Our new survey suggests a majority of people want more sustainable products but won’t compromise on cost and performance. So how can brands use this to drive demand?
(First published by The Guardian, Friday, Nov. 23, 2012)
The shelves are stacked, the credit cards are primed, the lines are forming. As Black Friday dawns, there’s not much more a consumer brand can do to influence its target audience, at least not for this year. But once the dust has settled, those who are serious about driving demand for more sustainable products and services would do well to pause and reflect on what today’s consumers really think about the nature of consumption.
A new survey from BBMG, SustainAbility and GlobeScan offers some insights. Rethinking Consumption, released this week at Sustainable Brands London, aggregates the views of 6,224 consumers across Brazil, China, India, Germany, United Kingdom and the United States.
Of those surveyed, 66% agreed that as a society we need to consume a lot less to improve the environment for future generations, and 65% agreed that they feel a sense of responsibility to purchase products that are good for the environment and society.
But we rarely, if ever, see an environmentally and socially responsible product vastly outsell its less sustainable alternatives—it’s clear there is a significant gap between consumer intentions and behaviours. What’s going on?
When respondents were asked why they weren’t buying more responsible products, the top two most cited reasons were no surprise: 75% of consumers claimed they would buy more responsible products if they performed as well as or better than products they usually buy and 70% said they shouldn’t cost more. So although people want more sustainable products, positive impact won’t trump performance or price.
So what can brands do to drive demand for more responsible products? Here are three things that the survey suggests are worth considering:
1. Focus on Total Value
After performance and price, the next three most cited barriers to purchasing more sustainable products were all about communication: 64% of respondents said companies’ health and environmental claims need to be more believable; 63% said they didn’t understand what truly makes a product more environmentally or socially responsible, and 63% want to see the environmental or social benefits of a product right away.
There is a clear opportunity for improved marketing here and blending values with value is key. According to the survey this is particularly true in developing markets, where consumers are twice as likely to report purchasing more sustainable products and to express a willingness to pay more for them.
2. Use Consumer Collaboration
Consumers are ready to help companies innovate, with two-thirds of those surveyed saying they were “interested in sharing their ideas, opinions and experiences with companies to help them develop better products or create new solutions.”
Successful brands are no strangers to consumer engagement, but perhaps they need to rethink the nature of the conversations they are having. Consumer collaboration can be an important driver of sustainability by uniting both experts and consumers in generating smarter ideas and solutions because they come from both the makers and users of the products themselves. In this way, perhaps new opportunities can be uncovered to bridge the gap between consumers’ aspirations and actions.
3. Connect with the “Me” and the “We”
Particularly in emerging markets, consumers see themselves as brand fans, co-creators and champions, and they’re weighing in on corporate promises and practices – whether asked to or not. More than eight in 10 consumers in our study said friends and family are the most important thing in their life, and 42% said they would buy more a sustainable product if it connected them to a community of peers that shares their values. And in India, China and Brazil a majority of respondents claimed they encouraged others to buy from companies that act responsibly. So to drive demand for sustainable products, answering ‘what’s in it for me?’ is not enough; success depends on also addressing ‘what’s in it for we?’
Perhaps brands would be best advised to focus their engagement efforts on the group of consumers we might collectively refer to as the aspirationals: those people, especially in China and India, who are seeking to reconcile a tendency toward materialism with a growing awareness of social and environmental values. Exploring this dynamic tension – between material possessions and social and environmental progress – is a critical opportunity for companies to advance sustainable consumption and create positive social impact.
For more information, and to download a free copy of the Rethinking Consumption study, available from 27 November 2012, visit The Regeneration Roadmap website.
Raphael Bemporad is co-founder and chief strategy officer of BBMG, a brand innovation firm based in New York which designs disruptive business solutions . Chris Coulter is the president of GlobeScan, a global research consultancy that measures and builds value-generating relationships. Mark Lee is executive director of SustainAbility, a thinktank and strategic advisory firm working to inspire transformative business leadership on the sustainability agenda