Brand experiences are individual consumers’ subjective and internal responses to brand stimuli that are partly generated by the company, in the form of, for example, marketing communications, brand design, packaging, and sales environments.
However, a large portion of brand stimuli can be outside the conventional company controlled channels, such as in the news and social media. Brand stimuli are not always necessarily associated with the actual products consumers are using.
They can also be associated with news related to the company’s reputation, for example, how the company handles its e-waste. When consumers buy and use brands they are directly in contact with product attributes that are utilitarian, but they are also in contact with other aspects of the brand that can generate specific sensations, feelings, and perceptions as well as have behavioral impacts.
Consumers use marketing messages as well as other sources of information, such as information on supply chains and product innovations, to form their personal and communal brand experiences in an “experience space”, where brand experiences are co-created.
Branding and Sustainability
Branding is one of the most important means of marketing and selling products to consumers, and brands are one of the most important purchase selection criteria among consumers, especially in the case of electronics products.
Brands are reflections of the companies’ reputations and business success in the minds of consumers, including from an environmental perspective. Corporate image has an important impact on how stakeholders, including consumers, appreciate the company, and it can be based on the way a company manages its social and environmental responsibilities.
Corporate image is also used to differentiate how companies commit to being sustainable. Branding research reports on the benefits of associating the Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) activities of a company with its brand, as it links consumers’ and other stakeholders’ brand evaluations and choices to actual CSR initiatives.
When referring to CSR it is also understood to incorporate the pro-environmental activities executed by the corporation. When the sustainability and environmental development activities of a company are linked to its brand, the brand value is increased, which can influence some customers positively.
However, some customers may be skeptical and not trust the sustainability reports of companies, and thus they do not base their purchase decisions on this information.
Consumers may lack clear and comprehensible product information including details on the eco-friendliness of many companies’ products, and they may not trust public CSR and environmental reports.
Consumers can resent a brand if there is any reason to believe that the manufacturer ignores human rights or environmental responsibility, for example, in the case of BP after its major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
A critical view of the way multinational brands are dealing with sustainability requirements is that they do not necessarily conform to all sustainability standards. Instead, they can export socially irresponsible practices to countries with looser regulations and less stakeholder pressure.
Currently, companies can avoid expensive sustainability and environmental development activities simply by hiding their noncompliance by moving their practices further away from their headquarters.
The current e-waste management practices prevailing in the electronics business are causing grave health risks to children, e-waste recyclers , and increasingly to the large populations in China, India, and Africa.
For example, in China, the amount of e-waste produced is growing continuously, and the recycling of e-waste of global brands is handled predominantly by informal sectors that do not have knowledge about the risks of handling such waste.
Role of Global Brands in Sustainable Development
Major global brands are owned by companies that have CSR activities implemented and reported publicly. However, sustainability is still not considered a priority in the companies’ strategies, as the main drivers for global brands are brand business models.
Global companies have a reputation for taking advantage of the varying environmental legislation in different countries so that they can have more polluting operations in countries where the environmental legislation is the most lax.
Global consumer electronics brands dominate the market and control the supply chains globally, and they also control the sourcing of materials and implementation of waste handling practices.
The brand of a company is the key link between all the actors participating in the production and consumption processes, especially in the case of global electronics brands.
The eco-friendliness of brands can be built on the CSR activities of companies, and this can be associated with the way an electronics company handles its e-waste. Global brands have significant power over the global supply chains, and they are transforming sustainability into true business value by lowering costs and re-evaluating quality and performance.
As the environmental impacts of consumption increase, brand companies will have a greater competitive advantage from being sustainable and eco-friendly, and they will want to take advantage of the growing green consumer markets.
Global corporations are also beginning to incorporate CSR into their branding strategies. The activities implemented in corporate functions and the results seen in the markets and at the environmental level are hard to understand and measure, and for this reason there are contradictory research findings in this area.
This has raised doubts about what the companies are actually doing to develop their sustainability and raised suspicion about possible greenwashing attempts.
The sustainable development goal #12 set by the United Nations in the New Sustainable Development Agenda with regard to ensuring responsible consumption and production requires follow up on the level of global brands that are highly visible in the consumer markets.
With the illegal export of e-waste from the production sites and largest locations of use, the e-waste problem is moved away from the backyards of the producers and the majority of consumer electronics users.
The private authority of global brand companies has crucial significance in the governance systems globally. Change should be driven on all the different levels of consumption practices so that companies and consumers are involved and the technological and cultural aspects of introducing more sustainable consumption practices are taken into account.
As the overall climate and environmental change, including the accumulation of e-waste, is potentially drastic and enormous, the role and ability of consumers to drive sufficient change on their own should be reassessed.