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Bill Roth headshot

Win Customers With Consumer-Hero Branding

Words by Bill Roth

Siren is the name of the new marketing and PR company launched by Annie Longsworth. I bring this to your attention because Longsworth has been a pioneer on how to win customers through sustainable branding. Her presentation at the 2007 Sustainable Brands conference sparked my research on the potential for a Green Economic Revolution driven by consumers seeking “cost less, mean more” solutions to their “in me, on me and around me” concerns.

Longsworth named her new company Siren for the word’s double meaning. A siren can be a warning -- as in: global warming is real, it is manmade, and it is having a costly impact on the environment and human health. Siren can also mean an attractive person or proposition. Leave it to Longsworth to capture the essence of how to sell sustainability through one word with a double meaning.

Climate change, the obesity epidemic and commodity price volatility are just a few examples of the legacy 20th-century disruptions created by unsustainable business practices. Sustainable solutions to these legacy issues are emerging as the 21st century’s greatest business opportunities. Today the Green Economic Revolution generates several trillion dollars in annual global revenues, as companies from Unilever to Tesla to Apple align their brands with the consumer’s search for more sustainable products and companies.

Win customers by making them heroes

Longsworth is now at the forefront of another marketing and branding revolution. She is among a group of pioneers that are figuring out how to sell sustainability by shifting the sales message from a problem focus to a focus on the consumer as the hero. This new messaging approach centers around branded story telling, in which the customer’s actions have meaning beyond the self.

The consumer hero is a difference-maker. His or her decisions on what to buy and who to buy from solve problems that help people and the planet. This type of brand-storytelling was the basis of Dove Beauty Bar’s pioneering Youtube video entitled “Real Body Sketches” that garnered over 66 million views.

How can this type of sustainable brand messaging impact business sales? Dove Beauty Bar is one of Unilever’s Sustainable Living products that now account for 50 percent of the company’s annual revenues.

Selling more vs. selling less

This emerging branding revolution is challenging the ingrained business mantra for selling more. Selling more places the company in the role of the hero. It is a hero for getting the customer to eat more, spend more or burn more fossil fuels. After 50 years of this type of marketing, the baby-boom generation is now in an obesity crisis that threatens their health, their ability to pay the soaring healthcare costs tied to their weight gain and their generational desire to “live more.” Decades of implementing this business strategy has now delivered global warming. The business consequences of making heroes of business CEOs that push unfettered sales growth include increased government regulation and stagnate consumer interest in products and companies that fail to solve their growing health and environmental concerns.

“Selling less” is the radical branding message where the consumer is the hero. It is a growing path for winning customers by aligning with their values and quest for value. Patagonia pioneered this branding concept with its ad campaign, “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” on Black Friday in 2011. Chipotle has used a similar strategy of only selling sustainably-sourced food. Under this strategy Chipotle has suffered short-term revenue loss because it could not source sufficient quantities of sustainable pork. What the company won was intense customer loyalty, continued sales growth and a stock valuation that has made Chipotle the most valuable restaurant chain in the U.S.

Branding success is getting weird: Messaging that tells consumers to buy more to save money is now lost within continuous competitive price promotions that corrupt business profits without winning customer loyalties. McDonald's and similar fast-food companies are losing the key market segment of urban millennials that view super-size-me food promotion as unhealthy and uncool. While full-size pickup trucks are still the sales rage for auto manufacturers, their sales future is being disrupted by the millennial generation’s embrace of urban living, digital connectivity and shared-vehicle programs like Zipcar and Uber.

The emerging, and more sustainable, marketing paradigm is to enable the customer to win through sustainable decision-making. This customer-as-hero strategy wins new customers, builds customer loyalty and captures competitive advantage. It delivers sustainable sales growth.

A video interview with Annie Longsworth at Sustainable Brands 2015

If your business is looking for branding insights in this new marketing paradigm, then the following video interview with Annie Longsworth, CEO of Siren, is a must-watch. Hear in her own words how to win customers by making them the hero.


Image credit: Flickr/JD Hancock

Bill Roth headshotBill Roth

Bill Roth is a cleantech business pioneer having led teams that developed the first hydrogen fueled Prius and a utility scale, non-thermal solar power plant. Using his CEO and senior officer experiences, Roth has coached hundreds of CEOs and business owners on how to develop and implement projects that win customers and cut costs while reducing environmental impacts. As a professional economist, Roth has written numerous books including his best selling The Secret Green Sauce (available on Amazon) that profiles proven sustainable best practices in pricing, marketing and operations. His most recent book, The Boomer Generation Diet (available on Amazon) profiles his humorous personal story on how he used sustainable best practices to lose 40 pounds and still enjoy Happy Hour!

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