Sustainability: Opportunities and challenges for brands

This article is part of a series of articles on sustainability. Read more.

Need to know

  • Accenture Strategy’s global study of nearly 30,000 consumers found that 62 percent of customers want companies to take a stand on current and broadly relevant issues like sustainability, transparency or fair employment practices.
  • More than half (53 percent) of consumers who are disappointed with a brand’s words or actions on a social issue complain about it. What’s different now is that 47 percent walk away in frustration, with 17 percent never coming back.
  • Consumers’ are now highly valuable stakeholders in an extended brand ecosystem. They insist on transparency at the corporate level, as well as about the products, services and promises they find meaningful. They reward principles such as family connections, health, security, sustainability or respect for religious beliefs.
  • Companies in more mature markets are more likely to expand their focus from individual experiences to collective values and shared experiences. Retailers, for example, might donate a product to charity for every product purchased.
  • Companies in growth or frontier markets are still defining their brand and their worldviews. While purpose is important for them and their customers, they may align on more traditional competitive differentiators – not necessarily with social, cultural or political issues – but this is changing rapidly.
  • Purpose is less important for companies producing basic, essential “utility” products such as laundry detergent than for brands that offer an “experience” and engage consumers directly in an ecosystem of activity and connections.
  • New, smaller brands often use their purpose as a competitive strategy against larger rivals whose brand meaning has long been tied to product quality. But this doesn’t mean large brands can’t compete on higher purpose.
  • The age of the target customers can help companies determine how to focus their purpose. Approximately 60 percent of Gen Zers and Millennials believe it’s important for companies to take a stand on issues such as human rights, race relations or LGBTQ equality. Barely more than 50 percent of Gen Xers and Boomers feel the same. Brand purpose will be even more important for future generations.