According to Raphael Bemporad of BBMG, we live in an age of radical contradiction. There's universal hit of the economic downturn and hoarse voices filled with pain at 99% rallies, but at the same time, there is the tremendous hope which got President Obama elected - the same hope that keeps us working in the sustainable business trenches to make business better.
When he took to the stage at Sustainable Brands 2012 Bemporad shared an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote which aptly describes sustainability practitioners at this moment in time: “The true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time.” That is to say, we can see pain and suffering, pollution and greed, and we can hope and work for better.
With that context, Bemporad shared BBMG's challenge to brands: Disrupt and Delight. He gave five brand innovation principles to make that concept a reality:
1. Start with what's sacred
That means looking not at how you want your brand to be viewed - but looking deeply at its core values. What is the nugget at the center of the brand which incites passion in its employees and customers? What got the founders into business in the first place? Says Bemporad, "Solutions won’t just come from the wonders of technology solvents and enzymes but the values, hopes and aspirations of our shared community."
People who share an idea about what's sacred can work together more cohesively because the shared understanding breeds trust. With the shared sense of purpose established, branding innovation comes naturally to meet those core values of the brand, and they shine through authentically. Bemporad points to Chipotle's "Food with Integrity" campaign as the perfect example of a branding exercise born out of a shared understanding of the sacred.
2. Design holistically Biomimicry teaches us to look to the natural world and use systems thinking to solve problems. In systems thinking, inputs and outputs are all interconnected - tug on a string, and somewhere in the ecosystem a door will open - spew pollution into a river and it will impact water safety. The working order of ecosystems can be applied to technological innovations to lessen their impact.
BBMG looks to the same principles to deliver sustainable brand innovation. That means that a true sustainable brand campaign will not happen in a vacuum, it'll happen through considering the full value chain from natural inputs all the way through how a consumer uses the products. Bemporad points to Levi's WaterLess campaign as a great example of a brand innovation that is based on the company's value chain. It takes a lot of water to make Levi's jeans - both at the beginning of their lives,when the cotton is grown, and during their use, due to consumer washing habits - the campaign is true to the product and the brand's desire to tread lightly.
3. Create collaboratively
Building on the idea of designing holistically, be mindful that the best branding ideas might not come from within your company's own walls - be open to receiving them from consumers. Bemporad points to Quirky , a social product development company. Users submit product ideas, the community tweaks them to perfection, winning products are sold through partners like Bed Bath and Beyond, Toys 'R' Us, Ace Hardware and Target. When the collective has a hit - profits are shared among the influencers.
Bemporad says Quirky receives 1500 ideas for products every week. "Consumers are no longer just recipients, they're co-creators."
Unilever's Open Innovation Lab is another great example - the conglomerate has opened the floodgates to innovation, inviting customers to share their ideas for new products and product updates. Innovations like these have made Unilever the darling of the sustainability movement.
4. Be playful
There is a strong correlation between play and creativity. For companies looking to innovate, fostering a playful environment is the fastest way to help employees develop new, bold ideas. For consumers, play has become an integral component of the brand experience.
Gamification is also one of the fastest paths to behavior change - and companies like Recyclebank are using games to make sustainability fun - very successfully!
5. Disrupt and delight
The last point is the biggest challenge in sustainable brand innovation - but also the most impactful. To truly create a sustainable brand innovation - you need to shake things up - 'innovate' means shaking both people out of their comfort zones and disrupting the industry. Bemporad points to Warby Parker's integrated, sustainable disruption of the eyeglass industry: high quality frames for a flat rate of $95, direct sales through their website, generous try-and-return policy, and a "buy one give one" model that sends a pair of glasses to someone in need for each Warby Parker purchase.
So there's your challenge - how can you "Warby Parker" your industry by disrupting it and delighting customers at the same time?
Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.