The term “sustainability” is everywhere. In recent years, MNCs, international non-profits and even micro-influencers are jumping onto the bandwagon. Besides being a statement or a feel-good video, sustainability branding is greater than the sum of its parts. From environmental impact to inclusivity and diversity, this is where we talk about all-things sustainability branding.

So what exactly is sustainability?

Many brands have experimented with environmental sustainability in some form–reducing carbon emission, limiting plastic use, or even planting trees. But those are just the tip of the iceberg. And as you venture deeper, sustainability means so much more than being environmentally conscious. It’s about promoting or instilling practices that enable long-term positive impact for the environment, people and the world.

Enter ESG: Environmental, social and governance. These are the pillars that uphold sustainability. Environmental deals with issues that affect nature, climate, biodiversity and even waste processing around us. Social revolves around community matters such as diversity, inclusivity and equality. Lastly, governance is a measurement of accountability, transparency and the business ethics of an organisation.

What does this mean for us; brand custodians, marketers and creatives?

The idea of sustainability is brimming with opportunities for brands. Beyond marketing campaigns, it’s also a guide for identifying a brand’s purpose, beliefs and strategies. This naturally boils down to every aspect of the branding experience from platforms, partnerships, packaging and people. Let’s explore how we can influence our brands to make an impact on the future.

1. Understanding how sustainability pipes into your branding

It’s not in what you say, but what you do. Sustainability initiatives only become fruitful when it aligns with your overarching brand purpose and operations. Oftentimes, when implementing such plans, brands tend to jump on trends that may be seen as “low-hanging fruits” without considering the bigger picture. To make matters worse, some brands may have business operations that contradict their good intentions. One such act of sustainability comes to mind: The removal of plastic straws. While the move puts the brand in the right direction, it also raises cynicism among netizens, questioning if it’s for cost-reducing measures or worse; greenwashing, since most of these restaurants still use plastic lids and bags.

The route to building a sustainable brand shouldn’t be paved on convenience. It’s the combination of long-term strategy, re-evaluating operations and repositioning messages that uncovers a brand’s deeper purpose. Learn how you can find your brand’s sustainability angle in our article below.

link to sustainability branding article

2. Marketing with a cause

Everyone has a belief worth fighting for. This is why when a brand starts advocating for a cause, they feel human and relevant. It signals to audiences that the brand understands the current landscape and is a bastion for a movement.  Having this shared purpose builds meaningful relationships too, which differentiates a brand from transactional connections.

As a sustainable brand gets more recognition, it will start to attract a dedicated following. And that’s when a brand reputation is formed. Audiences will start associating a brand to its cause, helping the initiative spread through word of mouth online and offline. To maintain that positive perception, a brand needs to continue to walk the talk and align its actions externally and internally. Prepare your brand for social impact, read more below.

link to article about social impact and marketing

This article will be updated regularly with more sustainability-related topics. Bookmark this page to follow and learn more

We gravitate to people who share the same views as us. So it’s no surprise that social media has become a powerful tool, bringing like-minded people together. Naturally,  brands too, are riding in on this by standing up for their beliefs with sustainability branding.

In recent years, sustainability has grown as a major purchasing decision for Millennials and Gen Zs. A Nielson report has found that Millennials are also willing to pay extra to support brands that impact the world positively.

As more brands hop onto the sustainability bandwagon, consumers are getting more wary and active in holding brands accountable for their words. While some brands have worked toward their beliefs, others have fallen short or, worse; backfired for doing the opposite. This raises the question: Whether a sustainability narrative is enough or should brands start first by implementing a framework?

Green products as a sustainability cause

What’s sustainability?

First, let’s talk about sustainability. According to the United Nations, there are 3 pillars of sustainable development, environmental, social and economic. Together, they help shape our society and way of life. As a whole, it extends to a list of 17 goals:

  • No poverty
  • Zero hunger
  • Good health and well-being
  • Quality education
  • Gender equality
  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Affordable and clean energy
  • Decent work and economic growth
  • Industry, innovation and infrastructure
  • Reduced inequalities
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Responsible consumption and production
  • Climate change
  • Life below water
  • Life on land
  • Peace justice and strong institutions
  • Partnership for the goals

Each of the goals contains long-term objectives set by the United Nations to guide governments and participating organisations on the actions needed to achieve them. Most MNCs have also defined the type of goals they plan to contribute to. One such example is Unilever, a conglomerate that has recently celebrated its 10th anniversary of the Sustainable Living Plan. Known for its efforts in the various sustainability goals, Unilever is also transparent about its initiatives, sharing the metrics and data of their impact on the world.

Unilever sustainability goals
A framework of Unilever’s efforts


Not only are organisations plotting frameworks and objectives to display their actions,  some have also created sustainability departments to focus on finding operations and supply chain opportunities to make a difference. In the C-suite, roles such as Chief Sustainability Officers are becoming more common too–introducing a new type of leadership to steer an organisation’s sustainability initiatives into a holistic business conduct.

Besides organisations, countries have also placed greater emphasis on sustainability. Last year, Singapore announced its newly rebranded Ministry of Sustainability and Environment to help build climate-change defence and tackle environmental challenges such as carbon footprint.

More than words

If a brand’s message was centred on doing good for the people, environment and society, it’s only expected that those words are put into action. Yet, some brands have managed to craft sustainability-led messages, but operate in a way that suggests the complete opposite.

Last year, Paseo, a paper towel and tissue brand owned by paper company Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), was under fire for its contradictory sustainability claims. The brand launched a range of facial tissues with boxes that feature outlines of forest wildlife such as tigers and elephants for children to colour on.  The goal was to spark children’s creativity through mindful colouring and also raise awareness of these endangered animals. And to top it all, Paseo also claimed that the paper was 100% sustainably sourced and used plantation-grown acacia virgin fibre.

Sounds like the perfect idea: Child-friendly, has a message about endangered species and biodiversity, and is backed by a solid sustainability claim. Only problem was APP has been facing allegations for years on deforestation, clearing and burning habitats of tigers, elephants and orangutans–the same animals found on Paseo’s colouring tissue boxes.

How to make sustainability branding work?

Luckily for most brands, cases like Paseo can be easily avoided. Start by looking at sustainability branding beyond a marketing promise but rather the effects your brand has on the world. Whether it’s using electric vehicles or fair and inclusive hiring practices, every brand’s approach can be different. What’s important is that the action fits your brand and is relevant to your audience.

1. Identify what your customers care about

Create a persona of your customers and understand their psychographics. Knowing their underlying motivations can help paint a clearer picture and lead you to more informed sustainability plans. 

2. Evaluate your business practices 

Sustainability branding is more than marketing. That’s why for it to work, you need to assess the process of your operations. From production to sales and HR to logistics, everything can have a sustainability angle. Some of which might include responsible production, reducing of carbon footprint, diversity and inclusivity, and the list goes on.

3. Implement a strategy 

With a grasp of how your brand operates internally and externally, you can now set goals and measurable objectives. Doing so, gives your stakeholders a concrete plan and a way to shape what your brand stands for.

4. Take action and talk about the changes

It’s time to put your plans into place. While your brand is striving for a greater purpose, it’s good to communicate to your customers why these changes matter and encourage them to play a part too. This can come in the form of content or as a campaign.

So back to the question, “Should action or narrative come first?”, while both are important, we need to remember that “sustainability” isn’t a buzzword but actions that we, as brand guardians, can take to make this world a better place.


Picture yourself in the future. On a global level, a handful of countries now run on renewable, green energy. Closer to home, familiar brands make appearances on the face of your IoT-enabled home appliances—bridging the gap between consumers and brands. Grocery shopping or finding the best place to have dinner is as simple as saying a few words to your device. To adapt to our convenient, voice-controlled routines, brands too have developed their own voices to be more personable.

Although fully voice-controlled brand interactions may only come to fruition in the next decade, brands are already honing their vocal muscles and providing value to their customers through the next big marketing goldmine: Podcasts.

Why should podcast be a part of your marketing strategy?

The podcast boom has only just begun. Due to its ease of consumption, podcast listenership has grown tremendously over the past few years. Not only does podcast fit seamlessly into an audience’s lifestyle, it also appeals to audiences that are affluent and information-hungry. According to Podcast Insights, in Feb 2021, there were just over 1.75 million podcasts as compared to an astonishing figure of 600 million blogs. Needless to say, the demand for podcast has been growing steadily but with lesser market saturation.

Putting your voice out there

While audio branding is considered the new kid ‘round the block in Asia, branded podcast has already made its mark in western markets. Akin to blogs, podcasts disseminate information and establish thought-leadership without feeling salesy. Through podcast, brands can harness the power of sound to amplify their presence online, extending their brand personality beyond pixels on a page. Thereby, enhancing engagement with audiences and building brand awareness in a conversational way.

As podcasts start to gain traction in Asia, being a first-mover can cut through the clutter, boost target audience reach and raise awareness. So what should you look out for when you plan podcast content?

Honing in on a niche

podcast marketing niche much like bands

Like pop stars, rock bands or DJs, brands need to discover the niche and value they can provide with their branded podcast—only then will they build a loyal fanbase.

A branded podcast can offer a range of exciting communication opportunities based on a brand’s proposition and identity. Some of it includes establishing brand authority, creating entertainment or even conducting community-inspired education speeches. 

Producing podcasts that focus on key observations and trends can position your brand as an expert in the industry. Hence, making your brand relevant and cultivating brand loyalty among your customers. Furthermore, podcast can also simplify complex subjects and turn them into informative content, helping your customers understand topics better. Ultimately, content and format planning depends on understanding your target audience and the topics that appeal to them.

From podcast to marketing stardom

Podcast marketing your brand to a loyal fanbase

Podcast shouldn’t just be perceived as a marketing platform. After all, it’s the content that counts. As an audio content, podcasts can create rich and sensorial storytelling. For listeners, that’s important because no one would like to tune in to a 15 minutes sales speech while they’re on their way to work.

Thus, a branded podcast should provide value and insights rather than sell a product or brand.  When it comes to podcast, think of it as an educational talk show—what is the message that your brand intends to convey, why will it benefit your audience, and how can you make it interesting for them. Doing so can spark meaningful content that audiences will remember your brand for. Therefore, associating positive brand recall and elevating your brand’s top-of-mind awareness.

How have brands used podcast in their marketing?

Venturing and planning for a new medium may take some getting used to. But fret not. Brands such as Facebook and McAfee have paved the way with their branded podcast.

Back in 2019, Facebook launched its first podcast, “Three and a Half Degrees“. The inspirational talk show highlighted the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship. Guest speakers from different SMEs and MNCs were invited to share business insights. Through Three and a Half Degrees, business owners and stakeholders learned how connectivity and technology could help with their success. The podcast has grown and cemented Facebook as a business network that supports and empowers businesses.

Gearing towards consumers, there’s McAfee, the internet security SaaS firm that released one of the earliest branded podcast content: Hackable?. The podcast explored different aspects of cybersecurity from myths to cautionary tales. Each episode explored how susceptible we are to cybercriminals. Speaking of being topical, before the last season premiere of Mr. Robot, McAfee released an episode centred around the cyberattacks inspired by the show. Overall, Hackable? was able to captivate audiences with its relatable and entertaining storytelling.

Brands, it’s time to go radio gaga

The future is now. As technology advances, so should brands and the way they communicate with their audiences. So what will your brand sound like?

What will your brand podcast sound like?


What comes to mind when you think of “target audience”? A mix of stats or an actual person? With the proliferation of research technology from data trackers to advanced algorithms, it’s easy to get carried away with how accessible data is. Sometimes, researching your customers is just a Google search away. But we are complex creatures. It’s our complexities that make us unique. We think, act and perceive things differently.

So how can we better profile our target audience to resonate with them authentically? Customer personas. 


What is customer persona?

customer diversity requires customer persona

Everyone is different. Your cookie-cutter “middle-aged family man, 45-50, banker” segment won’t cut it in today’s diverse world. You might identify distinct demographics with customer segmentation, but overlook what makes your target audiences human. 

Customer segmentation provides a helicopter view of our target audience. It offers a general description of who they are. Whereas, customer persona pictures them as people with goals, motivations and pain points—bringing your target audience to life.


The importance of customer persona

To build a connection with your customers, you first need to understand them. A lifelike customer persona helps brands uncover strategic insights. It does so by identifying the target audience with a spectrum of information ranging demographics to behavioural mindset. When you invest time in knowing your potential customer, it becomes easier to create realistic and relatable marketing narratives.

Design thinking

Customer persona acts as a cornerstone for design thinking. Both methodologies intertwine and provide solutions for user-centric, design executions such as UX, UI, and the list goes on. Segmenting your customers is not enough, because everyone perceives and reacts to your products/services differently. They have different goals or problems that your product needs to address. Therefore, you need to uncover your target audience’s priorities, needs and wants. Only then will you truly empathise with your customer.

Omnichannel planning

understand your target audiences' omnichannel journey

Additionally, brands can leverage customer personas to plot targetted omnichannel journeys. Knowing the type of channels your target audiences frequent and the content they consume unveil conversion funnel signposts. What’re their preferred go-to media platforms, brands, entertainment? Are they more of a Facebook or Instagram person? Which are they more likely to frequent: NTUC Fairprice, Giant or Cold Storage? These subtleties may come off as frivolous, but piecing them together give you a specific and well-curated profile of your customer. As a result, helping you plan strategic marketing content and media placement effectively.


5 essential aspects of a customer persona

Firstly, when it comes to building a concrete customer profile, you’ll need to see them as an actual person. This means everything from their name to lifestyle has to be fleshed out so you can grasp a sense of who you’re speaking to.

1. Name

Give your customer a name. It makes them relatable and identifiable.

2. Demographics

Demographics humanise your customer profile. They consist of information such as age, gender, education, ethnicity, family status, income level and religion. These details frame your persona with relevant information and kickstart your customer persona research.

3. Background

Background can be branched into 2 sections – professional and personal. Professional background includes information such as career route, job position and the organisation they work at. While personal background expands on hobbies, education status and preferences. These 2 backgrounds are imperative to discover your customer’s needs and wants.

4. Goals and pain points

Try to identify your customer’s goals and how your product/service helps them achieve it. Does your offering solve their problems? Answer this, and you’ll know whether your USP messaging aligns with your customers’ needs.

Conversely, examining your customers’ pain points highlights any objections that are holding them back. Some of these objections could be due to issues such as brand credibility or even cost and accessibility. The more you know your customers, the more compelling your proposition and messaging can be.

5. Customer’s lifestyle routine and habits

What are your customer’s daily lives and consumption habits like? How do they go to work? These sort of questions bridge the gap between you and your customer. It emphasises your customer’s lifestyle nuances—detailing their go-to media platforms, their brand preferences, and many other often-overlooked daily routines. 


So how do you gather all this information?

target audience research plays an important role in customer persona

You can start by structuring a frame of your ideal customer. General segment info such as gender, age, family status and income level will be more than enough at this stage. Once that’s done, time to conduct research.

There are a variety of research methods; the most common ones are online surveys and social listening. Online surveys can give you a broad assessment of your target audience. Who are they, what do they like or dislike, and how can you make things better for them. Other than being effective in retrieving data, online surveys are also affordable to form and quick to disseminate. 

To expand your customer persona profile, you’ll need to dive deeper. Research methods such as social listening or mystery shopping provide clarity. These methods uncover your customer’s thought process and behaviour by bringing you closer to them. Knowing where your customer frequents, from brick-and-mortar shops to social media platforms, lets you analyse their preferences and objections. With that, you’ll be able to track your customer’s goals and pain points accurately.


Results of having a well-crafted customer persona

You may be thinking: What’s with all this hassle? The scale of a customer persona research may be daunting. But understanding your audience is the start to impactful brand storytelling.

One of the best examples of customer-centric storytelling is NTUC Income’s “The Promise” campaign.

Rolled out in 2019, it highlighted the woes of ‘sandwich generation’ parents. The story centres around a young, PMET man making ends meet, while tending to the needs of his parents and pregnant wife. Financial pressure arises as he juggles his savings between his parents and newborn. The story then ends with the young man promising not to be a financial burden when he gets older.

The story was well-received. It became a viral hit on Facebook almost instantly. Many netizens felt that they resonated with the man’s predicament. Behind the curtains, NTUC Income had to conduct rigorous research, in order to uncover the consumer insights that led to such evocative storytelling.

It may not seem apparent at first, but everything user-centric from design to brand experiences relies heavily on customer persona. Putting yourself into the perspective of your customer is just the beginning. Crafting a persona is akin to having a torch in the dark. With it, everything becomes visible. Your doubts are cleared. And the path that takes you where you need to go becomes certain.