Blog Post: Building a Sustainable Brand

By Wavelength Marketing10th July 2024blog

This post provides practical advice on how senior brand marketers can build a sustainable brand. In other words a brand which stands the test of time.

Informed brand marketers understand sustainability transcends environmental concerns to encompass broad, strategic brand related issues that drive long-term, profitable growth. The challenge lies in building a sustainable brand. In other words, a brand that will last the test of time.Here’s a concise guide outlining four core principles to help you build a sustainable brand that resonates with stakeholders and stands the test of time.

What is sustainability?

It’s important to define sustainability because senior brand marketers need to be clear on what sustainability is and isn’t.

“the ability for a company to sustainably maintain resources and relationships with and manage its dependencies and impacts within its whole business ecosystem over the short, medium, and long term.[1]

The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB)

This definition makes an important point. Sustainability is a broad and all-encompassing concept that doesn’t equate to environmental concerns alone. That’s not to say environmental concerns aren’t important. They absolutely are. However environmental concerns are part of – but not the whole sustainability picture – and that is important context for this article.

Stakeholder-Centric Brand Building

Traditionally, brands have been customer-centric. Well, at least ideally. But focusing purely on the customer is a simplification of reality.

The evolving and increasingly sophisticated business landscape demands a broader focus. Sustainable brands thrive by engaging with an entire ecosystem of stakeholders—not just customers.

This includes employees, investors, suppliers, and the communities they operate in. For instance, companies like Volkswagen and Unilever have demonstrated commitments to their broader stakeholder groups by engaging in sustainable supply chain practices and community support initiatives. By adopting a stakeholder-centric approach your brand building endeavours will dovetail more neatly with the complexities of today’s brand building world.

Enabling Stakeholder Success

Building on Clayton Christensen’s “jobs to be done” framework, sustainable brands must focus on enabling stakeholders get jobs done. This involves understanding, enabling and helping stakeholders to solve the core challenges they face. This embeds your brand functionally – and emotionally – in their success stories. For example Octopus Energy’s Dirty Lowdown helped customers save money on their energy bills whilst doing good for the environment. John Deere’s data-sharing platform, MyJohnDeere empower farmers with best practice tools and insights that enable them to optimise farming practices and so realise greater long term value from their land[2].

Embracing a jobs to be done approach in the context of brand building helps organisations deliver sustainable value as your brand will focus on – and be associated with – the end not just the means. And it is the end where the value lies[3].

Balanced Brand Values

A sustainable brand is underpinned by a mix of values that are core (timeless and enduring) and peripheral (adaptable and responsive)[4]. These values should offer both functional and emotional appeal. Doing this means the brand delivers functionally and emotionally, today and as the future unfolds.

In the 1980s, Volvo core values emphasised safety, conveying implicit family associations. Peripheral values and highlighted performance with a playful tone and imagery.

By 2020, safety and family remain central to Volvo’s brand, reinforcing trusted memory structures. However, the peripheral values around performance and being playful has shifted to environmental concerns.  Fine tuning the brand through its peripheral values has enabled Volvo to move with the times by aligning the brand with the environmental agenda.

Burberry also fine-tuned peripheral values to give the brand a slightly more edgy feel. This is something its main competitor from many moons ago, Aquascutum, didn’t do – and it’s struggled ever since.

Adopting a balanced approach in defining brand values ensures stability and relevance, maintaining functional and emotional connections with stakeholders.

Educating and Engaging the C-Suite

The success of sustainable brand building hinges on C-suite buy-in. Educating executives on the financial and strategic value of building a sustainable brand is crucial.

Highlight empirical evidence that links strong branding with market share growth and balance sheet value. Share financially related initiatives such as The International Accounting Standards Board plans to start a project a project relating to the valuation of intangible assets so they better reflect today’s digital and intellectual property-driven marketplaces. It’s also advisable to use clear, finance-friendly language to frame brand investments as building intangible assets, thus aligning with the language and priorities of CFOs and CEOs.


Equating sustainability solely with environmental concerns is too narrow an approach.

World class brand leaders know how to build a brand that aligns with environmental concerns but more importantly how to build brands, sustainable brands, that will last the test of time. This article has provided practical advice on how you can do that.

🎤 Why not book Darren to deliver his keynote: Sustainable Success How to Build Brands that Stand the Test of Time (June 2024)?

[1] https://www.ifrs.org/news-and-events/news/2022/12/issb-describes-the-concept-of-sustainability/

[2] For more details on my John Deere, please take a look at Dr. Eric Joachimsthaler’s book The Interaction Field.

[3] Wunker, S. (2023). Jobs to Be Done: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation is a very practical book on jobs to be done thinking that is well worth a look.

[4] [4]For more detail, please see de Chernatony, L. McDonald, M. and Wallace, E. (2017) Creating Powerful Brands, 4th Edition, Routledge

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