, most importantly, by taking actions that are a clear result of a sustainable brand personality.

Next generation brands

Sustainability is becoming increasingly mainstream and we’re seeing frontrunner entrepreneurs and companies exploring the way forward. They’re aware that evolving their brand personality and its actions is good business. They represent the next generation of brand personalities that give as well as take. They are aware their brands need to be trusted and liked to be successful.

To love a brand and its products, consumers and business clients need to understand this personality and what it stands for, and to see proof of societal engagement.

Sharing and contributing

One way of doing that is to let customers contribute to the company’s’ sustainable efforts. Another is by sharing profits with a good cause. Adidas and Bean United are two examples of companies leading the way…

  • Adidas. Adidas has recognized this opportunity and taken action. With its initiative Parley Ocean Plastic, for instance, sportswear company Adidas aimed to involve the running community in its efforts to end marine plastic pollution, by teaming up with non-profit Parley for the Oceans. Adidas donates $1 for every kilometre logged through its Runtastic app, as a way to spread awareness about the importance of ocean conservation and to engage the running community in its efforts. By buying the shoes, customers join Adidas in being a force for good.
  • Bean United. Bean United is an office coffee brand and offers a social impact partnering model. For every 1 kilo of coffee sold 2.5 euros (accounting for around 50% of the net profit) go to Bean United’s partner Welthungerhilfe. The NGO uses this money to provide school meals for children in Burundi. Customers receive proof of facts via reports Bean United provides about their contribution and impact. These reports can subsequently be shared with employees and other stakeholders and can even be used in clients’ Annual Reports to enhance their brand. School meals are crucial in Burundi to facilitate and motivate families to send their children to school and thus there is much more (impact) to it than ‘just’ food.

Purpose for real

These are case studies of companies that, of course, do not just deploy these initiatives alone. Brand personalities that give, rather than take, demonstrate consistent behaviour and actions. This is key to engaging customers and this will only increase over the next decade. Brands that are a force for good will grow, significantly. Others will be left behind. If the brand is for real, it will make sure that the more the brand grows, the more positive impact is achieved.

Thomas Greulich, Co-founder of Bean United, explains: “Our mission is to support a better future by providing the opportunity to drink coffee in a social way, knowing we jointly improve the lives of young people.” These companies are sharing with those in need and thus restoring a bit more balance between rich and poor throughout the world. They are not only doing good, but also doing good business.

Marga Hoek is a global thought-leader on sustainable business and the author of The Trillion Dollar Shift, a new book revealing the business opportunities provided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Trillion Dollar Shift is published by Routledge, priced at £30.99 in hardback and free in e-book. For more information go to


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