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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Brand strategy through the lens of corporate responsibility

In a crowded sustainability market where companies are finding it hard to ease into the sustainability space and demonstrate thought leadership, companies can take various selective approaches towards communicating best practices. Some examples of successful efforts have ranged from creating a sub brand or developing a partnership to using an ingredient brand. Such efforts have been made to act preemptively and transparently, demonstrating that the company is aware of the need to communicate to consumers.

Creating a sub brand: KODAK CARES

In May of 2010, Kodak announced the creation of a sub brand with a tagline “Kodak Cares” unveiling its new environmental logo and its sustainable website to promote its CSR initiatives. Kodak’s recent sustainability report acknowledges that expectations of sustainability continue to rise but by showing confidence in its response to being held accountable by consumers, the sub brand is a strong effort to both transparently explain the companies’ initiatives but also transition into the space through the sub brand, which will allow consumers to associate the Kodak brand with “Kodak Cares” thus, Kodak is a socially responsible and engaged company.

Developing a Partnership COSTCO

Companies that are concerned with integrating a CSR platform throughout every facet of the brand can begin the transition by developing a partnership with another socially responsible endeavor. In July 2009, Costco partnered with the electronics trade company Gazelle to deliver a recycling program whose aim was to drive “responsible recycling of old electronic gadgets(such as laptops, cell phones etc)”. Costco in turn will issue a Cash Card to its members as a result of the trade in. Costco is already engaging its members in its sustainability practices, which goes beyond just communicating what the company is doing, it is allowing its customers to gain hands-on experience in the process.

Ingredient Branding: CARRIER’s New Environmental Logo

There are some companies that use the ingredient brand approach. Carrier for example, started using the environmental label Energy Star, on some of its products. Here in lies the ingredient brand. For many years Carrier HVAC co. has been offering heating and air conditioning equipment with the Energy Star logo. Third party verification enhances credibility in the market but having proprietary labels such as an ingredient brand on many of their products also helps the Carrier brand become more associated with sustainability. Carrier has just announced that it will be greening up its image with a new stylized green leaf on its logo. “The new identity combines the elements of a stylized green leaf with the existing “turn to the expert” tagline.” The company developed a sub brand of Carrier Energy Star equipment, which has helped them transition in to the sustainability market, ultimately developing a greener identity that will be carried throughout the whole company.

Engaging Consumers:

Let’s take a step back and notice one major factor of moving into the sustainability market: engaging consumers. One of the main components in developing a CSR strategy is to have stakeholder involvement. As a major stakeholder group, consumers dictate the CSR market through their purchasing power. The 2010 Cone Shared Responsibility Study found that consumers indicated various ways a company can help improve social and environmental issues. They include “developing new products and services, changing the way a company operates such as using sustainable materials and collaborating with nonprofits, governments, competitors or other groups to address issues collectively.” What’s interesting about this study is that a key finding revealed if a “company involved consumers in their ideas relating to CSR, they would be more likely to buy its products and services (60%), be more loyal (54%) and more likely to recommend the company (51%).”

Costco’s partnership engages consumers in its recycling program. Carrier’s approach to adding an ingredient brand changed the way it operated through the addition of a certified sustainability logo. Kodak created consumer loyalty by enhancing its logo with a sub brand and a strong tagline“Kodak Cares” to be associated with its best practices.

Your company can build its reputation through any of the selected approaches to brand strategy. It can be used to enhance your existing best practices or build on a sub branch of your business before rolling it out through the whole company. If the strategy is in line with the company’s mission and vision, it will ultimately be a successful approach to transitioning into the sustainability market.