Brand sustainability has become a vital component of gathering momentum in today’s business landscape, and something no ambitious (or responsible) company can overlook. Potential customers want to know not only what a business plans to do this year, or the next, but how it expects to establish a lasting legacy as part of a flourishing world.
But why is this? Go back even just a decade and you’ll find companies left to operate in the dark, subjected to comparatively-little scrutiny and allowed (and typically expected) to focus solely on profit. Let’s take a closer look at how exactly changing circumstances gave rise to this enormous shift in brand perception:
Technology has made everyday business visible
The world of business has changed immensely throughout recent years, driven by two things: the innovation of digital technology, and the increased visibility that came with it. It’s tough to argue that the days of corporations acting unethically out of the public eye have entirely come to an end, but one thing is clear: any time a brand takes action, the world is watching.
The key to this is social media. To attract attention, companies must promote themselves in a far more open and public-facing way than ever before, catering and responding to rapid-fire audience feedback. This makes it exceptionally difficult for a questionable move to escape attention — and when social media users latch onto something they consider unethical, they won’t let it go until they’ve spurred a suitable reaction.
Just look at how many CEOs and managerial types are now pushed to maintain social media profiles: and not just on a site like LinkedIn, but also on Twitter and Facebook. This type of networking has become standard, marking a sea change from times of networking being merely a matter of attending industry events with similar professionals. To be perceived positively, a brand needs more than a viable business model — it also needs a beating heart.
Young people are understandably concerned about the future
Blessed with the accessibility of the internet’s educational resources (yet cursed with living in a time of great uncertainty about climate change, sustainable living, and animal welfare), the newest generations have been made keenly aware of the many ecological issues facing the world — and they understandably care deeply about them.
Feeling that the fires of industry are on the verge of burning the entire planet down is certainly sufficient reason to be deeply distrustful of corporate machinations, leading young people to be highly selective about the brands with which they associate. We all want to think of ourselves (and position ourselves) as good people, don’t we?
Even if they don’t have the sway to change the world, the average consumer can still stand up for their principles in some small way — for instance, by purchasing clothing from companies that responsibly choose material sources. Consequently, it’s a huge selling point for a fashion business to demonstrably care about operating ethically. Many shoppers aren’t looking for race-to-the-bottom pricing or the type of complex high-end jargon typical of a luxury brand: they’re looking for copy that shows their needs and interests are understood.
We’ve entered the era of the personal brand
Another effect of the rise of social media (along with video sites such as YouTube and Twitch) is that the concept of a brand has been greatly expanded. There used to be a clear delineation between a person and the company they represented, but now a person can essentially be a company through the strength of their public persona alone.
Look at the advent of influencers: people who achieve success through establishing themselves as experts in their fields and finding ways to monetize their followings (even though that in itself is something you might reasonably consider unethical). Very often, an influencer’s prospects are determined not by the quality of any products they sell, or the rhetorical flourishes of their marketing, but by their perceived character. If they’re seen as trustworthy and likeable, many more people will want to work with them.
Now consider the potential damage of a trusted influencer partnering with a brand with no sustainable model. How long will it be before they’re held accountable by proxy? Expected to answer for the wanton disregard of environmental concerns? It almost doesn’t matter whether such a person has created an unsustainable brand or is simply associating with one. If you expect people to follow you because they share your values, it isn’t viable to work with brands that have completely different values (if they have any at all).
Brand sustainability isn’t merely something you need to care about because it affects your long-term financial prospects. It’s a building block in working towards a more responsible business world — one that seeks to rebuild and renew our world instead of letting it fall to ruin, with profit remaining a priority but no longer the primary concern.
Have you given sufficient thought to how your business operations affect the world around you? Sooner or later, you’ll be expected to justify your existence to those who have no time for callous companies, so shape up as a matter of urgency. There’s a lot riding on your efforts.
About the Author
Kayleigh Alexandra is lead writer at Micro Startups, your online destination for everything startup. She's dedicated to spreading the word about hard-working solopreneurs and SMEs making waves in the business world, and loves the challenge of growing a new small biz. Visit the blog for your latest dose of startup insights from top experts around the globe @getmicrostarted