Put Your Money Where Your Values Are: Creating Sustainable Citizen Brands

The age of marketing a ‘quick sell’ to eager, faceless consumers is coming to an end. More companies are turning to the power behind values-based branding: using their customer’s personal ethics to create campaigns reaching beyond the cha-ching of registers. At the forefront of this marketing movement is Citizen Group, a global brand management agency and marketing firm dedicated to building citizen brands and creating lasting relationships using the quadruple bottom line: people, planet, profit and passion.

George Perlov speaks with MBA faculty member Jeff Hittner and Ariel Kalishman Walsh MBA ’14.

Bard MBA in Sustainability hosted Citizen Group’s award-winning marketing executives Robin Raj, founder and executive creative director, and George Perlov, strategic developer and social marketing and communications consultant, to discuss how they are creating campaigns that build public-private coalitions to promote environmental and social change.

Raj and Perlov talked about the importance of organizations and companies aligning their brand’s mission to help the greater social good. “Organizations shouldn’t be afraid to lead with their values,” said Raj, “We help brands do well by doing good.”

One of Citizen Group’s campaigns is with the Green Sports Alliance, a National Resource Defense Council-supported organization that helps sports teams, venues, and leagues become more sustainable.

Robin Raj speaks with Bard MBA student Ariel Kalishman Walsh after the event.

Robin Raj speaks with Bard MBA student Ariel Kalishman Walsh after the event.

Citizen helped launch the “Go Green” sustainability campaign for the Philadelphia Eagles football franchise. Owners Jeffery Lurie and Lori Weiss wanted to reduce the team’s environmental footprint by encouraging fans to recycle and equipping the stadium with renewable sources of energy. By doing this, the team also set a positive example to the surrounding Philadelphia community about responsible consumerism and social change – all part of Citizen Group’s greater campaign goals.

The “Go Green” marketing campaign caught the eye of celebrity Robert Redford. Redford has now partnered with Citizen to build support for the Alliance about the need to ‘green’ Major League Baseball with the message that society can “mainstream sustainability through the games we play”. The Alliance encourages not only MLB teams to get on board with sustainability, but other sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, WNBA, NHL and Major League Soccer to collaborate on a common environmental agenda. “Ads need to say that sustainability is good for sports and here’s how. We need to document industry role models and paint a picture of this sustainability journey,” Raj said, “Coalitions are built through the power of branding.”

The power of public-private collaborations played a big role in Citizen Group’s Breathe Project campaign. The Breathe Project aims to raise public awareness and build the business and political will to improve air quality in the Pittsburgh region. Backed by the Heinz Endowment, the Breathe Project struggled due to lack of support from local health departments and the community. Recognizing the need to garner high-profile support for the project, Citizen Group engaged companies like Google and PNC, who have branches in Pittsburgh, as well as local nonprofits like the Penn Environment Research & Policy Center and the Allegheny Chapter of the Sierra Club, to help with their campaign. “This type of ad campaigning is much like political campaigning. The more constituencies that come to the table, the greater the societal impact,” said Perlov.

Companies, whether newly established or centuries old, need to think outside of the typical marketing box.  As Citizen has proven, branding that engages not only an economic vision, but also positive societal and environmental change helps to kick-start sustainability throughout all levels of company engagement.  When companies align their brands to better reflect citizen’s values, they form a deeper connection with their customers than just the goods and services they provide, setting themselves up for a lasting, profitable relationship.

For more information about Bard MBA in Sustainability, visit www.bard.edu/mba.

Find out more about Citizen Group branding projects here: http://citizengroup.com/.

Emily Krohn is the Graduate Admissions Assistant for both Bard MBA in Sustainability and the Center for Environmental Policy. She has a BA in English and Journalism from NYU. 

About Emily Krohn, Bard MBA Graduate Admissions Assistant