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The Intersection of Awareness and New Media Social media and sustainability converge to create consumers who are more knowledgeable than ever.

By Bill Roth

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

How to brand and sell a product is rapidly changing as consumers increase their commitment to sustainability, wellness and social media. Today an unprecedented 85 percent of American consumers have purchased an eco-friendly product. In new media, internet traffic on YouTube has grown to represent 20 percent of total traffic including the streaming of 1.2 billion videos per day. And tellingly, is now the seventh most trafficked site on the web.

In my book The Secret Green Sauce, I label this convergence between new media and sustainability as "Know it, Embrace it." Concerned caregivers who are focused on wellness and members of the millennial generation who see both sustainability and new media as their future are searching for what to buy and whom to buy it from. They are changing their buying behavior through social media by sharing experiences to gain information ("know it") and then "embrace it."

The path to success in this new media environment is fraught with both risk and opportunity. as illustrated by two case studies from the cereal industry.

Smart Choices, a private branding campaign involving such companies as Kraft Foods, ConAgra Foods, Unilver, General Mills, PepsiCo and Tyson Foods, demonstrates the risks created by this convergence of sustainability and new media. Three days after the FDA announced plans to review the health claims of Smart Choices--followed by an explosion of conversations within new media--the program's sponsors "postponed active operations."

This post by Carly Smolak on Triple Pundit is representative of the power produced from the convergence of new media and sustainability awareness: "The truth is their guiding principles are as fictitious as the labels' health claims.Smart Choices had nothing to do with the dietary or health interests of consumers but instead was a marketing gimmick."

Kashi is a case study on how to capture the opportunity that can be realized by the convergence of sustainability awareness and new media. Steven Addis and John Creson of Addis Creson have been managing Kashi's branding and marketing strategy since 2002. During this time, Kashi has seen a quintupling of its annual revenue. Kashi's perspective on the new rules for building brand equity are:

  1. Think like an entrepreneur. The world is in flux and entrepreneurs are skilled at thinking outside the box of legacy products, brands and business units. What is communicated and how it is communicated are rapidly and radically changing.
  2. Invest early. There is never a second chance with a brand. Investing in a brand is as important as investing in people or technology. Brand investment is the result of a corporate culture that values branding as a form of equity to be measured and reported in importance comparable to such financial metrics as ROI or cash flow.
  3. Successful brands have a senior-level champion. Consumers expect companies from which they purchase products to have integrity. A key role of the champion is to ensure that brand integrity is maintained. A champion is often critical to ensuring that the development of the brand is viewed as a strategic asset and not as a discretionary expenditure.
  4. Authenticity and transparency. Audiences internal and external to the company should see the genuine value of the product and the company. As the coalition that created Smart Choices learned, the convergence of the sustainable economy with new media and its estimated 20 million mommy bloggers demands that a company place a heightened focus upon "Know it, Embrace it," and the requirement for authenticity and transparency. As Addis and Creson pointedly note, "There is no place to hide."

So how should a company approach a branding environment so intensely scrutinized by the convergence of sustainability and new media? Addis and Creson advise honesty. Describing their campaign for Kashi, they said, "We helped them achieve brand leadership by crafting designs reflective of their honest, transparent and authentic product for enhancing healthy lifestyles.

"That same opportunity is in place for every business and product in our economy, as consumers redefine what it means to live in a sustainable environment."

Bill is President of NCCT , a consulting firm that helps companies grow green revenue. His newest book, The Secret Green Sauce , profiles best practices being used by successful green businesses. He has previously held roles as senior vice president of PG&E Energy Services, president of Cleantech America (a solar power plant development company) and COO of Texaco Ovonics Hydrogen Solutions (which launched the first hydrogen-fueled Prius).

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