Differentiating your brand beyond Sustainability


We live in a context in which brands are facing increasing incentives and pressures to be sustainable. From the market and the public, from investors, from public institutions and regulation... We want our brands to differentiate themselves and to do so by being sustainable. We want them to position themselves as good brands that have a positive impact. But how can we do this?

Brand differentiation by being sustainable

When we talk about achieving differentiation as sustainable brands, there are several interrelated issues that we should address.

The first issue we want to consider when talking about this is the need to go beyond "sustainability" and aim at "regeneration". We see that it is a growing trend for brands to make efforts to have a positive impact (recover value, restore, regenerate), and not just minimize negative impacts (be 'sustainable'). They tell us about it in Trendwatching when they talk about the 'Beyond sustainable' approach. We also see media such as El País talking about regenerative design. And within a movement as widespread as BCorp, there is already talk of companies seeking to generate 'positive impact' and go beyond sustainability. Therefore, being content with being "sustainable brands" is less and less differentiating, and we need to become "regenerative brands" that generate positive impact.

The second issue is at the communication level. Many brands communicate their sustainability commitments with very generic and overused messages, such as "there is no planet B". Or, to show their environmental sustainability, they use easy communicative resources such as the color green or natural elements (e.g. leaves). They also sometimes resort to clichés to publicize their commitments to society and the planet. And they may even fall into various forms of 'greenwashing' (greenwashing, socialwashingpinkwashing...). Thus, we believe that sustainability communication should be more strategic and innovative. It must move away from clichés, and communicate in a rigorous way.

The third question is with respect to value proposition and innovation. We want to differentiate ourselves by having a "sustainable" value proposition, but is this a good long-term strategy? Let us imagine a horizon in which all brands are sustainable. It is certainly a desirable horizon, but in that scenario, "being sustainable" ceases to be a differentiator, because all brands are sustainable. There are more and more brands with real commitments to sustainability. So it's not going to be enough to differentiate ourselves because our design agency only works with sustainable clients and suppliers. Our footwear brand is not going to be attractive just because they are made in a way that respects the environment and human dignity. We have to bring something else to the table. But what? For each brand it will be different: customization, targeting a very specific niche or community, or a product with excellent finishes. The possibilities are endless.

Beyond "sustainable brands

So how can we differentiate ourselves as sustainable and even regenerative brands?

The first step is to define a true purpose as a brand. What we really exist for. What is our specific role in the ecosystem. What drives us, what are our values, our mission and our vision. This is what is going to give us the direction of what things to do and what things not to do as a brand. Sustainability is very broad. Within it, our purpose can be, as in the Integrazafat@s example, "to normalize the presence of people with Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities in events and congresses, exclusively attending to their abilities". With this purpose, it makes sense to direct each of our actions to the inclusion of this community, rather than to the reforestation of the Amazon.

Then, what is our unique, specific value proposition, beyond "being sustainable". Following the example of Integrazafat@s, this agency makes it possible to improve the CSR of organizations through their events and communication, and to guarantee an SROI (Social Return on Investment). Not only do you hire a "sustainable" event agency: you get economic returns thanks to an improved brand image and tax deductions.

Another example of a brand whose positioning goes beyond being sustainable is Hemper. This company has a very specific story of its own, based on working with the Nepalese community specializing in hemp handicrafts. This allows it to generate a very differentiating brand narrative. There are many sustainable fashion brands with a slow approach. But there are none whose value is working with the hemp craft community in Nepal. Of course, this translates into a product with unique qualities that contribute to brand differentiation. But Hemper also goes beyond "sustainability": it is a regenerative brand, with a positive impact. This brand has made it possible to recover a culture and traditional knowledge that were being lost. It has also contributed to restoring the natural ecosystem by planting local crops for natural fibers. And it has contributed to improving the economic conditions and well-being of the community.

How can our brands follow these examples? With the Monnou methodology, we help brands of all kinds in this process: from emerging brands to consolidated brands that want to turn their strategy around and transform their impact.

Regenerative brand design: from the strategic to the tangible

The design of an organization or a regenerative project starts, as mentioned above, from the understanding of its environment and the definition of its purpose. The monnou methodology works in this way. Thus, it allows us to identify what role our brand can play in its ecosystem, what the brand can do and how it can communicate it.

In short, it is about designing actions that make sense for our brand, away from clichés and copy-paste. An example worked by Monnou is the NESSEA brand. It is not just another sustainability consulting firm. It is a consulting firm specializing in sustainable tourism in the Mediterranean region, closely linked to its context, and whose approach is friendly, calm and constant accompaniment. All this is then made tangible in its communication, both visual and verbal.

Another example is Baukunst, a brand with more than 15 years in the market, which wanted to transform itself to have a clear positive impact. Another innovative brand emerged from it: the startup ePlace Heritage. Baukunst redefined its purpose and value proposition for its different audiences, before redesigning its corporate identity. And both proposals were aligned: that of the former Baukunst company and that of the ePlace startup.

Sometimes, this branding work does not become tangible in a new corporate identity. Other types of actions may arise. With both MINI and BMW, we have developed a series of workshops and activities that have served in two ways. First, internally, as training for sustainable innovation and teambuilding, as well as providing valuable insights on improvements that can be made to their products and services. And secondly, externally, as part of highly personalized events that highlight the efforts being made by these brands to innovate in more sustainable electric mobility.

There are many more ways to become regenerative brands and position themselves beyond sustainability. Or to create brands that are meaningful beyond being sustainable. The question is to find these opportunities for each case, and enjoy the journey.

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