Sustainability and Authenticity Present Huge Opportunities for Brands

Riddle me this: how do you boost sales by almost one third while telling your customers to buy less from you?

Sustainability and authenticity are the twin brand values that can power this exemplary business growth, and Patagonia is the current exemplar.


For some time now, Patagonia has been urging customers to repair and keep their $700 Patagonia parkas rather than buy new ones. The result? Sales increased almost one-third to $543 million last year, which included about nine months of the “Buy Less” marketing campaign.

And the company is predicting future revenue growth of 15 percent a year (this from a mature brand).

So what is going on here and what does it mean for brands, business and sustainability?

At first glance, it is easy to dismiss Patagonia as a special case. After all, the brand is thoroughly rooted in the outdoor lifestyle and environmental concern, so a strong“ sustainability” message is a natural fit. For Patagonia’s customers, it is preaching to the choir.

But how does that help if you are in the chemicals business, or financial services, or any other industry that does not have an immediate and obvious connection to environmental issues?

Patagonia’s extraordinary growth signals a widespread and profound change in the relationships that consumers want to have with brands and with businesses. The change is already well underway and it brings with it an enormous opportunity to strengthen the bond between your brand and its customers.

Great brands, great organizations and great leaders are all in the business of making meaning.  Our hunger for meaning is deep and growing stronger:

  • Meaningful brands outperform the stock market by 120% 1
  • 91% of consumers would switch brands to one that supports a good cause, given similar price and quality 2
  • Only 6% of consumers believe that the sole purpose of business is to make money for shareholders 3
  • 87% of consumers globally believe that business should place at least equal weight on business and society 4

Yet most brands fail to provide the meaning that we as consumers crave:

  • Only 20% of brands worldwide are seen as making a meaningful difference in peoples’ lives 5
  • Globally, most consumers would not care if 73% of brands disappeared tomorrow 6
  • In the US and Europe, most consumers would not care if 92% of brands disappeared tomorrow 7

Consumers increasingly want relationships with brands that have purpose and meaning, and that contribute to our collective wellbeing. They are prepared to reward brands that meet this need (even to pay a premium for them), and they are increasingly prepared to punish brands that do not.

Sustainability and social responsibility are key signifiers of brands that seek to deliver meaning and improve our collective wellbeing.  Authenticity – aligning the business and its behaviors around the brand promise – is the key to credibility.

Patagonia offers a glimpse of the rewards to be reaped by brands that take the trouble to identify their real purpose and that have the courage to express that purpose in action.  What’s stopping your brand?



1 Havas Media Meaningful Brands Survey 2013

2 Cone Communications/Echo Global Corporate Responsibility Survey 2013

3 Cone Communications/Echo Global Corporate Responsibility Survey 2013

4 Edelman GoodPurpose 2012 Global Consumer Survey

5 Havas Media Meaningful Brands Survey 2013

6 Havas Media Meaningful Brands Survey 2013

7 Havas Media Meaningful Brands Survey 2012


Tony Tiernan runs Authentic Identity, a Brand Taxi alliance partner that specializes in helping professional services firms build powerful brands.  Learn more at