Brands need missions and there’s none better than sustainability

Brands need missions and there’s none better than sustainability

All the best brands have a sense of purpose. In these complex times, there’s no shortage of demand for a conscientious, actionable approach. We’ve seen brands partner with charities previously, but more and more we’re seeing companies champion movements and commitments in their own right – and on their own terms. 

This has predominantly been around commitments to sustainability, but it has also included pledges to support working communities and heritage projects, to improve working conditions, or fight child labour. 

These are all worthy obligations, and these companies should be congratulated for looking beyond their mandate for profit in finding their place in the world. However, I believe the real value lies in their sense of mission and how their good work can become self-perpetuating; they haven’t just invested in these missions, they have sold the intrinsic value to society to their consumer base too.

This is a clever win-win, because these brands are recognising that people need to feel a part of something bigger. If we look at the need for greater sustainability through the lens of climate change, we can see how the consensus is for meaningful action at all levels of society, twinned with the frustration that most individuals feel impotent or ignorant of how they can enact this. If they can support sustainability simply through the shoes they buy, then they will feel rewarded – and in some small way like they are making the difference they seek.

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Showing the mission behind your product will attract a consumer base looking for nuanced and novel ways of expression and interest, without backing your brand into a corner.

Previously, brands sought to appeal to the need to self-identify in a more linear fashion by making their product aspirational. The beginning of mass-consumerism was marked by individuals and taglines that essentially said ‘I’m the guy who drives that car’ or ‘I’m the woman who wears that perfume.’ That relationship with consumers was considered a kind of Holy Grail for the advertising types on Madison Avenue, so much so that it was considered a critical part of the required DNA when crafting a brand.

But things are different now. The relationship between brands and buyers is more of a two-way street, a sharing of ideas and mutual recognition rather than just the adding of ethereal ‘status’ to a transaction. Today, people want a purpose beyond simply owning something. There are many reasons for this: products are cheaper, advertising has saturated media, consumerism is omnipresent, and material wealth is seen as less of an asset.

The result is a degree of disillusionment with consumption as people seek more experiential, meaningful, relationships with the world. A good illustration of this is how the value of a purchase extends to being able to talk about it on social media – people want their associations to say something about them. This isn’t about being ‘woke’ or ‘principled’ or ‘signalling’, it is simply about identity crafting, something as old as society itself.

Showing the mission behind your product will attract a consumer base looking for nuanced and novel ways of expression and interest, without backing your brand into a corner. There is no reason why the product still can’t stand alone; it is up to the buyer how much association they take from it. 

For some a brand ‘mission’ may still feel too political or preachy. But that shouldn’t be the case for the simple fact that these missions have transcended politics. The environment is something that affects us all and we shouldn’t be afraid to recognise the mission we all face. There should be no shame in aligning your business to work towards a sustainable future; on every level, that makes good business sense.