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How to Future-Proof Brands and Create Culture Change in Challenging Times

Day 2 of the SB Leadership Summit saw a host of intimate discussions on the power of teamwork to drive change toward a better future — as seen in the relationships between top brands’ CMOs and CSOs, the many brand partners fueling SB’s Brands for Good initiative, and making “what people need” a core brand focus.

The power of the CMO+CSO connection

Clockwise from top left: KoAnn Skrzyniarz, Marc Pritchard, Virginie Helias, Amanda Nusz, Rick Gomez and Simon Lowden

Day 2 of the SB Leadership Summit kicked off with a series of intimate conversations between Sustainable Brands™ founder and CEO KoAnn Skrzyniarz, and CMOs and CSOs from two of the world’s largest consumer products companies and a giant US retailer.

Virginie Helias, Chief Sustainability Officer at Procter & Gamble, began by describing the CMO and CSO connection as “twinning and winning.” When CMOs and CSOs work together, everyone is winning — describing the great support she received from CMO Marc Pritchard when she pitched the new role of CSO. The pitch was essentially, “Let’s make sustainability an integral part of how we innovate,” Helias said. At the beginning, there were skeptics, but initiatives such as the Head & Shoulders ocean plastic bottle — the world’s first recyclable shampoo bottle made from up to 25 percent recycled beach plastic; and later, the Fairy Ocean Plastic bottle made from 100% recycled plastic and ocean plastic, brought them round. “People who didn’t want to hear about sustainability said ‘I want that!’, because it was marketing at its best,” Helias recalled. Pritchard’s advice to CMOs was:

“Find those big ideas and then shine a light on them —through PR, conferences, and annual reports. Then it becomes truly built into how the business works.”

Influencing sustainable consumer behaviors ... how's that going?

Read the latest Sociocultural Trend Tracker research from our Brands for Good collaboratory and The Harris Poll — which examines consumer progress in adopting more sustainable behaviors, as well as brand trust scores during this unprecedented confluence of societal crises.

“Having corporate responsibility right beside the business helps you create bigger ideas than you had before,” said Rick Gomez, Chief Marketing, Digital & Strategy Officer at Target. He shares how when Target was developing a loyalty program, Marketing and Corporate Responsibility teams worked together to create a scheme where guests could vote for the charities they wanted to donate to. The program has now impacted over 115 different charities.

Simon Lowden, Chief Sustainability Officer at PepsiCo, is marrying his marketing career with a personal interest in sustainability and family farming background. He has ensured that there are sustainability team members in each of PepsiCo’s key function and sectors. An education program helps marketeers to understand the societal roles that their brands play, while the company’s ‘Sustainable from the Start’ initiative allows them to judge whether an innovation goes ahead based on both its sustainable footprint and financial metrics.

A live Q&A inevitably turned to the emotional events of the past week — the horrific killing by Minneapolis police by George Floyd and the outpouring of outrage not only across the US, but around the world. The panelists discussed the role of brands in throwing their weight behind causes such as ending systematic racism and working to ensure racial justice and equity. Pritchard asserted:

“Because we’re in brand-building, our initial instinct is to say something – go out there and post something; [but] the days of ‘my thoughts and prayers are with you’ are over. Action is what’s required.”

Gomez then recounted a conversation with Target’s VP of Corporate Responsibility, Amanda Nusz, after the looting of a Minneapolis Target store during an anti-police brutality protest sparked by Floyd’s death, which he said illustrated “the importance of why Marketing and CR really need to partner.” When Gomez proposed having a local artist create a mural to beautify the boarded-up store, Nusz pushed back with “Is that what the community really needs right now?” Gomez said it helped him to arrive at much the same conclusion as Pritchard:

“I think we’re quick to want to take action, and that’s well-intentioned — but we need to make sure that we’re listening to the community and that we’re co-creating with them, and providing the solutions that are going to drive long-term progress.”


Brands for Good: Collaborating for culture change

The question of how brands can best use their influence to support consumer behaviour change for a better world is at the very heart of SB’s Brands for Good (BfG) initiative. Participating partners came together in conversation with Brands for Good VP Etienne White on the second day of the SB Leadership Summit to discuss some of the key lessons that are coming out of this collaborative platform.

Cultivating breakthrough creativity in a world of purpose

Clockwise from top left: Etienne White, Phil White, Yumi Clevenger-Lee and Anna Lungley

“For the first time, we’re seeing real alignment between investors, governments and consumers in calling for change; and brands have no choice but to respond. We need breakthrough creativity for this — brands that embrace disruption are going to be the ones that win,” said Anna Lungley, global head of social impact for Dentsu Aegis — a London-based global marketing services group and BfG founding partner.

Nurturing that level of creativity internally among teams is often easier if sustainability has been successfully built into a brand’s ethos, rather than bolted on. 

“When sustainability is embedded, it has so much more power,” observed Yumi Clevenger-Lee, EVP & chief marketing officer for Nestlé Waters. “It can be the foundation on how we build the brand and that’s where creativity can come in.”

Diversity and cross-sector collaboration were held up as two crucial levers that can instigate change. 

“The more you can bring stakeholders together, the better equipped you will be,” said Phil White, co-founder & chief strategy officer for Grounded World, a New York-based social innovation consultancy and BfG founding partner.

Bringing people together with different backgrounds, experiences and opinions can also foster a sense of empathy that brands can tap into to help their campaigns resonate more. The importance of getting people to feel, not just think about what brands are saying, should not be underestimated: “That’s what really drives action,” Lungley said. 

There’s no question that the COVID-19 crisis has heightened the need for authenticity. Lungley said those brands that can pivot and change their messaging are becoming more relevant, while Clevenger-Lee emphasised the need to bring humanity back into the equation: “It’s not, ‘what does the brand want to say,’ but ‘what do people need?’” 

Lifestyle innovation: Harnessing the power of employee engagement as a driver of behaviour change

Clockwise from top left: Etienne White, Doug Sabo, Kirsten Allegri Williams and Ed Huber

Employees have the potential to be brand champions — they are not only core to the company’s backstory and journey, but are on the frontline of customer and consumer interactions.  

“Employee stories can be such a crucial part of a brand’s fabric, we need to harness this,” said Kirsten Allegri Williams, chief marketing officer for SAP SuccessFactors

The point was echoed by Doug Sabo, VP and global head of corporate responsibility & sustainability for VISA, who said his company’s workforce were very much viewed as brand advocates. 

“We use employees as part of our delivery, acting as a force for good,” he said, adding that there was also potential to utilise them as a testbed. “We’re looking at ways we can use rewards and nudges to transition their behaviour when it comes to sustainability.”

With many staff now working remotely, there is a danger that internal sustainability communications can be sidetracked. VISA has pivoted its engagement efforts accordingly, making actions more relevant for the home rather than workplace. One example Sabo cited was an Instagram challenge, to encourage staff to share how they were living their most sustainable life.

In these COVID-19 times, it’s becoming clear that cultural values matter more than ever. Ed Huber, Chief Sustainability Officer for Clorox, said that his company’s focus on doing the right thing had become a key enabler for new ways of working and communicating. “We’ve shared best practice and protocols at record speed. We’ve empowered people to make shifts in marketing messages.”

Impact metrics: Marketing needs robust, shared tools to measure change

Clockwise from top left: Etienne White, Jennifer Betko and Manu Madeddu

BfG is creating the space and opportunity for brands to engage more constructively with their competitors when it comes to sharing lessons and developing metrics and solutions that are both meaningful, and can scale. 

According to Emanuele Madeddu, former EVP of global brand strategy for National Geographic, this level of co-creation is becoming critical for success. “In marketing, we want to win and today it becomes more important to win with your marketing narrative when it can create positive change in world.”

Jennifer Betka, chief marketing officer for Boston-based agtech startup Indigo Agriculture, said that when it comes to developing impact metrics, experiences matter — that means looking at the bigger picture, and ensuring that any tools can nudge sustainable behaviour for the greater good: “Our customer is primarily the farmer, but our mission is to improve their profitability in line with sustainability and people’s expectations.” 

Picking up on this theme, Madeddu said that consumers were allowing — even urging — brands to step in and help guide them during these unprecedented times. “One thing that COVID-19 has done is accelerated transformation in many sectors, including marketing. Continuing to change and adapt will be the winning factor after this.”

Embedding sustainability for the long term

In closing, Lynne Biggar, chief marketing and communications officer for VISA, spoke of the importance of giving marketing teams the freedom to lead and a comfortable space to operate within, where they feel they can take some risks. 

“You have to let people run,” she said. “So many of our great ideas come from our local marketers that as a global company, we can elevate and move forward.”

Biggar spoke about some of the transformative trends being accelerated during this pandemic, such as the “real desire” from both merchants and consumers to move away from cash. VISA is looking into how it can better support touch-free payments and is also developing more sustainable ways to pay, more details of which should be announced in the coming weeks. 

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