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Wellness and Sustainability: Why brands are still struggling to get them right

The areas of wellness and sustainability may seem very different on the surface, but they have two major things in common:
8 April, 2022
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1.) On the one hand, we know that consumers are increasingly seeking out brands that can demonstrate maximum transparency and authenticity around them.

2.) On the other hand, many brands are still trying to translate the values of wellness and sustainability directly into profit - which often works against what consumers are actually looking for.

We are nearing the end of huge period of flux filled with so much uncertainty, change, and polarisation. Consumers have been immunised against brand jargon, hype and trend marketing and are craving honesty, simplicity and purity instead. They want to find brands that genuinely live and breathe these values first and foremost, putting them before profit.

While brands try their best to deliver on this, they face some major challenges such as the vastness of both the wellness and sustainability conversations - and the fact that they are constantly evolving. This makes it hard to pin down, or define, when and how brands should engage with these topics.

With all this in mind, the main creative strategy to employ is - perhaps unsurprisingly - integrity and honesty. What this actually means is getting back to the genuine values at the core of the brand first, before working out how messaging around sustainability and wellness can be developed from there. This creates messaging that feels authentic to the brand and fosters greater loyalty. The mistake many brands make is to layer on messaging about these issues that doesn’t properly relate to the brand’s core, which consumers identify as inauthentic.

The big challenge here of older, more established brands that are perhaps not rooted in these more contemporary values is how to compete with younger brands that have been built upon them. It may seem like an impossible task, but we find there’s always a way to do it when returning to the roots of the brand. This might be finding newer, more relevant ways of expressing core values to allow the kind of authenticity needed, or even gently evolving and expanding them.

At the other end of the spectrum, for younger brands, these values must be baked-in to the brand from its inception. The challenge here is achieving cut-through in a crowded market of nimble DTCs fuelled by savvy social media strategies. But once again, the best approach lies in defining the absolute core values of the brand and building out messaging from there.

Brands are putting this into action in a variety of different ways. Some are creating their own ‘universe’ by moving away from being 'everything to everyone'. Instead, they are distilling their identity down to its purest form to create deeper connections with a more concentrated group of consumers. This singular identity runs across everything, from product offering and UX to the staff they hire, and design of their stores, allowing them to truly create their own conversations around these big issues.

Other brands, especially younger ones, are taking a ‘radical transparency’ approach to talking about wellness and sustainability. Dutch eyewear brand Ace&Tate (now certified B-corp) showed their commitment to sustainability with their 2021 blog post “Look, we f*cked up. Our bad moves”, addressing mistakes they had made around sustainability and how they plan to change. American fashion brand Everlane reveal the actual cost behind all of their products, including labour, transportation and customs duties related to shipping. Similarly, active-wear brand Tala are transparent with their consumers about the trade-offs they make that allow them to sell their products at a far more competitive price whilst still maintaining ethical production practices (for example using 92% up-cycled fabrics rather than 100%).

The sheer honesty of these approaches immediately draws consumers in because they offer a refreshing antidote to how the majority of brands communicate. Also, the openness invites consumers into the brand’s own sustainable journey, fostering a following, and in the case of Tala, making sustainable products more affordable and accessible.

Finally, while it is clear that making a commitment to sustainability, humanity and wellness is becoming absolutely non-negotiable, this should not be done as a superficial add on or replacement of a brand’s USP or core ethos. Doing so can easily result in in green- and well-washing: which should of course be avoided. Instead, brand’s should look inward: ensure sustainable and wellness related processes are an operational core, and evolve their brand values with integrity as well as current relevance.

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