Comment: ‘Eco branding doesn't have to be beige and boring’

Marina Tran-Vu, founder of EQUO, which provides eco-friendly solutions for everyday items, discusses the major pitfalls of marketing and branding for sustainable brands.

For years I worked in brand management for large, global corporations such as Unilever. Looking at so many well-oiled machines that were able to survive ever-shifting trends, I learned about how to build impactful and lasting brands. I also learned about the biggest mistakes to avoid, chief among them how to avoid pigeonholing your brand to a single target demographic.

Nowhere is this mistake more evident than in the eco space. I’ve always felt that the one-size-fits-all approach to branding – that hippie-era aesthetic filled with earth, that’s boring at best and intimidating at worst – served one audience for sustainable products but alienated many others. It turned out to be a motivating factor in moving from the US back to my native Vietnam and launching my eco-friendly company, EQUO.

The kinds of brands I want to see more in the eco space will embody joy, playfulness, hope and encouragement through the use of bright colours and characters. Neutral tones like brown, beige and cream have become the branding norm for how eco products communicate sustainability (as well as screaming ‘craft’, ‘handmade’, ‘local’, ‘recycled’ and ‘compostable’). Yet everything from your logo to your packaging can be attractive and compelling, while remaining true to the core values of the products. Not that you’d know it from looking at most eco products out there.

Ironically, a lot of eco-friendly brands might have a better chance of helping the environment if they were to simply stop talking about it. I’ve always felt dismayed with the way the majority of eco brands seem to rely on fear-based tactics. So many take the approach of insisting that consumers become purists about sustainability – shaming them for any use of plastic, gas, air travel or the purchase of new products. This dogmatic all-or-nothing approach alienates consumers who may want to take the first step towards becoming more eco-conscious, but who aren’t quite ready to totally overhaul their lifestyle.

Nor do brands in the sustainability category need to pretend that they have it all figured out – the road to eco-consciousness is always a work in progress. After all, there always has to be a balance between sustainability for the earth and sustainability for your business, which doesn’t always mean perfect eco practices with every single decision. Founders need to be more comfortable with that because consumers can sniff out a phoney in seconds. Skip the lectures and make it more desirable.

This article was first published in Courier issue 38, December/January 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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