Unilever, Sketches and 10 Sustainable Branding Best Practices

Real beauty sketches done by a sketch artist in the video Sketches, by Dove (a Unilever brand). The video has more than 56 million views.

Consumers are engaged in a search for authenticity that is challenging the sales sustainability of existing brands. According to a Harris Interactive survey, 44 percent of Americans have a “poor” or “terrible” opinion of corporate America. Less than a third of Americans view corporate America as “very good” or “good.” Havas Media’s research found that only 9 percent of U.S. consumers believe brands improve their lives. Ninety-three percent of Americans would not care if brands disappeared!

Ten dimensions of a great brand

Twentieth century brand success was based upon offering customers “more, bigger, cheaper” and delivering these benefits “now!” The 21st century consumer, enabled through mobile and social digital technologies, are redefining what a brand must offer to attract them and win them as customers. The American consumer is actively searching for brands that align value with values. The following ten brand best practices are proven to engage customers on their issues of value and values:


Price competitiveness. It starts here for most consumers in today’s economy. The price tag is the key qualifier on how interested a consumer will be in your product.

Delivering value. Value is the size of the bill or cash register receipt. For example, the electric utility industry is now confronting a competitive threat from companies that sell energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies because these companies can deliver lower electric bills. The focus on the customer’s receipt size is a business success formula proven by Amazon, Walmart and The Home Depot.

Service. Today’s consumer has replaced “now” with “service.” The lower the service, the more the company and product is categorized by the customer as a commodity that should be shopped based upon lowest price.

Reliability. Whether a product actually works to the customer’s satisfaction is critical to brand authenticity. The 20th century has taught consumers that cheap does not equate to value if the product fails to perform. Twenty-first century weather, social and health crises are teaching customers that the price sticker does not include key externality-cost impacts upon their lives.

Safety. What would you pay for an unsafe product? Obviously, zero because it is of no value. Safety is a killing dimension for a brand. Think “pink slime.”


Honesty. It begins here in terms of values. Is your company’s brand representative of the customer’s best interest? Or is your brand a representation of what you think your customer wants to hear? The ramification of being dishonest is to forever lose a customer.

Healthy. Moving past safe, is your product good for the consumer? This is a mega-issue for moms concerned over the wellness of their loved ones. Women have $10 trillion of annual U.S. buying power and the issue of wellness strongly competes with their budget management as their top driver in deciding what to buy.

Social responsibility. How your company treats others is rapidly growing as a brand shaping factor in our diverse and connected global economy. Paying a worker a dollar per hour to work in an unsafe environment is being challenged by consumers no matter how low the product’s price tag. Corporate social responsibility is maturing from an island of “do-good” within a corporation. It is now a supply chain risk management best practice that at the very least protects brand equity with the potential of winning influencer-leader customers attuned to social responsibility issues.

Environmental integrity. A company must have environmental integrity if it wishes to sell to the Millennial Generation, and their concerned moms. The millennial generation was born into climate change. They see environmental consequences threatening their futures. “Cool with a purpose” is the TOMS Shoe logo that captures the Millennial generation’s imagination and dollars.

Emotional connection. How do Apple and Patagonia continue to succeed in the face of lower-priced competitors? They make an emotional connection with a customer. “Well loved” and “authentic” are emotional connections that are hard to win but easy to lose if a brand fails to fulfill the above nine dimensions. Building an emotional connection is the competitive advantage available to local businesses. It is the ultimate challenge for large corporations.

Sketches: An exclusive interview with Christine Cea, Unilever Senior Director Marketing Communications

There is an art to converting the above ten brand dimensions into brand equity. One of the best examples on how to do so is a YouTube video called Sketches posted by Dove, a Unilever corporation brand. This video is the most watched branded video on YouTube with almost 56 million views! At the Sustainable Brands 2013 conference, I had the opportunity to talk with Christine Cea, Unilever Senior Director Marketing Communications about the Sketches video. In the following video, Christine explains best practices for crafting a brand story like Sketches to achieve a values-based emotional connection with a customer: Bill Roth is an economist and the Founder of Earth 2017. He coaches business owners and leaders on proven best practices in pricing, marketing and operations that make money and create a positive difference. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles business case studies of pioneering best practices that are proven to win customers and grow product revenues. Follow him on Twitter: @earth2017

Founder of Earth 2017. Author of The Boomer Generation Diet: Lose Weight. Have Fun. Live More that Jen Boynton, Editor in Chief of Triple Pundit , says is "Written in Bill Roth's lovable, relatable tone. A must read for any Boomer who is looking to jumpstart their health and have fun at the same time. I hope my parents read it. "

2 responses

  1. These insights are both telling and irrelevant at the same time.

    Telling because they come from a mega corporation that:
    mostly sells commodities we don’t really need
    contributed to the erosion of our trust in brands–originally defined to distinguish between

    1. Hi Barry, I appreciate your passionate defense of small biz. I share this passion. For the record the ten sustainable branding best practices are mine developed from working with small and large businesses. I have worked with hundreds of small business owners on using sustainable best practices to win customers. Many of the small business owners I have worked with were pioneers in developing these ten sustainable branding best practices and they taught me their “secret sauce” so I can help other businesses.

      Please also consider what Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman is attempting. He is a leader among his peer CEOs for pioneering business leadership based upon a longer term and sustainability-centric business plan. How many CEOs have a publicly stated business metric to help 1 billion people improve their health and well-being? Is it more productive to recognize efforts by companies like Unilever and Paul Polman or to point fingers at them? Based upon my business leadership experience a best practice is to recognize and reward performance while continuing to demand excellence.

      Hope these thoughts are helpful in advancing our mutual goal for advancing the success of small businesses and the adoption of sustainable practices.

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