2020 was already on pace to be another step forward for sustainability in e-commerce and fashion, with major retailers like Nike announcing initiatives for the next decade, and 104 brands becoming the first group to receive Climate Neutral Certification.
The Coronavirus epidemic has accelerated what consumer preferences were already trending towards: thoughtful and responsible consumption. According to consulting firm Kearney, the number of consumers considering environmental impact when purchasing has increased since the pandemic started. The number jumped from 71% in 2019 to 79% in March, 2020. As of April 10th, 83% of consumers said they considered the environment when making a purchase.
Looking beyond sustainability, it is clear that the pandemic has directed scrutiny towards brands that have signaled a mission-driven purpose but are struggling to back it up. Consumers expect ethical standards to uphold, even in times of adversity.
For instance, Everlane has come under fire for laying off its part-time CX team amidst attempts to unionize and become full-time employees. Of course, there have been layoffs across the industry but the real problem lies in the expectations the brand has set for itself. Emily Farra from Vogue writes, “the problem with billing yourself as progressive and holding yourself to a higher standard is that your customers will hold you to it.”
A recent study from Edelman highlighted that 71% of respondents agree that if they perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever. Consumers are weary of brands taking advantage of the crisis with short-term marketing plays without long term plans to stand by their “In This Together” statements. As we’ve seen from the Brands x Better, started by Nate Checketts and his team at Rhone, the size of the brand doesn’t matter when it comes to responding to this crisis in a mission driven way. All brands have the capacity to give back to the community in some way, and doing so now will build customer loyalty for the future.
Most importantly, however brands choose to act, they should not message their actions in a way that will fall short of expectations and ultimately doesn’t deliver on their promise.
Here are a handful of brands that are messaging extremely well through the crisis while giving back to their communities.
Haus has built its brand to reflect millennial consumers’ desire to make drinking alcohol part of the experience, not the experience itself. From launch, their branding showed intimate groups of friends gathering at home, focusing on the quality of relationships over the act of drinking. This turn to thoughtful consumption versus mindless consumption has only increased in the current crisis.
Haus started The Restaurant Project to support local restaurateurs, shortly after restaurants and bars began shutting down across the country. The Restaurant Project showcases several strategic moves which are worth pointing out:
Although the bottles are pre-order only, 100% of the profits go to the restaurants immediately. The clear messaging lets customers know that their dollars will make an immediate impact even though the actual product is not instantly available.
They’ve set this expectation on the collection page, and not later in the checkout process, which builds trust with the customer.
The personalized flavor profile for each restaurant reinforces the fact that Haus has a one-to-one relationship with the restaurants and, by extension, the local community.
Customers appreciate a brand that both supports a cause and enables the consumer to support that cause directly. Haus & The Restaurant Project are nailing both.
GREATS founder Ryan Babenzien said it best in a recent LinkedIn post, “People have been asking many questions about what the future of retail looks like, or how Covid will affect this business or that business, or will sustainability matter after Covid. There are opinions and predictions to these questions and then there are those of us that are taking action now to answer these questions and to actually define the shape of the future.”
GREATS is donating $15 for every order to City Harvest, a NYC non-profit that “has been feeding hungry New Yorkers, neighbors helping neighbors.” The donation, in tandem with a 25% sitewide discount, isn’t just another #workfromhome promotion. GREATS gives back to its customers and its community simultaneously.
GREATS brand has always been known as the first sneaker brand born in Brooklyn, with its headquarters in Williamsburg along with a recently opened retail location. Actively supporting the local community shows that the organization is deeply invested in the city, beyond selling products.
Rumpl is best known for their premium outdoor blankets (they have indoor too #WFH). In April 2020, they announced their Climate Neutral Certification. Founder Wylie Robinson stated, “We need to start treating climate change the same way we are treating COVID— together with our neighbors, at the government level, and with critical urgency. If you are a business owner of any size, you have a responsibility to do your part.”
While many brands and their founders have put out statements in recent weeks reflecting on the long term changes that need to be made in their respective industries, not all of them detail actionable steps to take in the short term. In addition to donating 2% of revenue to 1% for the Planet, Rumpl set up a program to help its retail partners that are struggling to deal with store closures. Similar to The Restaurant Project, this program allows customers to use a discount code from participating local retail stores to support the community. Rumpl is providing those stores with inventory and fulfillment logistics to keep orders coming in.
OOKIOH is a swimwear brand using 100% regenerated materials. They’ve always been quiet about their sustainability mission. Founder Vivek Agarwal said in a recent interview (paywall), “We have never tried to greenwash our customers and always wanted the customers to buy the product because it makes them look good and brings them joy.”
Throughout COVID-19, Agarwal is focused on not becoming a “tone-deaf brand existing in a virtual world where it is sunny, and people are enjoying the beach.” Always fun and positive, the brand’s tone has shifted to cautious optimism and content is centered around providing music, workouts, book recommendations, etc. to its community. The brand is acknowledging the seriousness of the situation while maintaining its positive outlook inherent in the brand and its founder.
OOKIOH is part of the Brands x Better coalition and is giving 2% of all sales to the LA Mayor’s fund for this month. The brand is also helping to donate over 20,000 masks and have almost reached their donation goal of $100,000 for their Mask Fund. While swimwear sales may be affected in the short term, Vivek is confident that great products and strong values will stand the test of time. With consumer sentiment turning towards responsibly crafted clothing, OOKIOH is well positioned to become further entrenched as a leader in swimwear.
It’s crucial to avoid overpromising and under delivering during this time. After the first few weeks of brands acknowledging the COVID-19 crisis, consumers are looking for more substantive action from brands. The Kearney study shows that sentiment towards sustainability and mission driven brands is changing rapidly throughout the COVID-19 crisis and brands that are positioned to capture consumer attention now will succeed in the future. We agree with Mark Cuban’s statement in a recent interview, “how companies act now is going to define their brand for decades.”
Highsnobiety’s whitepaper on post-quarantine consumption highlights consumers’ desire to still hear from brands during this time, even if they are less interested in buying in the current environment. Thought leadership and brand messaging matters. The report concludes that there’s “a generation of brand natives who will come out of this crisis with even more finely honed bullshit detectors. Marketing to them will require more than just knowing the language — it will require the transparency in actions as well.”
This is a critical and welcome turning point for the brands set to grow in the next decade. We here at Verbal+Visual put our support behind brands that make premium products responsibly and sustainably. Let’s all take this opportunity to be more mindful consumers; to buy fewer, better products that are made responsibly, and from brands who invest in the communities in which they participate. Our coming post-Covid world needs could use it.