In 2017, Sustainable Brands® (SB) and Harris Poll partnered on a landmark consumer study, which revealed that today’s vision of “The Good Life” is wildly different than that of previous generations — a majority of US consumers now define a Good Life as centered more on connections to people and planet, rather than on material wealth and consumption. Further, those consumers are looking to brands to take the lead in helping create the meaningful connections and balanced simplicity they see as being essential elements to a more fulfilling life.
Even before the Good Life study, many signs pointed to a consistent rise in conscious consumerism — and an imperative for brands to rise to the occasion — in recent years:
- Since 2015, Cone Communications research repeatedly centered on Millennials’ preference for purpose-driven companies in their life and work; and in a 2017 poll, 87 percent of consumers said they’d support a company that advocated for an issue they cared about.
- 2018 research revealed that purpose-led businesses in the UK were growing 28 times faster than the national average; and that purpose now rivals price and quality for attracting, engaging and retaining consumer loyalty.
- Earlier this year, Pinterest revealed a huge surge in user searches around sustainability — with “sustainable living” the most searched term (up 69 percent since last year), and searches for “sustainable living for beginners” up 265 percent. And seminal research from NYU Stern showed that sustainability is driving market growth in consumer goods; products marketed as sustainable grew 5.6x faster than conventionally marketed products, and 3.3x faster than the market.
This growing demand for companies to go above and beyond should reflect a dramatic shift toward more sustainable consumer habits and lifestyles, right?
Not so much: There remains a glaring, well-documented gap between conscientious consumers’ best intentions and their actions: 2017 research by BBMG and GlobeScan found that while 65 percent of consumers said they wanted to purchase sustainable products, only 26 percent actually rewarded companies for their responsible practices by purchasing better products.
This conundrum (and opportunity!) for just about any marketer of a purpose-driven brand came up at Sustainable Brands’ December 2017 Corporate Member Meeting, during a “Community Problem-Solving Session” in which Members brought their own sustainability struggles and solutions, to tap into the collective knowledge in the room.
Virginie Helias, VP & Chief Sustainability Officer at Procter & Gamble, asked the group: “As Corporate Members, is there a collective opportunity for us to influence consumers to move towards more sustainable lifestyles?”
Sustainable Brands was founded on the premise that brands — with their ability to reach discerning consumers and connect to them on a values level — are uniquely equipped to shift our whole economic system; to help shape, and manifest, consumers’ vision for what constitutes a “Good Life.” But SB’s Corporate Member group, comprised of over 70 leading companies across a wide swath of industries, agreed they hadn’t cracked the nut as to how to create products and messaging that created that elusive “pull factor” toward more conscious consumer habits and purchasing behaviors. Hence, SB’s Brands for Good (BfG) collaboratory was born.
Since Unilever ostensibly jump-started the movement in 2010, with the launch of its Sustainable Living Plan — which has spawned a growing series of campaigns, products and internal initiatives aimed at fostering, well, sustainable living — brand efforts to steer consumers into more thoughtful consumption habits have reached an all-time high and show no signs of slowing down: KIND Snacks and Panera Bread have long been working to get consumers to eat less sugary and more consciously; Target has been curating and growing its Made to Mattercollection of products since 2014, the same year IKEA launched its “Wonderful Everyday” campaign to explain the company’s values and sustainability ethos to its customers. And in April, P&G unveiled its latest series of strategies aimed at inspiring and enabling responsible consumption for the five billion consumers served by its many brands each day.
Siloed efforts can and will continue, but the need remained for a comprehensive approach that any brand could use to finally close the consumer intention-action gap with regard to more conscientious purchasing and lifestyle habits. So, in June 2018, SB partnered with P&G and additional design partners The Estee Lauder Companies, Happy Family Organics, Keurig Dr Pepper and National Geographic; and participating partners Heineken USA, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc, Target and Veocel to kick off BfG phase one: the Pull Factor Project (PFP) — a pre-competitive collaboration aimed at designing an actionable toolkit for creating communications that can shape culture towards desiring sustainable lifestyles.
As SB’s Tamay Kiper — Associate Director of Membership and Advisory Services, and the Project Lead for the BfG initative — explains: “Our multinational founding partners will use their marketing muscles to create an increasingly positive impact in their customers’ lives, by inspiring them to adopt sustainable lifestyles and living the Good Life through choosing better brands.”
Together, the group aimed to address challenges inherent to the marketing of sustainable products, such as:
- Eco-friendly products are still often perceived as less effective
- Brand efforts toward achieving sustainability often go unnoticed by consumers
- In terms of messaging, sustainability is still dry, boring and complicated.
“Marketing has always had the power to shift desires and behaviors,” said Nicole Pontes, Senior Strategist at BBMG and Project Lead for BfG. “For example, orange juice wasn’t a breakfast staple until a Sunkist marketing campaign made it one. Why couldn’t we use that power to make sustainable lifestyles aspirational?”
At the December meeting, the SB Member group also realized that, while 50 percent of the sustainability execs surveyed reported collaborating with their marketing teams often, only one company felt that its marketing teams are well-versed on sustainability issues, and most Members felt that their marketing teams don’t find sustainability relevant to their work.
So, the PFP ultimately aimed to demystify the dynamics of desire at the core of human behavior and reveal the specific motivations, drivers, barriers and incentives related to sustainable lifestyles — basically, identifying the sweet spot between three components:
… and use those insights to design a toolkit to help marketers increase brand relevance, grow market share and fuel the shift towards a culture of sustainable living — in essence, giving this growing segment of conscious consumers what they are asking for.
“A lot of the brands that joined us are more traditional, mainstream brands that are saying, ‘We want this’ — which is exciting because they drive the habits and behaviors of millions of people everyday. Shifting consumer behavior at scale is truly the last frontier for sustainability,” Pontes said.
Based on extensive, qualitative research of US consumers — along with studying resources such as the Sustainable Development Goals, Paul Hawken’s Project Drawdown and the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks reports to encapsulate the world’s biggest challenges for which brands can help drive consumer behavior change — the team identified three areas that brands can help influence:
· Reversing climate change
· Preserving resources for life
· Fostering inclusive and resilient societies
From there, they teased out nine consumer behaviors that, if collectively changed, could ladder up to the biggest impact on these three ambitions:
According to the research, these behaviors will be fueled by 7 “need states” inherent in consumers seeking more fulfilling lives:
All of these insights were put in a pot, stirred and now shape a comprehensive toolkit — which was unveiled for the first time on Monday, during a workshop at SB’19 Detroit — that any brand can use to help create that Pull Factor. Along the way, many of the PFP design partners became excited about the potential for culture change if more of the SB brand community came together to commit to leveraging their brand influence for good.
“I love this project because this is a microcosm of SB as a whole — bringing companies together and giving them the stage, giving them the opportunity to freely share their challenges and find solutions within the community, to move toward a regenerative future together,” Kiper said.
Meanwhile, this morning, SB founder KoAnn Skrzyniarz took the stage with P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard to formally launch Brands for Good — which will leverage the Pull Factor Project tools to drive a market shift through brand/citizen activation. The work will begin with the participating brands putting the toolkit to work in the marketplace — with the goal of inspiring consumers to recognize that a sustainable lifestyle is a Good Life — and offer further tools and resources to help them move from intent to action. In addition, the collaboratory will:
- Showcase brands that are making sustainable lifestyles more attainable and leverage the collective power of brand marketing to make sustainable practices mainstream
- Engage extended brand teams (agencies, strategic partners, etc) to advance the movement, amplify the Brands for Good voice and authenticate impact
- Build momentum by demonstrating progress through metrics and impact tracking, and report on results in 2020.
SB’19 Detroit attendees can explore the Pull Factor toolkit again later this afternoon. But if your brand has been searching for that missing hook for your purposeful product offering, join usas we band together to fuel the shift to a more sustainable consumer culture.