How Retailers Can Succeed and Help the World in the Age of Sustainability
Various studies show there's an undoubtable uptrend around sustainable consumer products. What’s new is that increasing consumer demand is going beyond targeting only special interest categories, such as apparel or natural foods. Sustainable and responsible products are becoming the new norm.
What happened? Retailers and brand managers can remember the circumstance as if it was yesterday. At a time when media outlets were talking about sustainability, surveys showed an increase in public awareness and support for this trend, yet sales numbers didn’t quite reflect that. So, what has changed?
People Are Living the Prediction
For about five years now, we've been on the fast highway of change. During this time, people have experienced stronger, repetitive repercussions of climate change, an increasing awareness of unequal wealth gaps, social inequalities, and discriminating social systems.
We collectively took the long road by not heeding the warnings decades ago, choosing instead to learn from an immersive experiential place. In 2020, 72 percent of Americans believed in climate change, and 62 percent agreed that the outcome of climate change would affect their community. Scientific prediction shifted to reality for many, and people wanted change.
Microsoft, Ikea, and even London Heathrow Airport are all aiming to be carbon neutral within 10 years. Looking at the increasing number of B-Corp members around the globe, more and more brands are not just following carbon neutrality; they're committing their business model to actionable, accountable and integrated sustainability.
How Retailers Can Win From This Movement
For some retailers, sustainability feels outside of their business scope since their job is to sell products, not produce them. Of course, retail is much more. Retailers have the opportunity to co-design, collaborate, and participate in this new movement and come out stronger.
Another empty promise? No, not at all. One of the biggest influences on whether people buy sustainable products is environmental education. The Environmental Protection Agency itself promotes over 25 of its own labels and standards, and over 40 private-sector labels for sustainable standards on its website. It’s safe to say that there are a dozen or more labels printed on products, making sustainable claims that influence and convince people to buy them.
Retailers can help their customers to stay on top of all choices. Whole Foods created its business on the principle of retailer brand identity. Today, Whole Foods’ customers know that all products labeled 365 are sourced to avoid bioengineering — a core principle guided by the Whole Foods brand. Customers from Package Free Shop know that all products offered are made with a zero-waste mindset, and that their orders will arrive in 100 percent recyclable and 100 percent compostable packaging material that’s minimal and avoids the use of plastic materials.
In both cases, consumers don’t have to worry that their sustainable values are at stake with every product they purchase. They instead can enjoy their shopping experience because they trust that the retailer’s brand holds the same standards that they do.
Build a Retailer Brand With Identity-Built Branding
Building a retailer brand identity that connects with people and their values requires “conscious branding,” which begins when a retailer becomes aware of its identity — who it is, what it stands for, and what future it would like to co-design. This is the created ecosystem that the brand lives in and how it can add value to the world and its people. Identity Built Branding (IBB) is a methodology to help retailers understand, explore and do business from its identity. It’s branding from the inside-out vs. outside-in.
These are three tips to build a retailer brand based on its identity and improving the world:
- Engage in organizational self-searching. Ask yourself: What is the core reason we're in business? What are our non-negotiable guiding beliefs? Where do we come from, and what are our backgrounds of experience? What do we wish for the world to become? These answers become the focal point for all strategic development and decision making.
- Investigate disruptive relationships. A deep analysis of relationships within the company and with the outside world is a fundamental part of removing obstacles on the road to a retailer brand identity. The problems emerge when these relationships are disrupted. This points to the root cause and leads to ways to strengthen these relationships in a sustainable manner. Without solidifying the work culture first, connecting in a stronger, sustainable fashion with consumers can’t happen.
- Embrace truth and change. Change happens when a retailer finds its true sense of self and strengthens its culture accordingly, rather than continuing randomly or aimlessly and manufacturing a false identity that will inevitably crumble under the pressure of reality. When you’re operating from a place of truth, your relationships are grounded in trust and a like-mindedness that allows them to move and react to the flow of business and culture. Rigid relationships built on false premises or forced connections will always struggle to evolve.
Retailers have a great opportunity to win from the demanding trend for more sustainable and socially relevant brands. By identifying itself — as a brand built from their own identity — a retailer can connect with customers effortlessly, helping it to make the right choices. And by living its identity, a brand can become more relevant (as a resource) in consumers’ minds while being able to compete against other online competition.
Julius Geis is the creator of Identity Built Branding™ (IBB), a new methodology that sees a brand as a responsive organism that exists within the context of its surroundings. Geis is also the founder of ‘Āina, the house of Identity Built Branding™, which won the 2020 iF Design Award.
Julius Geis is a branding expert who has created brand strategies for over 40 companies. He is the creator of Identity Built Branding™ (IBB), a new methodology that sees a brand as a responsive organism that exists within the context of its surroundings. Geis is the founder of ‘Āina, which won the 2020 iF Design Award.