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Looking Around the Corner: Five Trends Shaping Sustainable Brands in 2012
January 9, 2012
A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to grab lunch with our good friend, renowned business guru Bob Bloom, to seek his advice as we looked ahead to the New Year.
“Looking ahead is useless,” he said in his typically wonderful, challenging way. In the context of market volatility, transformational new technologies and the exponential velocity of change, we have to instead “look around the corner.”
For Bob, success requires letting go of yesterday’s financials, five-point plans and outdated business models to bravely seize opportunities that are fiercely focused on leading innovation to create shared value.
It’s great advice. And, in the spirit of looking around the corner, we wanted to offer five trends that we believe will shape sustainable brands in 2012.
1. The Ubiquity of C2C
In 2012, we will experience a fundamental paradigm shift from a business-to-consumer (B2C) marketplace to a consumer-to-business (C2B) and consumer-to-consumer (C2C) marketplace—where creating, buying, selling and sharing products and services will increasingly be driven by consumers themselves.
This is happening in the context of radical personalization, collaborative consumption and co-creativity, where brand purchases and experiences are dis-intermediated by traditional brands and retailers and unleashed via new technologies and platforms (from Good Guide to Etsy to Getaround) that firmly place more power in the hands of consumers.
Success now means rethinking sales channels toward more direct interaction and inviting consumers in to imagine, create and extend how our brands live in the world.
Figure 1. Etsy's explosive growth has been fueled by an increasing consumer appetite for radical personalization and co-creativity.
2. The Rise of Generation “Why?”
The rise of the C2C marketplace is driven in part by the influence of values-aspirational, practically minded New Consumers looking for brands that deliver total value: products that work well, cost less, last longer and do some good.
Youthful, educated, wired and mostly female, this New Consumer is asking “why” they should care about brands; and, if they can’t find what they’re looking for, “why not” just create the solutions themselves? New Consumers are more practical and more purposeful, and they’re not willing to wait.
And, with billions of these New Consumers entering the marketplace in developing economies, the key question will be whether brands can reach and delight them—beyond just more consumption—to inspire responsible purchases and deeper participation with health, happiness and sustainability in mind.
Figure 2. A favorite among New Consumers, Warby Parker delivers total value: stylish, practical, reasonably priced eyeglasses that also provide societal benefit.
3. The Race to Relationship
Thanks to Groupon and its countless competitors, 2011’s year of the deal saw virtually every brand category join an unfortunate race to the lowest-price bottom that is destroying brand value, reducing consumers to commodities and undermining our shared, long-term success.
Sure, we dig deals and we always will. Yet by focusing so relentlessly on unsustainable price discounts, we undermine the very potential for our brands to do more and mean more for our customers.
Instead, we believe 2012 will see a race to relationship, where the most successful brands will break free of the lowest-price trap and deliver more value by empowering consumers with better products and experiences and championing their success. Patagonia’s disruptive Don’t Buy This Jacket campaign highlights this commitment to creating enduring products and relationships by promising to make “useful gear that lasts a long time” and inviting us to reduce, repair, reuse, recycle and reimagine how and what we consume together.
As one of our favorite clients says, “We don’t want a one-night-stand with our customers. We want long-term love affairs.”
Figure 3. Patagonia's brave Cyber Monday campaign focused on long-term impact instead of a quick sales bump.
4. The Imperative of Sustainable Brand Innovation
Whether it’s reducing resource risks in supply chains, driving efficiencies into workflows or reaping the rewards of increased transparency and corporate reputation, we believe sustainable brand innovation offers unmatched opportunity for exponential value creation for business, consumers, society and our planet.
In 2012, sustainable brands large and small will increasingly connect consumers, brand teams, suppliers and subject-matter experts in the innovation process to embed sustainability and social purpose into every business strategy, product design and stakeholder relationship.
Creating better brands, products, packaging and platforms, the highest performing companies will integrate practical, environmental and tribal benefits in every new offering—therefore becoming agents of change at a faster speed and larger scale than ever before.
Figure 4. The Neutrogena Naturals brand embraces innovation through partnerships with the Linus Paling Institute, technology scouts and experts in various health and science fields.
5: The Evolution from Occupy to Engage
If the most emblematic word of 2011 was “occupy,” we believe the word of 2012 will be “engage.”
With an existential howl against the status quo, the global Occupy movement represents a deep yearning for a new way of doing business that replaces short-term, transactional, profit-only thinking with a more responsible, transparent and equitable economy that creates more value for more people in more ways.
In 2012, there is good reason to believe that sustainable brands can lead the way.
In states from California to Maryland to New York, B Corporations are engaging policymakers to pass legislation that recognizes (and incentivizes) corporate accountability to all stakeholders: investors, consumers, employees, community members and the environment.
The Harvard Business Review hails the benefits of “The Good Company” that combines financial and social logic into its operations by engaging employees, partners and community institutions in building enduring value and success.
Meanwhile, pioneering brands from Levi’s to Coca Cola to Nike are engaging consumers so they spend less, enjoy more and take action on issues that improve our shared future—from protecting safe drinking water to preserving endangered habitats to creating more opportunities for the producers of their products around the world.
Figure 5. Brand as movement: Levi's Water<Less jeans go beyond a disruptive manufacturing process to a cause partnership with Water.org and tips helping consumers save water.
As we enter a new year and look around the corner, we believe the most successful brands will meet the needs, hopes and aspirations of New Consumers; build more respectful, collaborative and enduring relationships with all stakeholders; and unleash our collective co-creativity to bring better, smarter and more impactful ideas to life in ways that create shared value for all.