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Marketing and Comms
Brands for Good:
How the World’s Largest Consumer Brands Are 'Accelerating Culture Change'

A who’s who of field experts, creatives and C-suite leaders gathered at Sustainable Brands’ latest virtual event to share the latest insights, research and progress toward advancing and scaling sustainable consumer behavior and lifestyle changes — and what effective leadership looks like in 2020 and beyond.

The event kicked off with Brands for Good (BfG) VP Etienne White and Wendy Salomon, Managing Director of Reputation & Corporate Strategy at The Harris Poll, discussing the results of the Sociocultural Trend Tracker research commissioned by the BfG team; with Ed Huber and Virginie Helias, from BfG brand partners The Clorox Company and Procter & Gamble (P&G), respectively. Along with insights into consumer progress in adopting more sustainable behaviors, the research examined brand trust scores in this unprecedented time of COVID-19 and other global stressors.

The craft of creativity — straight from the horses’ mouths

Then, in a frank discussion on thoughtful brand messaging, three lessons emerged from the triumvirate behind P&G’s powerful series of adverts on bias and racism: “The Look,” “Circumstances” and “The Choice.”

1. Assess your brand’s position

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When Keith Cartwright, President & CCO of creative agency Cartwright, is approached by brands wanting to campaign on social issues, he asks them to do some deep thinking. “The first question is, ‘Have you done a diagnostic of your company on where you are on these issues?’ Once you get that diagnostic, the next step is to see who you are as a brand, and what statement you should be making,” he says. “Work out where you want to go. Then, we can create a plan to get you there.”

2. Create a safe space

“Creativity needs to find a warm, safe place to come out,” says Cartwright, stressing the importance of creating a comfortable working environment for young people, and for people of color.

Justine Armour, Chief Creative Officer at Grey New York, noticed the benefits of her team working from home during from the COVID-19 pandemic — as team members of all levels have worked more closely with senior leadership. “It has meant a more radical, fluid collaboration. You need a certain level of trust in each other’s inputs,” she says.

3. Earn the permission

Earned permission is an important concept. A brand needs a history of authentically working on sensitive social issues before it can make a directional ad asking people to change their behavior. 

“You’ve got to put the work in and it’s got to be congruent with what you do. We’ve been at this for decades,” explains Marc Pritchard, P&G’s Chief Brand Officer. 

Cartwright agrees: “Marc has been having this conversation for a period of time, so has permission to make these ads. Having made ‘The Look’ and ‘The Talk’ gives permission to make ‘The Choice.’” 

COVID-19 has changed the role of the CMO

“This year, a spotlight has been put back on what marketing is all about. It’s not about products — it’s about why we sell them,” said Yumi Clevenger Lee, Executive VP and Chief Marketing Officer at Nestlé Waters

She and her fellow panelists reflected on the impact of COVID-19 on their profession. The pandemic, Clevenger Lee said, forced marketers everywhere to rip up whatever they had been working on and ask themselves a simple question: What do people want right now?

“It wasn’t that they needed another advert,” she adds. They needed information about hygiene; they needed help because kids weren’t able to access school meals anymore. “Our teams could have frozen. But instead, they wanted to help by using our leverage and the money of brands to do good in the world. Some of our marketers did work they are most proud of in their whole careers.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Brad Hiranaga, Chief Brand Officer at General Mills. He admitted that lockdown made him more empathetic to people’s lives: “It enabled us to have a clearer definition as to what needs solving for consumers.”

Since February, Hiranaga said the food giant has been producing marketing that is useful, rather than interruptive. New messaging and communications have helped to solve small problems (tips and advice on cooking from home) as well as big challenges (the hunger gap is on the rise as many more people face unemployment).

“Being in the center of that is exciting,” he said. “Marketing as a discipline is now more needed than ever before. We are closest to the consumer, to the culture and to the fast-changing, sometimes crisis-driven landscape."

As CMOs have had to pivot amidst a pandemic, finding new ways to modify messaging and engagement strategies can be rewarding.

For Jennifer Betka, CMO at Indigo Agriculture, COVID-19 has also helped to “lower the bar on perfection,” with people sharing their homes and intimate environments on video calls. “We’re putting humanity before perfection; that has accelerated the connection between stakeholders.”

Unleashing the creative power of sustainability

“What if all packaging was digitally printed?” asked Jose Gorbea, Head of Brands Innovation; and Guillermo Font, Brand and Agencies Lead at HP Graphic Arts. The answer: “10mm tons less plastic!”

Could we really reduce packaging waste by 30 percent and eliminate unnecessary inventory, enable circularity and reduce climate impact with a single solution? 

Sustainable Brands’ own David Hopkins joined HP Graphic Arts for a discussion on how to encourage sustainable behaviors — a topic that comes up at nearly every SB Member Meeting, and was the impetus for the formation of the Brands for Good collaboratory — through a single, elegant solution to packaging and print: digital.

In this session, the HP Graphics team shared customer case studies that support seven of the nine Brands for Good consumer behavior shifts, while at the same time helping client brands grow sales. They examined some of the innovative stories and printing solutions used for clients including Hershey, Lay’s, Melinda, Amarula, Smirnoff and Elle.

HP Graphics Arts has offered complimentary copies of its newly released playbook to the first 100 to fill out this form to request a copy. 

Harnessing behavioral science to accelerate culture change

One of several afternoon breakout sessions began by looking at the increasing desire among mainstream audiences to shift to more sustainable behaviors.

When sustainability strategy and change agency Futerra asked people in the US and UK whether they should make as many big lifestyle changes to address climate change as they are to stop coronavirus, they responded with an overwhelming ‘yes,’ shared CEO Lucy Shea.

The desire to make a change is there; but WeSpire founder and CEO Susan Hunt Stevens believes previous attempts to communicate with consumers based on their demographic have only been reaching about a third of people. And as more and more major companies have sought out new ways to engage their employees and customers in a shift toward more sustainable lifestyles (minus the guilt, preaching or doomsday themes of the past), the WeSpire and Futerra teams concluded that it's time for psychographically customized approaches — as demonstrated in Brands for Good’s forthcoming Lifestyle Transformation Roadmap

The idea of the Roadmap is to offer behavior change pathways based on archetypes. Brands can invite employees and other stakeholders to take a self-assessment questionnaire to find out which archetype they are: Realist, Fixer, Winner, Energizer, Creator or Pioneer. Respondents then join a community, taking part in challenges towards more sustainable behavior. The challenges, although the same, are presented in different ways to appeal to each archetype.

Brands for Good partner brands have begun testing the Lifestyle Transformation Roadmap internally; a public-facing version, still in development, is set to launch in 2021.

J&J’s sustainability team is excited — for good reason

Consumer goods and pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has just announced it will spend $800 million over the next decade to make its products more sustainable, improving the health of people and planet. One order of business: making all of the company’s consumer health brands fully transparent, in terms of ingredients.

The commitment also covers packaging. By 2025, all of J&J’s brands will use 100 percent recyclable, reusable or compostable plastic packaging and certified/post-consumer recycled paper- and pulp-based packaging. By 2030, brands including Aveeno, Johnson’s, Listerine, Neutrogena and OGX will use 100 percent recycled plastic in their bottles.

There is also a focus on tackling some of the big preventable, yet complex, health challenges — such as smoking and skin cancer. J&J promises to collaborate on initiatives, both inside and outside the company.

The company’s Global President of Essential Health, Katie Decker, excitedly introduced the “Healthy Lives Mission:” “It’s not a program, or a thing on the side; it’s really core to how we operate our business,” she said. “And it’s a movement and a catalyst for how we’re going to evolve and change over time.”

Rafal Hrymoc, J&J’s Head of Skin Health Packaging and Innovation, was on hand to give more detail as to the company’s approach to meeting the ambitious goals.

“We work to improve human health by creating and delivering products in a way that considers the health of the planet — without sacrificing the efficacy of our products, and certainly not the safety of our products.” The company says it will continue to create products that make a “meaningful difference to human health,” by using data about consumer needs and preferences. “We combine those insights with our superior science …[to] design products and use processes with the earth in mind.”

But, as the J&J team acknowledged — meeting the 2030 goals will not be easy, especially when it comes to packaging. Strategic partnerships will be crucial.

Moving to 100 percent post-consumer resin in its bottles is a big ask, given where we are with mechanical recycling. Just 14-16 percent of plastic is captured in recycling streams today, Hrymoc said. Significantly increasing that percentage will involve everything from education, to evolving MRFs (materials recovery facilities); and from many other things that are beyond just the packaging itself. 

“That’s where we as an industry need to get involved and help push that,” Hrymoc said. “Because we’re not going to do this as individual groups; we’re going to do this together.”

Continuing to drive culture change — even in times of crisis

How are brands changing the way they communicate with consumers during this time of multiple crises — COVID-19, racial inequality, and climate change? Jonah Sachs, author and Executive Director of One Project, said he noticed a change in how brands responded to the Black Lives Matter campaign.

“For the first time, brands weren’t trying to get their own spin on it,” he says. “They recognized the campaign and stepped up and supported it. They recognized it as an issue that was bigger than them.” 

This response is relevant for how brands can galvanize action around climate change. “Brands are successful when they unlock humanity’s greater potential and ask ‘How do you help people reach their higher goals and potential?,’ rather than just treating them as consumers of a brand,” Sachs asserted.

Renee Lertzman — Climate, Energy, and Environmental Psychologist, and founder of Project InsideOut — agreed that organizations need to show up differently in the current context. She introduced five guiding principles, a set of ideas grounded in evidence-based research and identified to be the most powerful levers for driving sustainable behavior change. Lertzman says these guiding principles can help brands design strategies for reaching people who are activated, overwhelmed and energized.

  1. Attune — Build trust through attunement.

  2. Reveal — Be compassionate truth tellers. 

  3. Equip — Provide people with tools and resources.

  4. Convene — Catalyze the power of smaller group interactions.

  5. Sustain — Build continuity and relationships beyond a campaign. 

Echoing Keith Cartwright earlier in the day, Lertzman said she believes the more we invest in creating safe spaces, the more we can create change at an incredible scale: “What creates the safe space is when we are ourselves — vulnerable, transparent and owning our humanity. Lean into trust. Lean into vulnerability,” she advised.

‘Leading with love’: What it takes to be a purpose-led CEO during a pandemic

Most CEOs might not share Jeff Fielkow’s positivity and enthusiasm in the wake of a pandemic that has decimated many industries in the last six months. But the President and CEO of Tetra Pak says the current crisis has helped to solidify the need for sustainability as a key driver for business. And that’s a good thing, he said: “COVID has pressure-tested every business to see how relevant they are in sustaining the core elements of what we need in life.”

For Tetra Pak, sustainability is all about making food safe and available with its innovative packaging. But it’s also about looking after people, Fielkow said.

“The pandemic has put an accent point on food safety and the availability of food. But it’s also created the biggest epiphany for me: The company can do more than we think we can. If you rally behind a cause, it’s unstoppable. That’s about empowering people.”

Jan Tharp, CEO at Bumble Bee Seafood, said she sees things similarly. Reinforcing a poll of attendees of Sustainable Brands' Leadership Summit in June — 47 percent of which said they expected to accelerate their sustainability commitments due to COVID-19 — she said that rather than halting initiatives, the company would simply find new ways of delivering on its sustainability promises. From using FaceTime to interview crews on boats in Fiji as part of its social audit work to adopting Blockchain technology to enhance supply chain traceability, the business will continue to find new technology “to get the job done.”

So, what does it mean to be a CEO of a purpose-led brand in 2020, of all years? Well, as Fielkow says, there’s no playbook for 2020: “We’ve had to learn on the fly.” But the importance of communications cannot be overstated. “Even if you have nothing to say, you must communicate, communicate and communicate. This enables people to feel like they’re on the journey with you,” he says.

In the heart of a pandemic, it is a company’s core values and purpose that people gravitate towards and rally around. “For me, that was about protecting our people,” Fielkow shared. “Safety is non-negotiable, both physically and mentally.”

For Tharp, the secret to leadership is listening.

“I always thought you had to be a certain personality to be a CEO, but I’m an introvert. Yet, it’s still possible [to be a great leader] if you can listen with an open heart.

“I call it ‘leading with love.’ It’s about being compassionate, listening to your team, feeding that back, and taking action accordingly. It’s not a secret — it’s a muscle and a skill.”

We'd like to extend a special thanks to our event sponsors — HP Graphic Arts, Johnson & Johnson and Everfi!


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