A great idea, enthusiasm and hard work are a good start, but entrepreneurs and established firms need to do far more to build green brands and businesses that endure, consultants specializing in brand development and marketing strategy told an audience at the West Coast Green Conference.
"People think perseverance and passion are all that it's going to take — and I can tell you that is not true," said Sean Dunn, partner and account executive at Groove 11. "Without a self-perpetuating business model you cannot be in this conversation in five years, or be in a green or sustainable business."
Dunn, David Almy, principal at ADC Partners, and Dev Crews, the chief sustainability strategist for Luminesa Communications, shared their advice on credible brands and strong foundations for eco-friendly businesses in a panel discussion, "Mean it Like You Say It: Authenticity As a Core Principle Of Enterprise That Flourishes Over Time," at the three-day 2008 West Coast Green conference that concluded September 27 in San Jose.
Dunn said there are three essential questions for businesses:
What is your distinctive (unique) value?
How will you express it in a meaningful, sustainable way?
How can you share it in ways that allow you to become a trusted partner to everyone you meet?"
The ability to answer those questions and act effectively can be considered a litmus test for success, according to Dunn.
"It's heavy lifting and hard work, but you cannot be too big or too small to take this work on," said Dunn, whose firm has worked with Beacon, Citrix, Cisco, Clinique, HP and Zagat, among others.
Almy of ADC partners, whose clients have included Clorox, PeopleSoft, Amtrak, the American Automobile Association and 24 Hour Fitness, recommended five best practices in building authentic brands, credibility and strong businesses in the green arena:
Be (Radically) Transparent
Be Overt, not Covert
Almy said that firms can miss opportunities by not sharing their stories about their successes as well as their areas of business that need more work. He frequently hears companies saying, "We're not ready to talk about that because all our ducks aren't in a row."
Part of being radically transparent is being "willing to shine a spotlight on the duck that's not in the row," Almy said. To their surprise, he said, companies can find that the public is highly receptive when a firm says, "We're doing great with this 80 percent, but with this 20 percent we're doing really lousy and we're working hard to fix it."
If that's a frightening prospect, consider the results when the public discovers gaps in a firm's otherwise credible practices -- regardless of whether a company has chosen to call attention to its good work. The damage is tough to undo, Almy said.
Almy also said stressed that being inclusive and being overt in practices are crucial internally and externally for businesses. "You have to have a consistent message across the company, horizontally and vertically," he said, noting that firms often find the internal piece extremely challenging.
Crews of Luminesa Communications, who has worked in the U.S. and abroad with international firms, moderated the panel and spoke of the evolution of the green movement, social trends and market expectations.
Being green may not be easy, she said, but these days it's a lot more hip. Prevailing themes in popular messages today include " 'Green is cool and hip' ... and 'Sustainability is sexy,' " she said.
While the concept may now be the craze or cause du jour for some, there will soon come a time when it is de rigueur for products, services and companies because of market expectations, said Crews. "It will all become integral," she said.
She recalled that when she started in the business there were those who scoffed at the idea of pursuing career involving sustainability strategies -- and there were people who considered the Internet a novelty. "No would dream of launching a business today without a website," she said.
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