Sustainable Brands

6 Ways to Build a Socially Responsible Brand

Here are a few key ways I help my clients build a brand that conscious customers will fall in love with.
Adopting a more sustainable lifestyle may have started as a trend 10+ years ago, but it’s quickly become a way of living for many of us. The constant need to use our planet’s resources has resulted in an undeniable push to reduce our individual eco-footprint. Threats like greenhouse gas emissions and global warming are tell-tale signs it’s necessary we make a change.

Luckily, most of us are changing! And so are many of our beloved, timeless brands. Today, 90% of CEOs believe that sustainability is essential to success.

Take trusted shoe brand, Toms for example. The company has vowed to make all its shoes and shoe boxes with recycled and sustainable materials. Plus, everytime a consumer buys a pair of Toms, the brand donates another pair to a community in need.

And the popular outdoor brand, Patagonia has committed to giving 1% of its sales to Earth Tax – which supports ecological organisations around the world to restore forests, take down dams and protect endangered species.

The evidence is clear — environmentally conscious brands are not only on the rise but succeeding at that. So, how can you make sure to build a socially responsible brand your audience will trust (and ideally love)? I have some answers!

Here are a few key ways I help my clients build brands that are positioned as the best conscious option for consumers.

How to build a brand that customers will trust:

Step 1. Show Why You Care

Have you heard the expression, “show don’t tell”? It’s a technique writers often use to allow the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses and feelings rather than through the author's exposition, summarization and description.

It’s a technique I encourage my clients to apply to their branded content when I host brand strategy workshops. You can tell a potential customer what you do, but can you explain why you do it?

Famous British-American author and inspirational speaker, Simone Senik speaks on this in his famous TedX Talk “Start With Why.” In this speech, he’s speaking about company leadership, but the same can be applied to conscious and sustainable brands. If you don’t care, why should your customers?

At Little Ghost Creative, I always start with asking my clients their why. I then help them transform their why into their brand’s Purpose Statement. Your Purpose Statement becomes your guiding star. When used in tandem with your Mission, Vision and Value, it becomes a powerful tool for attracting conscious consumers who become brand loyalists and ambassadors.

Young woman working at a coffee shop
I want to know what gets you out of bed in the morning.
Brainstorm Activity:

Take away any distractions, your phone, laptop, etc..and set 5 minutes on a timer. Have sticky notes, your notepad and a pen in front of you. Ask yourself “Why do I exist other than making money or selling products?” Spend 5 minutes writing down everything that comes to mind. There’s no such thing as a bad idea here. When 5 minutes is up, step away from your notes and take a break. Come back a few hours later with a fresh perspective. Summarize your brainstorm into a few sentences that can eventually be workshopped into your brand’s Purpose Statement.

Step 2. Tell Your Story

When it comes to decision making, some scholars say none of the decisions we make are rational decisions, but rather emotional decisions we rationalize later. This theory reflects why emotional branding and brand storytelling are so important — it allows consumers to build an immediate connection without needing to have a full understanding of a brand’s services and products.

So, how do you build your brand’s story? Here’s the tips I share with clients who are in this phase of the brand process:

  • Craft a narrative around a specific piece of your brand — whether it be a product, service or even, the office dog.
  • Take control of the story and make it clear for your customers to see. Humans love storytelling and in the absence of a good story we will make up our own.
  • Look at the bigger picture. Your brand’s story doesn’t necessarily need to be about you or your business. Instead, have it reflect your mission and purpose.

Consider these tips to help build a brand story that can be used as a key differentiator against your competitors. Telling your brand’s story creates a sense of community around your brand. It helps customers emphasize your brand’s journey, encouraging them to be part of the next chapter!

A woman hugging her child
When in doubt, be vulnerable and tell your story.

Step 3. Align Values With Those of Your Audience

Aligning your brand’s values with those of your customers builds a shared purpose. Not only will your brand’s values help you attract the right audience, but it will also lead you to the ideal employees and partners too!

Determine your brand’s values by asking yourself these three questions:

  • What do I stand for?
  • What do I care about?
  • How do I give back to society?

When answering these questions, be transparent. Know yourself and your brand and stay true to it. If Uber made its values focused on reducing transportation emissions,  it would send a mixed message about the vehicles their drivers use. Instead, they focus their values around movement and reinventing how we get places easier. This fits. Follow through on the values you claim. Actions speak louder than words. So, do as you say.

Your values will hold you accountable and will tell your target audience what you really care about.

A group of women doing yoga on the beach
Your customer will come back for more than just your product or service.

4. Build a Devoted Troop of Brand Ambassadors

The most powerful brands in the world have cult-like followings. Apple, Ikea and Starbucks are among the top. For years, they’ve maintained their status and continued to grow their following. They’ve garnered a devoted troop of brand ambassadors committed to advocacy. How? Easy - by always being customer-focused.

At Little Ghost Creative, I always encourage my clients to be customer-focused by doing these three things:

  • Understanding your customers and building your brand experience based off their needs
  • Making your customers feel like they are “insiders” or have exclusive access
  • Crafting a visual identity that is so awesome your customers will proudly rep you

An interesting article from the Harvard Business Review titled “How Hardwired is Human Behavior” explains the evolutionary psychology of communication. The article states that people today still seek those caveman traits that made survival possible then. There’s several correlations throughout the article that can be made to building a brand people want to stand behind.

The article states that like the primates that came before them, human beings were never loners. The importance of feeling part of a clan, community and family is ingrained within us. In  relating this to branding, I can see the importance of creating a sense of belonging for your customers. You have to understand their deepest desires and what they value. When done correctly, your customers will want to join your family and defend your brand for you.

Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman wtih beekeepers
When you are passionate, others will follow.

5. Be Human - People Trust People

If you do one thing, just be yourself. No, seriously!

The secret to building a brand people trust is to be an authentically, imperfect human. If you can humanize your brand and cultivate an experience where customers feel like they are interacting with a person (or the business personified) rather than a logo, you are one step closer to building trust. Remember, trust leads to familiarity and eventually to brand loyalty (and we love brand love).

Building a trustworthy brand requires strategy. It has to be incorporated in the way you tell your story and how transparent you are about your challenges and objectives. All things we’ve talked about already!

But the other key way to humanize your brand is through design. Here’s 5 easy ways I build brand trust through design:

  1. Design a logo that is high quality and professional (sorry, no logo generators!)
  2. Always start with a strong concept and stay away from design trends
  3. Curate a colour palette that enforces a sense of belonging for your customers
  4. Use photos of real people in authentic situations, show your face!
  5. Be vulnerable and tell your story
Smiling business person in office
Honestly, just be your amazing self!

6. Leave No Trace

Last but certainly not least, to build a socially responsible brand your customers will fall in love with you need to ensure your brand’s output is minimized. And by this I mean be mindful and eco-conscious of all your marketing efforts — web hosting, print materials, packaging, etc..

No matter your content strategy or brand identity, you have to practice what you preach. The little things will go a long way and your customers will take note. Need to print some postcards for the launch of a new product? Look for a biodegradable paper. Not only will it reflect your brand’s sustainability values, but it’s a way you can show your customers how you’re making a difference rather than just telling them.

Customers take note of the small things, so be sure to be ethical, sustainable and kind in your approach to all things, right down to the paper you use. Trust me, they will take notice and tell their friends!

Here’s my 8 Easy Sustainable Wins to Minimize Your Brand’s Footprint:

  1. Host your website on with carbon-neutral host (sorry, not Squarespace)
  2. Know your paper stocks, look for FSC Certified stocks if possible
  3. Choose a paper with a high amount of recycled paper content
  4. Explore eco-friendly alternative fibers to paper like stone, hemp or bamboo
  5. Use plant-based inks, or less ink all together (this is a design choice)
  6. Be minimal with the amount of marketing you produce, say it with less
  7. Choose your Pantone colours wisely, some are toxic!
  8. Look into recyclable and compostable materials
Orange flowers in brown bottle on table
Reduce, refuse and reuse as much as you can.
That is how to build a brand that customers will trust

And there you have it — that’s how you can build a brand that’s positioned as the best conscious option for your consumers. Business sustainability has come a long way, but there’s still progress to make. The trend will not abate any time soon, so join it and build social responsibility into your brand values.

For more brand insights and strategy ideas, follow me on Instagram.