The COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed a marked shift in the average consumer, highlighting health and well-being as a top consideration for consumer purchasing decisions while simultaneously creating a shift in how consumers made those purchases. The growing urgency of the call to act on climate change, coupled with renewed vigor around support for BIPOC businesses, also meant that consumers significantly changed how and where they were spending their money.
Given the tangled web of unpredictability and change over the last year and a half, it would have been easy enough to assume that this shift toward more eco-conscious, ethical consumerism was a temporary trend. But research has shown the trend is here to stay, with a Summer 2021 PwC study showing that not only have half of all global consumers noted that they’ve become even more eco-conscious since the start of the pandemic, they’ve also continued to prioritize purchasing from companies that put the environment first.
We’ve noted before that consumers are looking to brands to take the lead in helping to navigate the path toward the “new normal.” This is more true now than ever before, as sustainable consumerism becomes less of a trend and more of an inflection point for both brands and consumers. Several opportunities open up for brands to make the most of what lies ahead:
Avoid “greenwashing” with transparency and clarifying guidance on moving from intent to action.
More and more companies are hopping on the bandwagon to capitalize on the eco-friendly momentum. While it’s important to avoid dawdling when it comes to getting your story out there in front of your consumers and sharing your brand’s commitment to creating a better, more sustainable future, it’s crucial to avoid the “greenwashing” trap of saying your brand is sustainable or making changes without actually walking the walk.
Be honest: if your brand is focusing on improving sustainability in one or two areas, be transparent about where those changes are happening. Differentiation will come from the customer clearly being able to identify the impact on both them and their family, versus trying to interpret broad strokes statements such as “Our brand is greener than ever before.”
And while sustainable consumerism is more mainstream than ever before, many consumers are still stuck in the “intent” phase of wanting to make more sustainable choices without actually taking the leap and doing so. To add value and differentiate your brand further from those on the greenwashing bandwagon, identify ways to help make that transition from intent to action a smooth and seamless one. For example:
- - If your brand uses recycled materials, or is
- transitioning away from plastic packaging, make it known to the consumer and share the impact that these decisions will have on their own lives.
- - If your company can provide options for shipping that will reduce its carbon footprint - and the footprint of consumers - clearly communicate the option and make it an easy choice for customers to make.
- - Capitalize on the increasingly common “phygital” (hybrid digital and in-person) consumer experience so common today by utilizing technology that allows customers to easily research the carbon footprint or origin of their purchase ahead of time.
- - Find ways your brand can easily provide helpful video tutorials, how-to’s or actionable changes via its social media, email, blog or other owned channels, making it a regular part of your content marketing strategy.
Value + values = a winning combination. Find unique ways to demonstrate increased value to the consumer.
With financial uncertainty added on top of the shift toward more sustainable purchasing behaviors, consumers are scrutinizing spending even more. Product shortages and supply chain issues, catalyzed by the pandemic and carried over into 2021, have also led to increases in brand switching.
What initially appears to be a challenge actually presents an opportunity for brands to make a pitch to consumers who want to be sure they’re getting the most out of the money they’re willing to spend.
Going forward, consumers are looking for the best of all worlds type of scenario: the intersection of high quality, fair price, and responsible business practices. Value doesn’t mean low price, and if your product or service comes at a higher price point, justify the premium spending more as an exchange for product durability and going above and beyond with service and ethical practices.
This also provides brands with the opportunity to demonstrate more bang for the buck by highlighting the hidden benefits of a product or service. Don’t shy away from promoting unexpected benefits, which can be the difference between consumers choosing your brand or conventional alternatives, and follow up with your customers to learn if anything surprised them in using your product. Doing so not only presents an opportunity for customer-brand relationship building, it will also allow you to use the findings to attract new customers.
For the sustainable, eco-conscious consumer, value also comes from noticeable attention to their evolving needs and priorities. The pandemic forced many brands to pivot and approach their product and service offerings in unique ways, offering flexible payment options, customized subscriptions and more, all of which allowed consumers to continue making sustainable choices in a way that was more accessible and realistic for the moment at hand. Continue offering value via what may have initially been a temporary pivot for your brand, as doing so highlights added attention to changing consumer needs.
Think outside your traditional customer segments
Over the past few years, we’ve heard more and more about and from Gen Z. They are rightfully angry about the current state of the world, having watched their parents struggle through the Great Recession, undergoing regular active shooter drills and watching violence against unarmed BIPOC community members, all the while facing an imminent future in which they are handed a planet that is rapidly eroding due to the effects of climate change. They are unafraid to stand up for what they believe in and are simultaneously filled with greater optimism for the future.
On top of all of this, they are helping to keep the concept of conscious consumerism relevant by significantly influencing the sustainable purchasing decisions of their parents. A 2019 National Retail Federation Study found that:
- - 52% of parents say children influence which brands they consider, and
- - 48% of parents say children influence which product features are deemed important.
So while Gen Z may not have all the purchasing power right now, brands would be remiss to ignore their influence on those that do. Consider expanding your brand’s messaging to incorporate those outside traditional or priority customer segments.
While it may be an investment in terms of time, reaching Gen Z does not have to be an expensive endeavor. There are two very simple things brands can do:
- - Use social media as a channel for educational messages – 49% of Gen Z consumers get their news from social media, (including YouTube and TikTok) compared to 17% of older adults (Morning Consult survey).
- - Ensure content and e-commerce pages are easily shareable so Gen Z can influence the behavior of parents and peers.
The trend of eco-conscious consumerism is not going anywhere. After nearly two years of adapting and pivoting marketing strategies, brands will need to evolve yet again to simultaneously reach past, present, and future sustainably, ethically-minded consumers. Ready to tackle the challenge head on? We can help - reach out today!