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5 Strategies for Building a Sustainable Brand for Today's Market

Customers want to connect with companies that demonstrate a commitment to social responsibility.

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Today, more than ever, consumers care where their money is going. They want to know that their spending is contributing to a solution to the larger challenges that face society (or, at least do no additional harm). Brands able to align their operations with this macro movement toward a more socially and environmentally friendly approach can reap substantial rewards: higher trust, better visibility, expanded marketplace growth opportunities and an enhanced bottom line.

Here are five essential tips to keep in mind when building, and talking about, a with at its core.

1. Understand your customers' expectations

Many brands debut their sustainability initiatives by placing the cart before the horse: they embark on a signature program without understanding what their customers are thinking.

A reforestation initiative, partnering with an NGO, or adding a green certification are all great ideas. However, if your customers are expecting a focus on responsibly sourcing materials, or allowing easy reuse and , your great ideas could face immediate headwinds. The resources you've invested in making sustainability part of your brand are essentially wasted.

There are many solutions to collect information about your customers, including surveys targeted to gain an understanding of how they view sustainability. Once you've identified their expectations, then you can target levers for the most effective action.

Related: Building a Sustainable Brand -- One Thoughtful Step at a Time

2. Assess, design and implement

Your journey toward sustainability begins with an assessment of your current practices. Once you gain an understanding of your supply chain, your operational environment, etc., you can identify areas that require improvement.

Develop a mission statement that combines what you know about your customers with what you know about your brand. This statement should define a sustainability strategy that includes metrics and benchmarks that can be used to track progress toward overall sustainability progress goals.

Finally, use that mission statement as a blueprint to begin implementing change that properly orients your brand toward a sustainable space. With a map that highlights the destination, your journey becomes simpler and easier to align with success.

3. Share relevant stories about your core business

A brand's peripheral activities aren't meaningful in a larger conversation that spotlights the role of sustainability as a foundational element for your brand. If the focus of your green initiative is your employee carpool program or how you recycle plastic waste in the office, you're likely to experience a palpable lack of enthusiasm from your customers for your sustainability credentials.

Talk sincerely and in compelling detail about how your brand implements sustainable processes, practices and goals that are meaningful. If you sell clothing, what raw materials are used, and are they organic and sourced ethically? Same conversation if you market food or beverage products, and is harvesting conducted sustainably and with respect for the human rights of workers? If you're in the high tech sector, what are your energy sources, carbon footprint and stance on traceability, durability, and reparability?

Your core operations should be the focus of your sustainability conversation. Without making a positive green impact at the foundational level, your brand will always be vulnerable to the impression of opportunism.

Related: Sustainability in Business: Why Change is Needed Now

4. Support continuous Improvement

Implement a program to evaluate the financial and operational impact of this change, and make necessary adjustments to ensure you and your customers are gaining the expected benefits. Insights from measuring, testing and improving sustainability performance can be used as an engine for continuous improvement that delivers ongoing benefits to your brand and customers.

Looking to other brands for inspiration is fine, however, make certain you have your own performance targets in mind. Your superior knowledge of your business and brand put you in the best position to understand the most efficient path for your sustainability journey.

5. Maintain a dialogue with your customers

Making customers, partners and stakeholders aware of your sustainability goals requires an active promotion process. An appropriate dialogue aimed at sharing how your brand is helping make the world a better place can take many forms. Social media is an obvious platform for talking about what you're doing. An annual sustainability report or integrating program reporting with investor and recruiting communications is also a potential solution.

Sharing landmarks (and challenges) along your sustainability journey will attract new audiences to your brand and ultimately contribute to bottom line performance.

Related: Success is Good, But Don't Forget to Embrace Sustainability

Sustainable brands inspire action

Sustainability is a marketplace differentiator for consumers who are increasingly motivated to connect their purchasing power to social benefits. Brands that position themselves at this nexus can consistently build reputational equity that translates into bottom line benefits.

A follow-on benefit is that the more consumers trust and respect a brand, the more likely they are to be inspired by its calls to action. If your brand demonstrates an authentic commitment to sustainability and social issues, you can motivate your audience to adopt those elements into their purchasing behaviors. That creates a feedback loop that perpetuates brand success and customer engagement.

Sustainability by itself is not sufficient to build a strong brand. However, if you can incorporate sustainability into your overall brand strategy in a way that is authentic and meaningful, it can deliver excellent value over the long term.

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