Sustainability may have become a mainstream concept but it’s not an easy fit within a brand strategy. From first identifying the issues that matter to finally taking a message to market, it’s a long distance for a brand to journey. With brand reputations at stake and consumers empowered by social media, marketers can’t be too careful about how they integrate environmental and social messages within their communications.
Fortunately, marketers can benefit from the lessons learned by two iconic brands: Coca-Cola and Tim Hortons. Their stories are featured in the Canadian Marketing Association’s latest leadership paper, “Sustainability: Why the Marketing Needs to be Firmly Rooted in the Movement”. The 22-page publication was co-authored by Weber Shandwick, the Sustainability Learning Centre, The Packaging Association and me.
The experience of Tim Hortons highlights the importance of getting the fundamentals right before going to market. With over 3,000 locations across Canada, the company is well aware that its corporate decisions impact hundreds of restaurant owners, thousands of employees and millions of customers. When Tim Hortons decided it was time to develop an overarching framework to anchor sustainability initiatives, the process had to start with listening closely to corporate business groups, restaurant owners, employees and customers.
Working with social change agency JWTEthos, Tim Hortons conducted workshops to better understand what social responsibility meant to those on the frontlines. Coming out of this inclusive process was the articulation of Tim Hortons’ perspective on responsibility, expressed as “Making a True Difference.” Paired with key performance indicators and embraced by stakeholders, Tim Hortons had a sustainability platform that was ready for public consumption.
Coca-Cola’s story is instructive for brands ready to build an emotional connection with consumers around sustainability issues. As a global giant, Coca-Cola saw the need to establish local relevance and credibility while rolling out its sustainability platform in Canada. Global sustainability goals are certainly admirable but Coca-Cola needed to communicate Live Positively in a way that would specifically resonate with Canadians, an environmentally-savvy audience with high concern for local communities.
The solution was to partner with highly respected non-profit organizations that were already well established in the hearts of Canadians: ParticipACTION, an advocate for active living; Breakfast Clubs of Canada, dedicated to supporting school breakfast programs; and WWF, arguably Canada’s leading environmental organization. These partnerships form the basis of a recent campaign, housed at www.livepostively.ca, which profiles local heroes and calls on Canadians to get involved in community programs.