My favorite rebranding in recent history is the shift from “pleather” to “vegan leather.” I remember being horrified in high school at the thought of seeing a pleather jacket, let alone wearing one. Today, I proudly own several “vegan leather” pieces – from fashion to office accessories – and don’t blink an eye.
So what has moved pleather from taboo to – dare I say – cool? And what does it mean for your B2B brand? The rebranding of pleather to vegan leather has two things in common with any successful B2B rebrand: using brand ambassadors to help sell your story, and telling that story with a socially responsible mindset.
Use brand ambassadors
More than a decade ago, celebrities and fashion designers used their influence to build acceptance – and favor – for vegan leather products. Stella McCartney, a lifelong vegetarian, launched a fashion line in the early 2000s without using any leather or fur in her designs. A few years later, actress Natalie Portman launched her own (ill-fated) line of vegan shoes. The Associated Press even wrote a story about veganism’s stylish new spokespeople: celebs. (Probably the only time any of us will ever see Bill Clinton and Ozzy Osbourne mentioned in the same headline.)
So what does this mean for your B2B organization? The answer: influence begets acceptance. Use your internal brand ambassadors – those folks who have a strong, respected voice – to build support for whatever you’re trying to accomplish. But don’t make the mistake of choosing those ambassadors based solely on title or seniority. Select brand ambassadors based on who wields the most influence among their peer groups – and who can make adopting that new company name, internal engagement campaign or change management initiative a success. Who is the Natalie Portman of your IT department? Where is the Stella McCartney in your sales organization? Create a Brand Engagement Team from those ambassadors and use them to wield their influence to help you accomplish your communications or marketing goals.
Employ a socially responsible mindset
Besides its celebrity endorsers, why did synthetic leather suddenly become cool? In large part, the answer is the rise of the socially conscious consumer. As purchasing preferences shifted by generation, sustainably produced products (and the companies that produced them) became more appealing to younger consumers. The fact that a high school student can now brag about his or her new vegan leather backpack being both fashionable and kind to animals illustrates this point.
So why should your manufacturing or B2B services company care about communicating with a sustainable mindset? It’s all about your employees, investors and customers.
- Research shows that millennials are the most sustainability-conscious generation yet. Do you need to recruit or retain talent? Millennial candidates are more likely to choose a job at a company they deem socially conscious – even, sometimes, for less pay.
- Are you a public company? A late 2011 study by researchers at Harvard Business School and London Business School concluded that companies that have voluntarily embraced a sustainable business culture over many years “significantly outperform their counterparts over the long term, both in terms of stock market and accounting performance.” The High Sustainability firms’ share prices were estimated to be approximately 30 percent higher than the Low Sustainability firms, for example.
- Are your products sold through the channel to end-use markets that promote sustainability? As a supplier, you are going to need to be able to tell them your sustainability story – or be replaced by a competitor who can.
As I’ve alluded to many times before (here, here, here and here), there are always valuable lessons B2B companies can learn from their B2C counterparts, and this latest example is no exception. What other commonalities do you see between vegan leather and your B2B brand? Comment below, email me or tweet me your thoughts.