BfG News - Issue 12 Editor's Column: Virtuous circle propelling change

12 May 2008|Added Value

Marie_Ridgley(1)The ‘green’ tipping point is here.  Mainstream consumers are more aware of environmental, ethical, health and corporate responsible issues than ever before.  This increased awareness is translating into behaviour when purchasing brands, as our research shows*. So what is driving this mass change in consumer behaviour?  We believe there are five key drivers of change which are, in turn, connecting brands and consumers in a virtuous circle.

The Planet is Biting Back.
There was a time when climate change didn’t really affect us here in the UK. The British public used to joke that a warmer climate would make the UK the best place to live.  Last summer shattered this misconception with 550,000 homes under water as catastrophic flooding hit vast areas. Similarly in Europe, dozens died as heat waves and floods raged. A global wheat shortage was announced earlier this year and Barcelona now lays claim to being the first city in Europe to resort to shipping in drinking water, as they face the worst drought since records began.

The Political Agenda
Nicolas Stern made the UK government sit up and take notice of climate change as a key economic lynchpin. Further a field, Canada and Australia became perfect examples of how consumer power can drive environmental policy reform and even bring about an election defeat, in the case of former Prime Minister Howard.  Of course, the political agenda is twofold; not only does it empower voters but it drives legislation, which in turn has an impact on brand categories. Recently we have seen this manifest in regulating the labelling of products, in future it may touch on how a company conducts business through its supply chain.

Media Mainstreaming
The media have been responsible for driving many key issues into the mainstream. An array of popular magazines, both consumer and trade, have dedicated ‘green’ months and regular columns devoted to a more sustainable way of living.  National TV channels broadcast issues as diverse as recycled fashion, sweatshops, eco home design, supermarket secrets, toxic beauty products and health of the nation. Never before have consumers had so much information at their fingertips influencing the choices they make.

Social Aspiration
‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ is now ‘keeping up with the Greens’. It’s a topic of conversation in many social circles; from what & how much consumers recycle; where they shop, local farmers’ markets to vintage swap meets; the cars they drive and where they holiday.  We need look no further than the ‘A’ list personalities that are grabbing headlines for their eco efforts to see some of the influencers.

Brand Innovation
As with any consumer trend, savvy brands are responding to environmental and ethical issues with new consumer products and services.  We highlight examples of this every month in our Eco Innovations;  from multinationals like adidas and Nike launching recycled footwear ranges, to entrepreneurs bringing coffee to the consumer by pedal power.

These 5 key drivers of change, we believe, create a virtuous circle between brands and consumers. Let’s take a current example here in the UK.  A shortage of landfill sites raises the planet issue. Government encourages consumers to recycle more. The media highlights what is going into landfills – dramatising one element: plastic carrier bags. Brand innovation steps in offering a multitude of choices for consumers to ‘do their bit’; supermarkets give out bags for life and reward with green loyalty points; fashion designers create a ‘must have’ range; even recycling rubbish gets a new life as a bag.  Consumers love it and brands are making it easier for them. However, the issue doesn’t stop there. The media, in this instance, The Daily Mail, puts pressure back on brands to deliver new solutions. Immediately Marks & Spencer announce a 5p charge on all plastic carrier bags.  They have obtained category leadership for this issue.  So what’s the next step?  Which retailer will be brave enough to say “we’re not going to have carrier bags at all”. Ultimately this maybe what consumers are looking for somebody to do?

Consumers reward leadership. Therefore brands who plan their sustainable journey, looking ahead long term, can grasp the opportunity to take up the leadership position in their category. This means that within a brand’s overall sustainable agenda, marketers need to be mindful that initiatives can evolve and have an individual journey of their own. Brands offer solutions; consumers engage with them and just by the fact that a brand has offered a solution at this point in time then raises consumer’s expectations once they engage. Staying aware of the drivers of change will allow marketers to plan an initiative’s journey and go beyond “we’ve done that – tick – didn’t we do well?”. Taking it further ,they then must think about ‘”if this happens, what will we do then? What’s going to be our response?” Scenario planning for lead initiatives will be imperative for brands wanting to adopt a leadership position.

Marie Ridgley
Joint Managing Director
Added Value UK

* Branding for Good Summit 2008

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