About sustainable brand concepts as an opportunity for future-proof positioning and the success of holistic transformation processes
Interview with Christine Fehrenbach
Source & Copyright by Christine Fehrenbach
Source and Copyright by Christine Fehrenbach
Author: House of Eden
Transparency, green transition and climate protection transformation are buzzwords that currently pose major challenges for companies. More and more studies confirm that the transition to sustainable business models has become a prerequisite for competitiveness and future viability. But how exactly can companies - whether established or start-up - implement this awareness? Christine Fehrenbach and her consulting agency have specialized in precisely this question.
As a consultant for holistic brand concepts, she accompanies companies through transformation processes and mobilizes untapped potential to strengthen the resilience and innovative power of brands in our increasingly complex world. She combines the two branches of design and fashion. In a talk with Christine Fehrenbach, we learn more about sustainable brand concepts and how to manage transformation processes.
"To communicate holistically and sustainably means that you also name what is not yet entirely sustainable. I believe in open and honest communication."
What exactly are holistic, sustainable brand concepts, what are the building blocks?
A brand should always be viewed holistically and thus from different perspectives. Companies that position themselves sustainably must act responsibly at all levels. From the transparency of Supply Chain to fairness towards employees. In short, this means: I should include all facets of the company and implement what I specify in every area. This is not easy, but necessary. It's never about achieving 100% immediately, but about honesty, Transparency and credibility.
Brand concepts consist of a number of essential elements - starting with a sharp positioning. There are also values, differentiators and unique selling points. In my work with customers, I intensify them or supplement them. Often there is also the mediation of one purpose in focus to meet the demand. Even though the term is overused these days, this topic is still a major challenge for companies.
Brands must go beyond a functional benefit and stand for something. Today, the overarching brand purpose is the basis of the value proposition and the communication of a company. And again: In terms of a holistic concept, this must relate to the internal and external corporate environment. For example, it is important for companies to underscore their commitment through certification. However, this commitment should not only refer to one area, but to the entire company. That means: a brand with a seal for sustainable production also guarantees that the internal CO2 balance is low? The question of a holistic approach is about such structures, connections and adjusting screws.
Transparency is the buzzword of the moment - what does it mean for corporate sustainability communication?
Transparency is one of the riskiest words in the corporate landscape. Owing to Greenwashing and the associated skepticism of consumers, transparency must be lived absolutely uncompromisingly. Which also means disclosing deficits and construction sites. It is no problem to communicate that the company is at the beginning of a transition. Involving consumers along the way and sharing developments even has a positive effect. Saying everything is at 100% is the problem.
My recommendation: If there are clearly defined objectives - for example climate neutrality by 2025 - I would always communicate them directly. The prerequisite for this is, of course, that the company management stands behind this plan and that the corresponding structures are anchored.
What are your top tips for new founders to successfully implement sustainable brand concepts?
First of all, I should ask myself what I'm offering. Am I convinced of my concept? And does my offer address an important added value for customers - is it relevant on the market and is the need even there? I keep noticing that many startups don't think it's necessary to check the market. Keyword market analysis. It is essential to examine what needs exist on the market, what target groups there are and what solutions the competition is already offering.
Then the core of the brand needs to be defined. Is my concept state-of-the-art? In terms of design and product development. All components must be future-proof. Accordingly, it is a question here, for example, of whether companies circular concepts such as repair or rental into account in their strategies. Then I have to decide what my corporate design is: How do I appear to the outside world, from the corporate language to the visual implementation of my products? In this phase, companies have to decide which digital channels they want to use. Depending on the channel, it is important to create a coherent communication concept.
Source & Copyright by Christine Fehrenbach
It is also about the organization of the structures. Starting with the decision how and where to work to the consideration with which partners you would like to work together. It's about competencies. What I mean by that: Many startups have skills in specific areas like design. At the same time, this means that they do not have all the necessary skills and should therefore involve other people with relevant knowledge. These can be sole proprietorships or larger companies - depending on your needs and budget.
Another tip: Social media open up cost-effective and efficient ways to involve customers in the process. Confirm concepts, rethink them or get completely new ideas. A strong network is one of the most important assets nowadays.
Conversely, where should established companies start first with a sustainable transformation?
First of all, of course, they have to ask themselves how comprehensive the transformation should be and what goal they are pursuing. It is possible that a transformation process calls the DNA of a company into question and has a disruptive effect on established structures and business models. The first step is therefore always to question the current positioning and to sharpen it or to develop a strategy that transforms its contours, if not completely overhauls them. Such a process is highly complex and requires a clear strategy - changes happen step-by-step.
That Sustainability is too expensive in companies is by the way not a powerful argument. And definitely not a sustainable one. For example, regulations such as the Supply Chain Act are already gradually inducing companies to develop in a sustainable direction. That means: The sooner I start, the better - but actually still too late. Anyone who resists this is simply not prepared for this development and, in the event of new legislation, has to react overnight.
This makes it much more difficult and expensive than proceeding successively. I always recommend companies to look at which service or product they can start with the easiest and how they can transfer the new structures to the others. Maybe they just have to sort out some product groups. It's about collecting empirical values and implementing them in the long term instead of suddenly changing an entire range.
What do such changes mean for internal company structures?
Such changes are not just about new services or an improved product range. The main challenge is that processes change. In large companies in particular, entire departments and competencies have to change. That means a lot of effort - also with regard to investments. But studies confirm that sustainability pays off. One of the best examples of this is employer branding. Driven by Generation Z, who make social and sustainable demands on their employers, we are moving more and more in the direction of meaningful companies. In the long term, this development will definitely have a positive effect - also financially.
However, it is also very important to involve existing employees. Even if they have not yet developed an awareness of sustainability. It is a good idea, for example, to hold workshops to set new impulses and involve as many as possible. Ultimately, it already has an important impact if only 10% of employees raise their awareness due to such initiatives. A suggestion: It is often advisable to consult external experts and to seek an exchange with partners who have already gone through the process.
The fast-moving fashion industry faces major challenges, how can sustainability help brands to remain competitive and future-proof?
I believe that the whole market will change in the medium term. New business models are becoming increasingly important: The thrift market is booming, consumers buy more consciously and sustainability and longevity have become the central purchasing criteria for Generation Z. In addition, more and more laws are being passed that oblige fashion companies to be more responsible. Sustainability is not only the key to success, but also the long-term basis for the sustained success of a brand.
In the next step there will be another key to success: fashion that is not only high-quality and beautiful, but also involves consumers in the creative and design process. This is how fashion can remain - or become - what it has always been: the opportunity to emphasize the uniqueness of each person - along with an added value for the self and the garment.
Are we really at a turning point and how can this sustainable transformation be accelerated?
It is desirable that something fundamental should finally change. It starts with growing awareness and the desire to act differently - to break through rigid structures. This requires people who recognize that each and every individual can accelerate this process. Of course, there are also more and more laws that I regard as very valuable and useful in this context. Nevertheless, it is about the people who consume fashion and shape the development of fashion with every action. And since I'm only partially confident that our society "Faster, further, cheaper" sworn off I hope so, but I can't definitively say whether we're already at the turning point.
That is why education is such a huge issue. We need a lot more Education and collaboration. Companies should involve all their stakeholders and enter into collaborations to make an even greater impact. I find it incredibly important to work with a strong network that creates synergies and positive change through knowledge sharing and appreciation. Within these networks, awareness can be raised and translated into action so that the Discrepancy between rhetoric and action can finally be closed. Based on this conviction, I and many others will do everything to ensure that the transformation can succeed.