Nowadays, few would deny that aligning with a customer’s social values is fundamental to building brand relevance and loyalty. But with 63% of Brits believing that companies forget about social issues once they are out of the news headlines, are brands and organisations’ purpose-led campaigns really landing with customers?
In an age of changing expectations, it’s clear that words are not enough. Both short- and long-term success will depend on brands and organisations closing the ‘say-do gap’ – the gap between what businesses say and what they actually deliver.
At Provenance – the software solution for sustainability communications – our work aims at closing this very gap, with credible marketing claims and supply chain transparency. The brands we work with are no longer merely discussing how to articulate their brand purpose; they’re focused on how to prove it. From what we’ve seen at Provenance, I believe this ability to prove positive impact is already defining business outcomes.
Sustainability communications: no longer a ‘nice-to-have’
Just a few years ago, when I started Provenance, brands told me it would be absurd to reveal the suppliers, ingredients and impact behind their products. Today, we are working with over a hundred brands and retailers across food and drink, beauty and fashion –businesses who fully recognise the importance of credible, consistent sustainability communications.
As the climate crisis has risen to the front of public discourse in recent years, expectations around sustainability have rapidly evolved. A clear majority (62%) of people now expect companies to be more thoughtful about how they incorporate sustainability into their business models, according to Porter Novelli research.
And of course, these changing expectations aren’t shoppers’ alone. Investors of all stripes are rapidly prioritising ESG products, whilst regulators (including the UK’s CMA) up the anteby targeting misleading environmental claims. And last year at Everlane, we also saw a prime example of how employees will readily break ranks to call out a company’s internal say-do gap.
Supply chain impact will dictate future brand relevance
From the tragedy of Rana Plaza to the distribution problems caused by Covid and Brexit, supply chains – once confined to the pages of trade media – have risen to public prominence in recent years.
Businesses are, as a result, facing growing scrutiny on the impact that their products have throughout their journey from source to shelf. 86% of beauty shoppers now want information about ingredient supply chains, whilst 81% of consumers say transparency is ‘important’ or ‘extremely important’ to them when buying food.
When Porter Novelli asked how companies should close the say-do gap, ‘looking at their supply chain and where they spend their money’ ranked higher (41%) than ‘making public pledges of support’ (33%) or even ‘donating money’ (39%).
It seems clear that people aren’t looking for bolt-on, short-termist campaigns with no relation to the brand’s direct social or environmental impact. They want to see responsible decisions being made at the core of a company, communicated credibly. The commercial success of brands like Patagonia and Allbirds – which put supply chain impact front and center in their marketing – is further testament to this.
Closing the say-do gap on supply chain sustainability
We know that in the age of expectation, brands must make responsible sourcing decisions, and we also know that words alone are not enough. To close the say-do gap on supply chain sustainability, I believe brands must focus on two things:
- Support claims with credible evidence and verification
Brands must support their social and environmental impact claims with clear substantiation. At Provenance, we’ve developed Proof Point technology that does precisely this, by connecting the claims brands make to real data and evidence from their supply chain.
- Make sure your messaging is clear and consistent
Responding to this industry wide necessity, we’ve developed an open-source rulebook for sustainability claims. The Provenance Framework provides a universal guide to enable consistent claims across multiple brands and industries, making it easier for shoppers to understand a product’s impact. Each of the framework’s 50+ social and environmental claims are designed to be as jargon-free and shopper-friendly as possible.
In reality, we have a long way to go. 48% of supply chain managers recently said that they don’t believe their organisation is transparent enough with consumers, clients, and regulators about sustainability. But it’s my firm belief that brands that can support ambitious sustainability strategies by sharing their progress with credible evidence and clear, consistent messaging will soon reap the rewards. To ensure longevity, brands and organisations must step up now to meet changing stakeholder expectations.
Jessi Baker Bio:
Jessi Baker, MBE, is the founder and CEO of provenance.org, the software solution for sustainability communications. She is an Art and Science hybrid, with a Master’s in Engineering from Cambridge University and Design from the Royal College of Art. Across the US and Europe, she has worked with many brands on technology and digital design strategy including Cult Beauty, Pernod Ricard, Unilever and Princes.