Decker Design has been doing an increasing amount of work with clients that are concerned about their sustainable business practices. I made the decision to attend the Sustainable Brands Conference, which was held last week. Like many of my fellow attendees, it was my first time. My goal was to learn more and be able to share newly acquired knowledge with my clients.
This conference has grown exponentially as issues of sustainability and a corporation’s role as a global citizen have become more important to not only my clients but to many other. Ten years ago at Sustainable Brands’ inception, there were 500 attendees. This year there were 2000.
As one might expect, environmental issues were emphasized. I was surprised however, when the larger discourse emphasized the idea of principle-driven business. In non-marketing speak this means human-centric values should direct business strategy. Presenters who had come out of the sustainability discipline bore the wounds of corporate indifference until they could prove a business case backed with statistics. Emboldened with new data they declared that sustainability was just the beginning. We all need to think about the entire value chain—something that is far more nuanced and complex. Yet, the statistics backed up the thesis. Companies who demonstrate principled business values through their brand promise are on average 10% more successful when it comes to consumer engagement and loyalty.
Remember REI’s Black Friday campaign to #optoutside? The cheekiness astonished many of us, yet the message resonated with their core audience who believe we simply buy too much stuff. Communication through commonly felt emotion unites a brand’s community.
Video is often the media tool of choice to deliver emotionally resonant stories and distribute them widely. Nespresso’s Positive Cup, for example, was told through the eyes of a child who lives in rural Columbia. In a minute and thirty seconds the impact of Nespresso’s program was demonstrated. The goal is to improve the lives of farm families in South America by paying livable wages and providing instruction on sustainable farming practices.
Then on day two, Unilever’s Kathleen Dunlop, who is the Global Brand Director of Vaseline, riveted us with a story about the Vaseline Healing Project. Her brand’s involvement with a global crisis began with a Washington Post article, written by two doctors, “What can a dermatologist do in a Syrian refugee camp?”
Dr. Grace Bandow, a dermatologist, and one of the two authors said, ““When I attended my first mission to Jordan, last year, I was surprised to learn how much their suffering extends to their skin. We expected conditions related to crowding and malnutrition and poverty and war. And sadly, we saw many patients like this. But what really impressed us was to see the overwhelming need for basic skin care in these camps due to the relentless exposure to very harsh, hot, dry, dusty elements.” It turned out that the one simple item these doctors needed and did not have was Vaseline.
Vaseline partnered with Direct Relief, a medical aid organization and donated over 1 million jars of petroleum jelly in 2015 and paid for several medical missions. The same team accompanied by Dunlop went back to Jordan a few months later.
The first day, a young girl about 10 years old, came to the medical tents and wanted to see the “lady American doctor,” Dr. Bandow went over to her. She pulled her headscarf away and said, “I have some scars; I don’t like my scars; I want something for my scars.” The doctor asked, “Why do you have scars?” The child explained, “The bombs were falling on my house and I was running. I tripped and fell and something hit me in the face.”
As Dunlop told the story, she pointed out that without modern lasers and other equipment, there was little Dr. Bandow could do. The doctor got down on her knees and held the child’s hands and said, “We all have scars, some of them are invisible and some of them can be seen. And the scars tell the story of who we are and where we’ve been. And your scars tell the story of who you are and that you have been incredibly courageous and strong. And I want you to remember as you grow up that you are beautiful not in spite of your scars, but you are beautiful because of your scars.”
These examples are indicative of the power of story to influence our emotions and our purchasing decisions. When a brand can actually act with principle, follow through consistently and authentically; we do want to support that effort. I know that I will buy Vaseline over a competitor because it makes a difference to me that the brand is not just funneling profits back to shareholders, but is actually helping people who have so little. I think you might just have to call me an engaged consumer.