• Namrata Rana, Partner |
  • Nikhil Sethi, Partner |
3 min read

Of late the trend of brands connecting causes to people has been catching on. For instance, connecting handwashing to people’s need for better health can be seen as promoting a cause. Consumers are coming to prefer products that meet social requirements or at the very least, ones that do not harm people and the environment. Connecting to causes of a strategic nature builds brand trust. It showcases a desire to stand for something more than just itself.

Why then have some cause-based campaigns received such a backlash? Why are customers questioning what products are made of and how they are communicated? It’s not just customers. Regulators too are increasingly concerned about the claims made by brands and have stepped into this conversation. More importantly, when the claims are to do with the environment, regulators across the world are increasingly concerned about ‘greenwashing’, a term that connotes false or misleading environmental claims where a company represents itself as ‘green or environmentally responsible’.

Responsible branding is far more than advertising.

It is about understanding the customer’s journey and establishing authenticity and believability across the value chain. Products may be manufactured in factories through a series of mechanical processes, but brands are cultivated in the hearts of people through experiences, emotions, and connections. It’s the brand that often inspires loyalty and gives products their identity and value. In today’s world, where competition is fierce and choices are abundant, its significance cannot be overstated.

Increased access to information has resulted in products being viewed very differently from the past. Consumers are not just interested in better quality; they also want to know how products are made. And they are willing to research to establish truth behind any claim. Hence, brands may associate themselves with a cause, but customers may not readily trust it.

If so, should a company be talking about responsibility when the product is made from plastic which never degrades and adds to the growing menace of waste? Should the company be talking of being water positive in its manufacturing locations when the products they sell deplete or pollute ground water systems?

Namrata Rana quote

As things change because of the changing climate, the future will not be more of the past. It will be fundamentally different.

Namrata Rana
National Head ESG
KPMG in India

When the mantle of responsibility is taken, a brand needs to ‘walk the talk’ at every touchpoint

Responsibility is not a claim, instead the way the brand acts is. Action and inactions of dominant brands are noted equally by customers. They need to create a compelling reality of businesses actions before the narrative (often through advertisements) is taken seriously. There is a belief that a brand has a license to operate if it comes from a responsible business. However, this is applicable only when the business operates from an area of difficulty.

Business responsibility is an obligation, a belief in a better way, in a different world, a positive contribution to society. This belief helps brands in delivering on their promises not just for the quarterly numbers but for the long term. Delivering on the promise each time builds authenticity and therefore such brands differentiate themselves and scale faster.

Nikhil Sethi quote

By emphasising innovation, promoting transparency, optimising product lifecycles, engaging communities, and collaborating with stakeholders, companies can authentically showcase their commitment to ESG principles and drive positive change

Nikhil Sethi
Partner and National Leader FMCG and Lead, Customer CoE
KPMG in India

Which is why brands need to be mindful about greenwashing

Science is clear that human activities are having an adverse impact on the planet. The need for action is extreme, and the patience for brands acting on claims is wearing thin. Greenwashing undermines credible efforts to reduce emissions or pollution and address the climate crisis. Through deceptive marketing and false claims of sustainability, greenwashing misleads consumers, investors, and the public, hampering the trust, ambition, and action needed to bring about global change and secure a sustainable planet.

As businesses set ever more ambitious Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals, their sustainability and technology strategies need to become more tightly aligned. CMOs can play a critical role in supporting their company’s transformation to a sustainable organisation. Brand strategy would benefit by blending ESG action into business actions, almost viewing it as a watermark on the paper on which it’s written. This would help deliver on three imperatives –

  • Using the power of the brand to enable and accelerate sustainability efforts across the organisation
  • Protecting people and the planet by making the brands genuinely more sustainable.
  • Pursuing breakthrough innovation with ecosystem partners to develop radically different and more sustainable ways of doing business in the future

Both the business and the planet would benefit from this.

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