As a conference producer, it was a nice treat to join about 2,000 other participants in Detroit for last week’s Sustainable Brands conference and attend an event with no responsibilities other than to listen, learn and share some takeaways.
Although I’ve long been familiar with SB, this was my first time attending one of the company’s events.
SB has a dual mission to promote corporate stewardship of our planet’s resources, as well as general social responsibility, or as the organization puts it: “Embedding environmental and social purpose into a core of the brand.” A worthy and ambitious goal, and a challenging amount of ground for a conference to cover.
Although I perceived more programming emphasis on the environmental versus the social—and met far more people with “sustainability” in their title vs. “marketing”—there was still plenty for someone focused on marketing-driven partnerships to take away from SB17 Detroit. For example:
- The conference theme was “Redefining the Good Life.” Actually, calling it a theme does it a disservice. The SB17 organizers did an excellent job incorporating the idea as a framework for all of the many plenary sessions, starting with a presentation from Erica Parker, senior consultant for Harris Poll, on consumer perspectives of “The Good Life.” Any brand marketer looking to engage with its targets around similar concepts should be interested in knowing that across many demographic segments, today’s consumers define the four primary elements of The Good Life as:
- Balanced simplicity
- Meaningful connections
- Financial independence
- Personal goals
Not surprisingly, when consumers were asked how brands can help support The Good Life, most did not have a clear idea. When asked which brands do, responses included Apple, Amazon, Google, P&G, Microsoft, Trader Joe’s, Target, Starbucks, Walmart, Panera, Tesla, Samsung, REI, Costco, Whole Foods and Chick-fil-A.
- While Harris’ data was U.S.-focused, two other speakers—Raphael Bemporad, founding partner of BBMG and Chris Coulter, CEO of GlobeScan, shared research that told a very similar story.
- Savers, the purpose-driven retail thrift operator, noted that textile recycling is where paper recycling was 30 years ago in terms of the technology needed to repurpose materials. (Stretch fabrics are difficult to break down, for example.) This could be an opportunity for relevant brand partners to sponsor challenges to develop vitally needed new tech. Tony Shumpert, VP of recycling and reuse, also quoted research that said 78% of consumers believed it was more important that their donations of used clothing and household goods aided people in their community rather than helped the environment. This preference for social over environmental purpose is worth remembering for activation efforts that include cause overlays.
- Author John Izzo defined “the five thieves of happiness” as Control, Coveting, Consumption, Conceit (the individual over the tribe) and Comfort (routine). Alternative energies to each: Curiosity, Gratitude, Choice (not to acquire), Service and Adventure. Izzo further asked whether brands are “enabling or taming these thieves? “ In his opinion, brands such as Patagonia and Heineken (through its “Worlds Apart” campaign) are taming.
- Informative brand positioning by Impossible Foods, maker of the plant-based Impossible Burger: Rachel Konrad, the company’s chief communications officer and former head of communications for Tesla, shared that people don’t buy Tesla autos because of the energy savings, but because the vehicles are cool and innovative. Similarly, sustainability is not the main marketing message for the Impossible Burger. That angle would turn off people who don’t want to admit their favorite food is bad for the planet. “We don’t do guilt,” Konrad said. Rather, the brand’s mantra is “for the love of meat.” The company wants to give people all the delicious meat they crave, but by bypassing the animal. As part of its research, the company gave people two identical beef burgers, but told them one was plant-based. Twice as many said they preferred the “plant” burger.
- Brand attributes such as transparency, trust, responsibility and authenticity are just as important to the investment community as to consumers, according to research done by Trucost, which was recently acquired by S&P Dow Jones Indices.
- If you’re looking for a dose of inspiration, check out Dr. Victor Pineda, who in addition to his personal story, shared the following eye-opening and relevant data points for marketers: One in seven people in the world have a disability; essentially, one out of every two households representing $8 trillion in economic power.
- Former IEG conference keynoter Andrew Zolli, VP of global impact initiatives for Planet, explored the concept that we are moving from Big Data to Big Indicators to Big Instruments, translated as moving from Information to Insight to Indicator. While sharing that we are in the Insight moving into Indicator, phase, Zolli also summarized this shift as moving from More Information to More Value.
- A catchphrase that resonated: Ethics Is the New Green, from John Havens, executive director of the IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence.