Check out my recent article in Forbes.
Creating Brands for the Future: One Woman’s Quest for Sustainable Brands
Over the past two decades, KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz has been a creator of big things. She is a creator of brands in general and most recently she is the creator of Sustainable Brands. Six years ago Sustainable Brands was just an idea. Today it is a media empire and a safe gathering place for a large community of corporate professionals who are committed to finding new ways for business to succeed by leading the way to a better future. I have been amazed by how she has created something so big in such a little time.
KoAnn attributes the growth and success of her business to many things, but two particularly stand out. These two will be discussed over two articles. First, and what will be addressed today, is the timeliness and importance of the topic around which Sustainable Brands business activities revolve, and second, to be addressed next week, is the community building/market transformation expertise at Sustainable Life Media, the company behind Sustainable Brands.
What is Sustainable Brands?
First, let’s quantify the “big” that is Sustainable Brands. The influential group of community members that make up the Sustainable Brands community includes both global brands like Coca-cola, Ford, Unilever, Target, and BASF, as well as bold, disruptive and highly successful start-ups like SolarCity, Chipotle and AirBnB. Over 300,000 professionals from around the world have checked in on Sustainable Brands over the past year. Collectively, the 27 companies that are part of their corporate membership group alone generate a collective $680 billion in annual revenue.
The Sustainable Brands Conference, their flagship annual event of which I have attended many, has grown each year since it’s launch in 2007, and in 2012, drew over 1300 attendees from 20 countries. Just now the team is busy preparing for its first offshore conference in London to take place tomorrow and Wednesday November 27-28. If you are interested, you can attend for free via livestream. Subsequent offshore events for next year include Rio May 8-9, and Istanbul May 16-17.
When working together, the Sustainable Brands community has the capacity to drive dramatic market shift toward a world where sustainable consumption is the norm. And this is, in fact, the goal.
Why Sustainable Brands, Why Now?
In speaking with KoAnn about why Sustainable Brands has caught hold as it has, she explains that many forces are at work driving business to rethink the meaning and method of building a brand in the 21st century. “We are in the midst of a significant shift in the world on many levels today,” she points out. “The internet is creating a much more informed global consumer – one who is now infinitely more aware of the interconnectedness of things. This awareness of how the products we buy impact not only our own health, but also the health of our families, our communities, and the planet is changing what we expect out of the companies we buy from and the brands we choose.”
KoAnn talks about how this growing understanding of systems, coupled with tighter purse strings around the world, are working together to change the way we shop. According to KoAnn, our tendency to want to buy more and flashier ‘stuff’ as a means of demonstrating success or finding happiness is giving way to a growing desire for products, services and experiences that both meet our personal needs (including the need to say something about ourselves, and to surround ourselves with beauty), and also offer us the opportunity to contribute in some way to a better life for others who are impacted by our purchases. And that means new challenges for brands.
“Our business is built on the belief that those brands which honestly seek to understand and improve on the direct and indirect impact they have on all their stakeholders – not just their customers and shareholders — will be the ones that take the lead and stand the test of time in the 21st century,” she notes. “This is already being proven out by many of the companies in our community.” Koann goes on to say that this changing landscape doesn’t mean brands today are expected to be perfect. But it DOES mean they need to be authentic and transparent about their impacts, and that they need to demonstrate continuing innovation around the way they are addressing their environmental and social impact.
As KoAnn points out we have a long way to go to get to a fully sustainable economy – which at Sustainable Brands translates into a wealth of opportunity for helping brands think about future innovation. She contends that the old Madison Avenue days of a brand being defined by its logo and a tag line spelling out its promise are over. Today, the degree to which a company aligns a meaningful brand promise with the way it designs, builds and delivers its brand to market is key. More and more cases demonstrate a direct connection between aligned brand company and brand behavior and the degree to which a brand is respected, sought after and valued.
“The exciting thing for us is to consider the potential our community of brands has to re-shape demand, change behavior and to continue to decouple revenue growth from the need for continued consumption of natural resources. While it is true that brand leaders have created a culture of consumerism over the last 50-100 years, brands’ now have the potential to use their skills to encourage a turnaround in how consumers think about their purchasing, and to help them appreciate the critical role they play in helping shape a flourishing future.
Stay tuned for next week when we ask KoAnn to share three tips for driving market transformation.