Sustainability, the new normal of successful brands

In the era of increasing demands for sustainable business practices, the traditional approach to branding and marketing seems in need of repair. If your business destroys nature or does harm to human beings, people won’t like your brand no matter how high-quality or fashionable it is. They start looking for better, more sustainable options. “Good is the new cool,” as Afdhel Aziz and Bobby Jones say in their recently published marketing manifesto.

The market potential of sustainability is huge, and yet many companies struggle with sustainability marketing and communications. Why is it so damn difficult?

We clearly need a new approach to marketing, but also a new business mindset which does not embrace or encourage mindless consumerism.

The difficulty with sustainability marketing and communications is that instead of selling products and services, you are selling a vision of your business contribution to a more sustainable and fair world, your journey to that world and your concrete actions to get there. On top of that, to be successful you need to convince a bunch of people to support your journey and accept that you will make mistakes along the way. Doesn’t this approach sound more like pitching a business idea to investors than creating great ads for your manufactured goods and services in a perfectly planned process?

The pitching approach involves active engagement with different stakeholders in society. This week, Miltton published a report based on a survey among Finns, Swedes and Estonians. We wanted to know what people think about corporate advocacy and if businesses should have a role in providing solutions to issues facing society.

The message was clear in all three countries: Yes, businesses should take a stance and solve societal problems. So far Finnish companies have avoided this kind of activism, but it seems it’s time to re-evaluate that behaviour. Corporate advocacy should certainly be a part of modern sustainability marketing and communications strategies.

Taking a stance naturally requires actions and a new business mentality. While we need courageous and visionary business leaders to pave the way and set ambitious sustainability goals, companies also need to absorb a sustainability mindset widely in their culture and decision-making processes. In other words, every employee should be able to see how the company walks the talk in everyday business and be themselves awarded for walking the talk.

This new way of thinking may not be such a faraway scenario when millennials and younger generations start to comprise the majority in workplaces. I had a privilege to witness this in our collaboration with Hanken School of Economics’ new project course, “Developing Sustainable Brands.” For these students, the pitching approach is business as usual, corporate advocacy a must-have and sustainability mindset the new normal.

Soon, sustainability will be the only way for brands to become successful.


Susanna is a Senior Sustainability Advisor at Miltton and has almost 20 years of experience in marketing, brand strategy and corporate social responsibility.