The Marketing Case for Sustainability

We all have those conferences we dread every year—the same people in the same ties with the same boring ideas. This is not one of those conferences.

On June 1, Conscious Connection sent Anthony Chiaravallo to the first day of Sustainable Brands in sunny San Diego, California. The conference, held at the beautiful Paradise Point Island Resort in Mission Bay, is intended to provide insight to business leaders that will enable them to innovate their brands for sustainability now. During a period of four days, leaders from over thirty countries are sharing their wisdom and knowledge regarding technology, brand strategy, and sustainability, encouraging businesses to pursue their quests for a greener future.

Insights on Consumer Attitudes and Behavior

Many consumers are becoming increasingly aware of sustainability crises the world is facing, including global poverty, loss of biodiversity, and climate change. These value-driven consumers are no longer blindly grabbing desired products from store shelves; rather, they are beginning to examine companies to determine if their brands are part of the world’s problems or part of the solution. It has become eminently clear that a company’s social initiatives have a direct impact on consumer purchasing decisions.

In response, brands are becoming increasingly sensitive to global crises. Slowly but surely, brands are beginning to accept and even embrace the idea that it is their responsibility to practice conscious capitalism. This is a unique time in history for brands, in that they have the opportunity to shape culture in a way that helps shift the behavior of all consumers towards sustainability. According to the global leaders of the Sustainable Brands conference, this is not just an opportunity, but an absolute responsibility.

In the first segment of the conference, leading researchers shared their insights about customer sentiment regarding sustainability promises being made by today’s brands.

Rosie Warin on Courageous Optimism

Rosie Warin is CEO of Global Tolerance, “a social change agency that helps organizations do well while doing good.” Her client list includes Google and The Dalai Lama.

Warin shared the promising results of a 5 – 10 year benchmark study examining the impact of values on employment and spending decisions.

Regarding employment decisions, the study showed that 42 percent of workers only want to be employed by an organization that benefits society, 44 percent prioritize meaningful work over salary, and 36 percent work harder when they feel their organization is making a difference. When millennials were isolated in these statistics, each figure jumped 10 – 20 percent.

Regarding purchasing decisions, 50 percent of consumers consider a company’s ethics before making a purchase, and 31 percent are willing to spend more to purchase a product from a company they consider to be ethically superior. In terms of making donations, while an impressive 60 percent of us regularly donate time and money to social causes, 80 percent of millennials consider it their duty to make a positive difference through their lifestyle.

Given these statistics, Warin is a courageous optimist. Said Warin, “I think we’re going to turn it around. We’re going to reverse the damage we’ve done and learn to live in harmony with the planet and each other.”

Andy Last on Generation Z

Andy Last is a co-founder of salt and leads salt Social Purpose, an undertaking to help brands identify appropriate social missions and effectively communicate about those missions. Clients of salt have included Kimberly-Clark and Unilever.

Last discussed the results of research regarding the ideas and purchasing behaviors of today’s 16-20 year olds, who are part of the new generation known as Generation Z. According to Last, this generation is already important in terms of their impact and power to create positive change.

The global issues that tend to strike a chord with Gen Z include access to water and issues regarding sanitation, thanks to celebrity campaigns (for instance, Matt Damon’s Water.org). Secondary issues of interest included world education and global poverty; environmental and energy issues ranked third.

Regarding the employment outlook for this generation, Gen Z has a strong preference to become employed by companies with social initiatives. An impressive 61 percent said they would go out of their way to buy products from a business they know is working to create a better world.

Raphael Bemporad on Aspirational Consumers

Raphael Bemporad is a founding partner and the Chief Strategy Officer of BBMG. The company leads its clients with the philosophy that the implementation of sustainable brands will lead to a shared values and relationships with customers. Clients have included MillerCoors and NBCUniversal.

According to a 2014 study by BBMG, over two billion global consumers can be categorized as aspirationals. These consumers love to shop and want to consume responsibly, combining the cool thing to do with the right thing to do. They trust brands to act in the interests of society, and they tend to become committed to the brands that they trust.

Bemporad shared specific approaches that are especially effective when targeting aspirationals, all of which seem to focus more on the aspirational rather than the products being marketed. According to Bemporad, in order to target the aspirational market, brands should aim to give their customers a higher purpose to believe in, a community to belong to, a platform for engagement and impact, and/or elevated social staus. Aspirationals also appreciate having a voice in creativity, so brands that aim to engage them in future brand developments appeal to these consumers as well.

Nick Liddell on the Circular Economy

Nick is Strategy Director at global design and innovation consultancy Dragon Rouge in London. Nick’s job is to ensure that our creativity is underpinned by sustainable ideas capable of creating long-term value. His clients have included Amex and GE.

As we learned during the MIT Sustainability Summit, a circular economy ensures that maximum value is extracted from products while they are in use, and then recovers and regenerates products and materials for future use. Critical elements of a successful circular economy include infinite recycling of materials, use of energy derived only from renewable/sustainable sources, and maintenance of global ecosystems.

In efforts to make the circular economy become a reality, Liddell conducted research that categorized consumers into the following segments while outlining the challenges and opportunities for connecting circular economy messaging with each of them:

  • Novelty Seekers – love the convenience of buying things and discarding them.
  • Casually Conscious Consumers – like the idea of fair trade but don’t go out of their way for it.
  • Savvy Economizers – take great care with what they own and buy. They prefer ‘tried and trusted’ brands and will literally keep items of clothing for decades.
  • Committed Caretakers – are deeply driven by helping people and society. They do not believe that buying or consuming things is an important part of life.

This schema presents various challenges to brands in the circular economy. While novelty seekers and the casually conscious have little to no interest in circularity, the savvy economizers and committed caretakers have little to no interest in buying. Liddell suggests that brands will need to spend time talking with consumers in each of these segments and understanding their needs in order to inspire them to become a part of a circular economy.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Maria Redin on Consumer Purchasing Decisions

We had the good fortune of sitting down to interview Maria Redin of GOODcorps. As the Strategy Lead at GOODcorps, Redin’s focus is on the intersection of business and social innovation.

Redin discussed the results of GOODcorps research about consumer perspectives on corporate “goodness.” The study was conducted via discussions with extreme consumers who shop with their values, emerging leaders in social enterprise, and practitioners that work in the overlap of good and business. Discussion centered on the consumers’ favorite brands, their opinions about what makes a brand good, and how they judged if a brand is good. The initial research revealed the following consumer patterns:

Even among conscious consumers, goodness is a secondary purchase driver. Consumers don’t always have the time necessary to research potential purchases and make the best decisions, so quality and price are the default primary drivers.

Goodness, however, is a loyalty driver. If a consumer makes a purchase and then learns that the company is good, the consumer will tend to become brand loyal — and eventually, an advocate.

But goodness is difficult to identify. Consumers look for shortcuts such as certifications to determine goodness, but there is no standardized language across the consumer goods market to help consumers.

Consumers value CEOs that talk about their company’s commitment to goodness. A message from a CEO carries more weight than marketing efforts. Consumers value brands that treat their employees and their communities well. After sustainability, this is the new green.

The vocabulary people choose to discuss good brands can be likened to words chosen to describe a good friend. Good brands are often described as being trustworthy, being honest, and having great motives.

Given the success Redin has had in her efforts to making the world a better place, we asked Redin if she had any advice she would like to share with our readers. From a career perspective, Redin advised that in order to be successful, workers need to be armed with an area of expertise. While there are a lot of people out there who have passion for global issues, being able to bring a unique skill to the table will make you a more valuable asset in the field.

As far as advice for consumers, Redin feels that we need to become more aware of the power that each of us has; however, she acknowledges that it is overwhelming to suddenly try to do all good things at all times. Rather than trying to change your whole life at once, she suggested simply trying to make small incremental steps. If you take this approach, before long the number of changes in your life will add up, and your conscious decisions will accumulate to create a measurable impact.

Check back with Conscious Connection to learn more about the events at Sustainable Brands San Diego.

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Conscious Connection

Conscious Connection is the leading digital magazine for social entrepreneurs and cultural creatives. We are a global collective of writers, philosophers, adventurers and business leaders dedicating to making an impact doing what we love.

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