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WHILE CONSUMER CONVERSATIONS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT, IN PARTICULAR, THE CLIMATE CRISIS, HAVE OSCILLATED FOR YEARS, THE EVENTS OF 2020 AND 2021, AND NOW 2022, HAVE MARKED A SIGNIFICANT TURNING POINT.

Recent events, which extend beyond the pandemic and climate emergency, have redefined consumer expectations of businesses at a time when the relationship between profit and growth is undergoing a complex transformation to include a new, broader context.

For consumers worldwide, the combination of escalating climate threats and the intensity of the pandemic have brought our worst fears to the forefront. Our concerns not just for the environment but also for our health, our wealth, and the community at large, are more heightened, more nuanced and feel far more pressing as part of our daily lived experience.

 

Thankfully, this newfound consumer consciousness and subsequent demands have sparked an acute response, spurring companies of all sizes to reimagine their place in a greener future with greater urgency and genuine action.

 

Until this point, sustainability as a natural and implicit part of a business’ proposition was predominantly just a nice-sounding aspiration. 2020 however, gave way to a new standard of public expectation that is more uncompromising than before. According to Salesforce5, 67% of customers say “their standards for good experiences are higher than ever” while, at the same time, 51% say “most companies fall short of their expectations ”.

It’s no surprise then, that the concept of eco-consciousness hasn’t just cut through, it’s stuck. But sustainability and expectations of business’ complicity and responsibility is moving fast.

‘It used to be a business’s goal to provide products and services that were, for example, stylish (status-orientated) and low carbon (environmentally-orientated). This was what sustainability looked like pre-2020 and Tesla and Nespresso are two obvious examples of this in action. It’s just that this won’t be enough moving forward because this is what is now expected by consumers as a bare minimum and is therefore unlikely to create long-term distinction and differential value.’ – FutureBrand

Inevitably, this calls for companies and brands to rise to this new reality and reimagine the subject of sustainability in a more nuanced and complex way, one that integrates ‘sustainability’ as an intrinsic part of their business model, rather than a nice-to-have bonus.

At present, data across the board confirms two things;

  • On a whole, consumers are hyper aware of the condition of the environment.
    In the US, one third of online adults say they spend more time thinking about the climate than they did before the Covid-19 pandemic. Social media and video streams, like #climateemergency, curate a continuous cycle of content that exposes consumers to the ravaging impacts of climate change and frame the state of the environment as a personal and emotional issue. – Forrester data
  • Consumers will justify the extra cost to be eco-friendly.
    Today’s consumers support and champion brands that commit to sustainability, despite the additional cost associated with such products. ‘When given the chance, people typically opt for ways to save money; two-thirds of internet users say they would sooner wait for a product to go on sale than buy it at full price.

But when it comes to being eco-friendly, frugality tends to take a backseat; 60% of internet users say they’ll pay more for products that are eco-friendly.’ –  GWI

It’s a promising sign being eco-friendly is important to consumers, even among those we might not expect. Older generations, for example, aren’t too far behind their younger counterparts for saying they would buy high-price, eco-friendly products. Even low earners or those who describe themselves as price-conscious will still prefer to be eco-friendly than not. – GWI

 

To meet these new expectations, take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead of us and optimise commercial success, brands can no longer risk not putting their sustainability strategy at the forefront.

 

SO, EXACTLY WHAT ROLE ARE BRANDS EXPECTED TO PLAY IN CREATING A GREENER FUTURE?

For companies to meet the challenges of this new market reality there are a number of attributes, commitments and distinct deliverables that future consumers will demand. Of course, the execution and strategy will wildly differ between companies and categories, but successful brands of a greener future will follow a few golden rules;

Craft an authentic and distinct approach unique to the company

The first step is to distil and define the unique way in which the business can and should take responsibility in a greener future. While the broader benefits of greater involvement in sustainable strategies apply to all, individual companies face specific challenges and opportunities, and should tailor their approach accordingly.

This is where a brand-first approach is essential. For us at Smack Bang, we believe that a brand is a set of expectations or feelings that surround a company, or as Ze Frank refers to it as; “The ’emotional aftertaste’ that comes after an experience (even a second-hand one) with a product, service, or company.” Therefore, it is essential to set clear ambitions and determine priority areas of focus through unique and individual brand pillars and positioning.

 

Demonstrate transparency with their strategy

Sustainability strategies should be championed as works in beta, allowing for greater focus on progress, over perfection. Viewing a strategy through this lens also grants brands more grace and eagerness to share their strategy publicly.

Successful brands of the future will demonstrate this transparency with their strategy, so as to have greater impact in extended circles, facilitating others to do more with greater knowledge.

There are many companies who are committed to this public transparency with their strategy and commitments around climate. By sharing with transparency, these brands help other companies, as well as the wider community benefit, bringing others along with them in support of the mission. One such example is emerging beauty pioneer, Emma Lewisham, who recently made waves by sharing their blueprint for becoming the world’s first beauty brand to be certified Carbon Positive and 100% circular-designed.

 

Embed integrity into the core of the business model

To ensure their sustainability strategy has genuine impact, companies need to embed integrity as an intrinsic part of their business model. This integrity should have the power and modality to inform the operating model, culture, values and brand engagement as well as influence everyday decision making.

This should ensure that transformation aligns with moving market demands, as leaders and stakeholders make intelligent choices based on intrinsic and agreed values – moving away from decisions based on profit and profit alone.

 

Demonstrate a consistent approach

Consumer expectations show an intensifying desire for brands to participate in such changes with a consistent approach that should endure well into the future, transcending changes in corporate strategy and leadership (- Deloitte). Consumers expect a brand’s sustainability strategy to be applied to even the most mundane aspects of a business. Keeping decision makers and stakeholders accountable to their commitments across every level of the business will be absolutely crucial for brands to deliver on trust and consistency, “As more citizens want firms to support causes they hold dear, CEOs who remain  silent risk being accused  of complicity”. – The Economist

 

Absorb higher costs associated with sustainable practices

It’s no surprise that 60% of internet users in the U.S. and UK cited cost as the main barrier to purchasing eco-friendly products. While most are happy to pay more, ensuring these sorts of products are more affordable is essential if they’re to break into the mainstream. – GWI

As uncomfortable as it may be for some, brands of the future will be required to shift age-old business models of making as much profit as they can for themselves and shareholders, to taking modest fees for benefitting the many and improving lives and society. – FutureBrand Consumer expectations will slowly, but undeniably shift to expect brands to absorb the higher costs associated with producing and adhering to more sustainable ways of doing business.

 

Image credit: Daria Rudko 

 

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