Brands must do more than walk the talk on sustainability and instead focus on communicating business practices that put “values into action” if they are to succeed with younger consumers, believes Vicky Free.
Speaking at this year’s Cannes Lions Changemakers series which shines a light on female leaders making a mark on their industry, Free, the Head of Global Marketing at sportswear multinational Adidas, said brands must evolve their strategies to keep up with the growing expectations younger consumers have of companies.
“We know in our industry, we're part of the problem and we have to be a bigger part of the solution. We focus a lot on Gen Z and they really don't want to hear any more about sustainability,” she told Euronews Next.
Customers will hold companies accountable and as a future-focused brand serving conscious consumers, what you do speaks much louder than what you say, Free noted.
“They want to see action. They want to really see, what are you doing? How are you driving it? They want a longer lasting product and they want it to be better for the planet,” she said.
Putting values into action at Adidas
New consumer behaviours have led to fundamental changes in how one of the top sports companies in the world conducts its business and makes decisions.
Sourcing more environmentally friendly materials, reducing plastic in manufacturing and designing apparel that is more durable, for instance, are just some of the ways Adidas is improving sustainability through product innovation.
“We focus a lot on sustainability. It's a core belief at Adidas to create a stronger planet. When we think about sustainability, there's obviously a message that we want to deliver - but behind the message is the action, Free said.
Not only is the company making more sustainable consumer products, it is working on ways to reduce its carbon footprint internally and co-creating these solutions with customers along the way.
“Consumers want to know: how are you putting your values into action? And so that moves marketing upstream and the way we go about change, the way we build our strategy so that it's not at the end of the cycle, but it's actually at the beginning of the cycle,” she said.
In this sense, the Adidas brand has become much more than a model or aesthetics - it is a holistic representation of the entire company’s values, strategic decisions and purpose.
Diversity is key for brands too
Strong, future focused brands not only strive to put sustainable values into action, they also work on embedding diverse teams that represent the full spectrum of communities they serve.
Whilst the marketing and advertising industry is “late to the party,” Free argues, leaders can work on improving representation by cultivating a strong pipeline of talent in every area of a business.
“How to get to the future faster and that’s with the truth. And today our industry does not reflect the communities that we serve globally. Brands are just made of humans,” she said.
By creating the opportunities for different voices and perspectives to be represented in branding decisions, companies are more likely to better understand and connect to their customers beliefs, values and ultimately commercial choices.
So, how does a company know if it's building a strong, future focused brand? The true indicator is what consumers share voluntarily with others.
“It’s what the community is saying to each other. This tells us who's winning, who's meaningful, and who is truly innovative. And that's what we're focused on,” she said.
- _For more on this story, watch an edited version of the full interview in the media player for comments on female leadership and retaining talent in the creative industry.
- To watch the entire video, visit the Cannes Lions website.
- **The Changemakers series in partnership with Cannes Lions Live and Euronews Next is a one-to-one interview series with female leaders who are rethinking their roles and creating a better future for their industry.