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Sustainability in Your Brand Purpose

In this article, consultant Sarah Greenaway will help you decide what sustainability issues should factor into your brand position.

Your brand proposition is a bundle of benefits that the customer derives out of your brand. To help you prioritise what sustainability messages should be included in your brand proposition, use the quadrant tool below to plot your topics.

On the bottom axis is ‘business capability’ – this refers to your ability to consistently and robustly deliver on the issue you view as important. Nothing is perfect, and every business has some areas that are fantastically strong and others that need more attention or shall be saved for future development. If it is going to be an area of focus that you shout about, you must be confident about your credentials.

On the vertical axis is ‘customer relevance’. Your customer tribe will consider some subjects to be much more important than others.

It is essential to understand what these are, accept them (even if they differ from your opinion) and know why they are particularly relevant. You will then be able to decide how best to position your brand communications to meet with these expectations.

Tip: the fact that customers don’t rate something as important doesn’t mean it’s not important in your business, it simply means that there’s no value in spending money telling your customers about it at this time.


Download the Quadrant Tool template here.


High risk topics

These topics may present a high risk of brand damage if they flare up. Whilst these may be topics of lesser immediate or obvious relevance to your business, the risk of negative coverage is still real.

Bear in mind that if your customer tribe (or a journalist) is passionate about a particular issue, you may be challenged on the topic – however tenuous the link to your business. It is important to have a very clear position so that if confronted you are able to respond appropriately.

For example let’s say that human rights are very high on your customers’ agenda but you make all of your product in the UK. You still need to be sure that all of your materials are sourced responsibly across your entire supply chain – in case there are issues that emerge several steps removed from your manufacturing facility, even if you are not involved directly with a business further down the chain. In this case you’d need a ready prepared robust plan in place to demonstrate how you are taking action on the issue if this point is raised by your customer or by the media.

Conversely, this might be a topic that you know is a weak spot that you are working to improve, but for some reason it is difficult to resolve. In this case be sure to have a very clear plan of action in place to improve standards, and a pre-prepared statement of intent so that you can answer any challenges confidently and professionally.

Familiarise yourself with how other similar brands deal with these issues – social media is a great way to do this. If others are being very outspoken about a particular issue and are campaigning to raise awareness, it will be more likely to be a topic that comes up in the media and that customers are asking about. As well as staying abreast of the ‘heat’ in the issue, it will give you ideas about how you might be able to approach the risky issue in the future.

Development topics

Whilst these topics may not be particularly important to customers (thus you are at much less risk of being challenged about them), they could still be very important to you and something you are committed to working on in the long term.

A development issue is often something that is being tackled within more widely across the industry. It is something that is in process and will come into play in the long-term. An example of this could be an innovative new technology that will solve a problem (eg cotton recycling).

Whilst you may be very involved in the development of the process, it’s probably not something to spend money on communicating about – yet. Consumers may still be blissfully unaware of landfill issues and the environmental impact of growing and processing cotton, so they just won’t value your story.

Have a clear idea of which initiatives in your business fall into this quadrant and park them from a brand communications point of view until they are higher up your customers’ agenda and you are really great at delivering.

Star topics

These are the topics that are right at the top of your agenda and that you excel at. Plus, these are the issues that are most important to your customer – so well worth making part of your brand positioning.

Once you have identified these important topics look to other brands that also talk about similar issues – observe their approach and how customers react, this will provide great background for developing your communication strategy.

Aim for a maximum of three topics in this quadrant, otherwise there will be too much to say which will lead to customer confusion or disinterest.

Hygiene topics

These are things that you are expected to do as a matter of obligation and consequently customers really won’t give you much credit for doing them. Where customers expect to be protected by legislation, they are unimpressed by claims of responsible manufacturing if they believe it’s required by law.

For example, the regulations around toxic chemicals. Many chemicals used in the production of fashion products are outlawed in the EU, yet there are no regulations against using these chemicals in other parts of the world. However, best practice means that a truly responsible manufacturer would not use them. Customers are not typically aware of this level of complexity and therefore this message is unlikely to make a difference to your customer.

If it is an issue your customers really don’t care about, they won’t care whether you address it or not, so there is little point in talking about it in your brand communications unless it becomes a news issue. However, if it is something important that you are passionate about and determined to campaign to raise awareness – absolutely go for it, but be ready for a long haul. Changing minds and behaviours is not an easy task but could be well worth it to you.

© Mysource Ltd
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How to Build a Sustainable Fashion Business

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