Conscious branding is a new buzzword in marketing these days, and we asked Shantini Munthree, president of BRANDKIND Marketing, a strategic branding agency, to help us understand it. In her new book, LOVE+FEAR: Mastering the Primal Motives of Buyers, Munthree explains that every brand has an opportunity to build itself consciously.
What is Conscious Branding and Why Should We Care?
Conscious branding is exactly what the words describe. It is about making a conscious effort as a brand to be conscious about our actions and reactions to the world we exist in, knowing that what we put out has consequences, some of them long-term. In my book, I provide a definition, “A conscious brand takes a stance on a larger social, political or cultural debate.” It does not necessarily mean picking a side. It may simply mean that they acknowledge and want to help their customers—or broader society—with something they care about.
Historically, brands have chosen to be neutral on all things other than their business imperatives. The thinking was that this noncommittal stance allowed for mass market appeal. Today’s consumers, however, are more connected than ever before, and also expect brands to participate on broader issues. A conscious brand chooses to add value by providing a platform, educating, and sometimes even advocating for change.
More and more consumers spend their next dollar on brands that exhibit some sort of social, political or environmental consciousness. According to a Nielsen report, two-thirds of consumers across the globe said they would pay more for products from companies committed to having a positive social and environmental impact. While many attribute this heightened sensitivity to the Millennial generation, we also see Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are also changing their consumption habits to favor conscious brands. The upsurge in conscious investing is the clearest example of putting one’s money where one’s beliefs lie. Marketers all agree that this is something our brands need to address immediately if we’re to compete today.
How is Conscious Branding Different to Sustainable Branding or Responsible Branding?
I think of the latter two as cousins in a family that thinks for the long haul and intends to leave a legacy of good neighborliness. Sustainable branding focuses on the long-term impact of sourcing, producing, distribution and recycling products. It involves the tangible things that brands do to keep consumers and the environment safe and sound. Responsible branding is similar and concerns itself with the well-being of the communities impacted by the way a brand does business. It assumes a position of leadership in the community and invests in improving the lives of those who live in it. Conscious branding is an umbrella to these efforts and includes a host of other opportunities for brands to care about its consumers, their loved ones and the planet we live on.
We’re Curious Now as to What This Could Cover. Would You Share Examples?
Sure, there are many inspiring brands doing conscious branding really well. I truly believe that all brands, small or big, have the opportunity to do this but here are some leading the pack:
The Honest Company. Founded by movie star Jessica Alba, this multimillion-dollar company today offers baby care, personal care, feeding and nutrition. Its website describes its beliefs as, “We’re a wellness brand with values rooted in consciousness, community, transparency and design. And we’re on a mission to empower people to live happy, healthy lives. Every day and in every way, we hold ourselves to an Honest standard. Because we believe that what you put on, in and around your body matters. A lot.”
Similar brands that were born in conscious purpose include Burt’s Bees, dōTERRA and Warby Parker. My book highlights dozens of examples.
SC Johnson. I include this company as one that has evolved into a conscious branding company that also plays in the home care industry. This is a consumer goods stalwart that is stirring up their competitors with some brave disruptive changes to the way they do business. The makers of popular brands such as Windex, Pledge, Glade, Ziploc and a host of brands has committed to transforming its businesses to align strongly with contributing to “a better world,” a marketing tagline. Its chairman, Fisk Johnson, attended the GreenBiz conference in Phoenix last year after shooting an Ocean Plastics message in Indonesia in a diving suit surrounded by a plastics island. Windex has launched the Windex Vinegar bottle, a first-ever to be created from 100% ocean plastic. Aside from Ocean Plastics, SC Johnson has taken a stand on human trafficking and slavery, with a statement published on its corporate website.
Similar brands that are evolving with conscious branding include Danone, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble.
What About Service Brands? Does Conscious Branding Apply to Them too?
Without question, yes. I had the gift of touring with Televerde, a call center company headquartered in Phoenix that was created to help train and support female prisoners in new careers. They have proven out a model to reduce recidivism—repeat negative behavioral patterns—dramatically. Iron Mountain is another company that is taking on the reduction of physical document storage waste, as well as digital storage in innovative ways. In my consulting experience, I found that that service brands have a rich heritage and/or founder stories that inspire marketers to create captivating conscious branding narratives.
How Can I Apply This to my Business Today?
There is a process we follow in building a conscious brand. It involves clarifying or restating your purpose and strategy. It involves creating a compelling brand message, product roadmap and investment, and a supporting marketing plan. It involves thoughtful and coherent customer journey mapping and engagement. If done well, a brand can also be certified as a B Corporation business or choose any of the other endorsements available. My company, BRANDKIND Marketing, follows a proprietary process built on the book I wrote to help our clients position themselves competitively as conscious brands.
Why Should a Business Invest in Developing a Conscious Branding Strategy?
Quite simply because it is the right thing to do. Also, if you don’t do it, a competitor will or a new entrant to your industry that will likely see the gap and cover it. I’ve seen this play out in many different industries, especially in the direct-to-consumer space – Stitch Fix and Rent the Runway in the clothing category, Rothy’s in the shoe category, Noom with the weight-loss category, ThirdLove in the lingerie category, Whole Foods in the grocery category—and the list goes on. I also think that industries that are becoming commoditized are at the highest risk to be surprised. I therefore encourage major players to invest in brand strategy work to protect themselves and also reinvigorate the category.
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Shantini Munthree can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website, www.brandkind.marketing. Her book, LOVE+FEAR: Mastering the Primal Motives of Buyers, is available on Amazon and through any major book distributor.