Brands of the day often face this unique dilemma – a key element of customer experience inconsistent with an environmental or social-cultural truth. If forsaken in haste, it may lead to the dissolution of a key competitive advantage. If ignored by choice, the corporate reputation may suffer, leading to livid social media. For passion to co-exist with purpose, brands must develop their unique Legacy Equilibrium – the needs of today blending with deeds for tomorrow.
Just recently, I was in an Indian city with a much-magnified water problem. The hotel with a fine reputation for sustainability has invested in much greenery, both real and charming. However, during a recess in the poolside, I noticed a jarring aberration – a lady relentlessly watering the plants with a high-speed pipe. In the 30 minutes I was there, mammoth portions of water were utilised in ensuring that the greenery be celebrated. A classic case of short-term premiumisation colliding with necessary restraint for today and not just tomorrow. What must brands do in such situations?
The answer lies in a new concept called the Legacy Audit, a necessary investment for all responsible brands. It starts by defining the core value proposition and clearly articulates the experience customers must duly receive. To drive brand preference in increasingly competitive scenarios, adding deserving dollops of delightfulness. Then this experience must run through the filter of sustainability, to minimise today’s actions that may logically impact tomorrow’s outcomes. What passes must be the foundation for customer engagements and strategies of the organisation. Only in the rarest cases must the rejects be allowed to continue, that too from a temporary lens.
The hotel example can amply illustrate this concept, in the matter of say water conservation. Unless in a Cape Town scenario, the management cannot ask customers to bathe less; however, they can certainly replace rain showers by regular showers. Just as towels are urged to be re-used, the decadent practice of inducing a plate-change multiple times during a buffet can be easily stopped. Even the finest-heeled eat from varied courses from a single plate at home or during wedding feasts, so this will not be taken harshly. Smaller plates can also lead to the elimination of wastage, subtle messaging requesting gourmands to take only what they can eat. Greenery must be of the low-maintenance variety, else artificial solutions must be brought to the party.
Brands can actually take advantage of positive new-age consumer sentiments towards purpose, in right-sizing expectations. The Havas Group Meaningful Brands Survey, among others, clearly says that purpose matters to more than 77% of Indian customers when making a choice. We have also seen the successful application of the Ikea Effect (greater brand engagement when co-creating) in the airline industry, Indigo Airlines persuading the pampered Indian flyer to dump their own cups as an aid towards punctuality. In fact, it may even add back to the quality of brand affinity, when there is integrity and consistency in intent. Let me share a few possibilities on how this can happen.
Food delivery aggregators can offer a deferred delivery option with a slight discount, when the rider can pool orders to the same location, saving energy and reducing pollution. Similarly, if it has a no-plastic policy, the customer can be requested to carry her own bag to the bike in order to transport the boxes. Hospitals graduating to digital records compulsorily to ensure that paper is not wasted, the same true for hotel and restaurant bills. Companies, in turn, officially accepting e-bills as proof of reimbursement, the Income tax Department following suit for tax deductions. In fact, a larger campaign for the acknowledgement of digital records for all key paper conduits, including insurance claims and contract signings.
Banks encouraging executives to attend in tropical clothing and not suits, saving air-conditioning electric bills. Nestle has just launched a chocolate bar in the UK with recycled paper, easily replicable over time without losing out on quality. Restaurants offering dedicated seating and a special menu for caregivers of children or senior citizens – insisting that customers do not make them stand or starve in an undignified fashion. A commitment to curbing pollution could actually lead to a culture of Metro credits, those not taking cars to work getting additional benefits.
In sum, every company and brand must define their Legacy Equilibrium, drawing from the Legacy Audit. To carefully define service-level expectations not just from the lens of preference but also from the perspective of sustainability. It is a fine and tricky balance – yet one that is necessary for our planet.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Chief Strategy Officer of Havas Group India and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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