Does sustainability spell disaster for brand identity?

A recent Medium post titled Welcome to Brand Hell explored a hypothetical future in which all branding is removed from the retail experience. In theory, gone would be the containers and labels that once separated preferred products from those we wouldn’t consider.

On one hand, the writer explains, this move would be critically beneficial for the environment. She cites the global waste problem along with a study revealing 80 percent of Icelandic shoppers are, in fact, in favor of doing away with plastic altogether. But on the other hand, she mentions many brands wouldn’t be on board for a package-less, label-less tomorrow. This position is perhaps the only certainty in all of this.

Consider brands like Campbell’s, Heinz, and Listerine, who have, over a number of decades, invested an unfathomable amount of resources toward transforming their packaging into the ubiquitous boxes, jars, and bottles that contain their products today. In a zero-waste future, does that investment simply go away? Or will there be other avenues marketers can take that don’t require brand identity to rely so heavily on package recognition in a traditional brick and mortar environment?

Experiential marketing creates a stronger brand identity

Rather than creating an emotional connection through snappy packaging, experiential marketing does so by creating tactical, personalized experiences that surround the brand. One experiential marketing example you may remember is the Share a Coke campaign, in which Coca-Cola gutsily removed its logo from all its cans and bottles and replaced them instead with 250 of the country’s most popular first names. In addition to names like John and Mary, each can featured #shareacoke, a call to action that incited an overwhelming response on social media. As a direct result of the campaign, Coca-Cola increased its Facebook traffic by a mind-boggling 870 percent, while growing its Facebook following by 39 percent. On top of that, consumers shared around 76,000 virtual Coke cans with each other online and printed a total of 378,000 cans. No ifs ands or buts about it – Share a Coke was a hit, and Coca-Cola didn’t need its logo to pull it off.

It’s also worth noting that Share a Coke wasn’t a one-hit wonder by any stretch. Since Coca-Cola got the experiential ball rolling back in 2012, other retail brands including Gatorade, Oreos, and Budweiser have each demonstrated their own masterful applications of experience-driven marketing – and there don’t seem to be any signs of it slowing down.

According to EventTrack 2018, an astounding 91 percent of consumers say they have more positive feelings about brands after attending events and experiences. Plus, 85 percent are more likely to purchase a product of service after attending a live marketing event. Frankly, it’s hard to argue with those numbers.

Emerging tech advancements keep things fresh

What’s particularly exciting about experiential marketing and brand activation is that it’s ever-changing alongside tech advancements. We’ve already seen experiential marketers leveraging augmented and virtual reality to innovate within the category. Consider IKEA’s IKEA In Your Room, which allowed users to conjure true-to-scale 3D models of IKEA furniture in their rooms before deciding to purchase. A glowing response left IKEA heads optimistic about experiential’s future.

Similarly, Sephora created an augmented reality experience that allowed users to see how its makeup would look on their faces via their phone’s front-facing camera. Additionally, users are told which tools they’ll need to apply the products they test; and if that’s not enough, its patented technology even shows users the effects that months of skincare with a given product will have on their skin (which is kind of insane).

Bridget Dolan, Sephora’s head of innovation, explained: “We weren’t interested in just buzzy. A lot of things like technical accuracy and timing had to come together, and there was a time last year when, during testing, we hit a tipping point.”


A brand doesn’t need materials to be the whole package

So, does trending sustainability mark the bitter end of brand identity? Not by a long shot. Though it does mean marketers need to adapt to trending sustainability to remain relevant – even if they have to retire a signature package design in favor of something more environmentally conscious. In fact, going even further, a Nielsen study revealed that a global average of 55 percent of consumers surveyed said they were willing to pay more for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact. The 55 percent figure is up 10 percent from the same survey conducted just three years earlier, meaning two things: the trend is growing fast, and adapting will be more than worth brands’ while.

If there’s one takeaway here, it’s this: you don’t need material objects to connect with people and establish a brand identity. Instead, by creating meaningful experiences around your brand that genuinely enhances people’s lives, you can establish a brand-consumer bond that’s far sturdier than any package found on store shelves. By opting for experience-based marketing, you’ll be doing your brand – and the world – a massive favor.