Doing Well By Doing Good: “Catering to the Conscientious Consumer” Goes Global

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Chances are if that you’ve been shopping recently you’ve heard about sustainability or a living wage or some other social issue along with the product description. As consumers are re-thinking what they buy and where they buy it (or even rent or share it), smart companies understand there’s a new value proposition in play.

Today’s conscious consumer cuts across age groups and national borders – it’s a global movement. Once mocked, socially conscious consumers were often derided as a small group of Birkenstock-wearing Berkeley residents searching for products that met a long checklist– sustainable, organic, fair trade, shade grown, women-friendly, and more.

But it’s no longer a niche customer category. A wide swath of companies from beer (Anheuser-Busch – we use less water making our beer!) to travel (Carnival’s new brand category features socially conscious trips in partner countries) are trying to appeal to consumers who care about more than the physical attributes of the products they buy.

The ethical interests and behaviors of this group vary widely and can’t be reduced to a single profile, but companies know that they need to pay attention: 65% of executives agree consumers are more socially and environmentally conscious than they were the previous three years, according to a 2014 Accenture Institute for High Performance survey of 600 executives. At the same time, 40% of these executives also think consumers are unpredictable! What should be considered for corporate positioning and marketing campaigns is how social issue preferences translate to consumer behavior. That’s complex – and requires really understanding your customers.

According to the Cause Marketing Institute, 89% of consumers are likely to switch brands to one associated with a cause given comparable price and quality. And 42% would actually pay more for a product or service if the company were committed to social issues and the environment. But for some, it goes even further – 69% of global millenials want businesses to make it easier for them to get involved in societal issues.

Statistics Every Cause Marketer Should Know

So, how does all this affect you? If you’re smart, you likely already have a marketing strategy that transcends merely describing your products and services. Conscious consumerism should influence how companies think of themselves in a much broader context than simply how they produce goods or deliver services. Really, it’s not just about you anymore. But you already knew that, right?

Here are a few tips to help you get it right:

Don’t Bootstrap Social Issues

Make sure that whatever issue you select – as a cause, for your CSR program, or through partnerships – is connected to what you market. Trying for calculated appeal with an issue you think is “hot” is less likely to be perceived as authentic and will ultimately cost more than a program that honestly integrates what you do with what you want to do.

Have Realistic Goals

It’s unlikely you’ll reverse global climate change or abolish child labor – at least with a single campaign. There’s nothing wrong selecting a big issue, but don’t be grandiose. Setting reasonable goals about what your company, employees, partners and your customers can do to make a difference enhances your credibility. And when you have goals that are attainable and measureable and you can meet milestones – that’s positive information you can share with your customers and community.

Pay Attention to Customers

Make sure that you understand what your customers care about and why. You should have a process in place to solicit feedback on issues and product, interact with, and activate customers. That will create customer relationships and community, moving them to tell others about you and what you do. And, make sure you communicate in a way meaningful to them —don’t use corporate-speak to impress others who don’t buy what you sell. Again, it’s not about you.

Finally, the best news is that there is a positive return when a company does the right thing. A column in the Harvard Business Review looked at 28 companies identified as the “most conscious” based on characteristics including stated purpose, generosity of compensation, quality of customer service, investment in their communities, and impact on the environment. The analysis found the 18 publicly traded companies (of the 28 companies on the list) outperformed the S&P 500 index by a factor of 10.5 from 1996-2011.

According to columnist Tony Schwartz, these results should not be surprising. “Conscious companies treat their stakeholders better…their suppliers are happier to do business with them. Employees are more engaged, productive, and likely to stay. These companies are more welcome in their communities and their customers are more satisfied and loyal. The most conscious companies give more, and they get more in return. It pays to care, widely and deeply.”

Companies that Practice “Conscious Capitalism” Perform 10x Better

I don’t know what conscious consumers might call a win-win-win… Let’s ask them.



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