Striking the balance: Brand Differentiation vs Sustainability

20th August 2019

Consumers are looking for assertive brands that help them make the right choices and provide them with sustainable options; they are ready for action. How do leaders strike the right balance between differentiating their brands and delivering on sustainability targets? Katie Hart, a Consultant in the Consumer Leadership Practice at Berwick Partners explains.

Sustainability is a current priority for many FMCG business leaders; it’s a huge opportunity for those companies that can get it right. Sustainability, be it environmental, social or economic, is still in relative embryonic stages of adoption. For many businesses deciding upon action is an ongoing debate among leadership teams. One area which has been pushed to the forefront by heightened media attention is packaging, with plastic waste prompting a more immediate action across the board.

The past for plastic  

As consumer awareness increases and the appetite to change behaviours intensifies, reducing or removing packaging entirely, or moving to a refill offer, is shifting from being a niche trend towards the mainstream. Packaging plays a vital role in identifying and differentiating brands on a shelf, so how do leaders balance short-term performance pressures with the need to invest in a long-term future? Those that achieve the ‘holy-grail’ of balance will contribute to a sustainable ecosystem in which the company, and its stakeholders, will thrive.

Part of the DNA

To do this, leaders need to build sustainability into the DNA of their business, ensuring it is considered at every stage of the value chain. This will help leaders develop a more rounded understanding of sustainability and prevent knee-jerk reactions which merely serve as PR stunts. Taking this longer-term view will enable leaders to identify the areas where the biggest impact can be made and deliver meaningful change.

Transformational leadership and innovation

Leading on sustainability requires courage. It requires leaps of faith into the unknown to transform what is business as usual. Leaders must be open-minded to change and working differently, embracing a less risk averse culture. In turn, this can be leveraged into a competitive advantage, especially in respect to product innovation.

In today’s market place, innovation is critical and if we are gradually moving towards a future where packaging is significantly reduced or obsolete, product innovation will hold the key to brand differentiation. By adopting a greater risk-taking, responsive and agile approach to innovation, leaders will be able to bring products to market faster. Being able to recognise and react to trends at pace, in a way that keeps true to the brand values will keep interest high and capture consumer attention.

Real in-market performance and true consumer behaviour can then be used to determine whether the product requires further investment or marketing spend, or whether investment stops there, and the product is ‘killed’. Creating a low cost to market model and building in ‘learn and correct’ resource into the innovation pipeline ensures leaders create a culture where taking risks is encouraged and failure is not feared but used as a learning mechanism. By promoting a launch fast, test and learn culture, leaders empower their teams to think creatively which could unlock the next game-changing idea.

Sustainability targets cannot be delivered overnight. Courageous, resilient, bold leaders with conviction, have the potential to produce significant positive change and set their brand apart from the competition.

For more information please contact Katie Hart, a Consultant in our Consumer & Retail Practice.

Categories: Consumer & FMCG