Conscious consumption is on the rise. People are seeking out ways to make better decisions about what to buy, and do-good brands are becoming household names — TOMS, Warby Parker and Ten Thousand Villages, just to name a few. From donating product or a portion of sales to establishing fair wages for factory workers, more and more businesses are assigning value to ethical business practices — and consumers are seeing the value in it too.
Since as early as 1936, when consumer review publication Consumer Reports was founded, consumers have craved insider information to help in their buying decisions. Today’s ethical and conscious shopping guides like Good Guide and a range of other channel-specific sitesmake it even easier to comparison shop and identify brands in line with morale priorities.
According to Cone Communications’ 2013 Echo Global CSR Study, 91 percent of consumers worldwide are likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause, given comparable price and quality. And in a Nielsen survey of more than 28,000 online respondents from 56 countries worldwide, 46 percent say they are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies that implement programs that give back to society.
I sat down with a few trusted folks to get their take on what it really takes to market to conscious consumers. And surprise, it’s not just about ethically produced goods but high-quality products and services too.
1. Address the elephants in the room.
What problems exist in your industry? What problem does your company or product solve?
Scott and Missy Tannen, founders of organic bedding and luxury linens brand Boll & Branch, don’t hesitate to shed light on the less-than-optimal conditions for workers and farmers in the textile industry. They also don’t hesitate to share that their luxury brand is the first fair trade-certified bedding producer, meaning that their workers and farmers are treated well and paid fairly.
“Explain the problems within your industry, then clearly illustrate how you’re solving them, so your customers can make the connection,” they say.
Now more than ever, consumers want to know that the products they’re buying are benefiting the people who make them. Stacey Horowitz, Founder of Shopping for a Change adds, “Shoppers are becoming enlightened. There is a strong movement amongst consumers to know that their purchases are giving back to those who produce them and to connect with them on an emotional level. Our customers love the fact that when they shop with us, their purchases are helping to shape and improve the lives of those they touch both domestically and abroad.”
2. Be transparent, and educate your customers so they can make better decisions.
We’ve come a long way since the first issue of Consumer Reports, when the only way to get an unbiased opinion was to look beyond the companies creating the products. Today, brands have more of a responsibility to be transparent and to provide their customers with the information they need to make a decision.
To talk specifics, the Tannens give this example: “If tweeted with a serious question about what you’re doing to prevent child labor in the country where your products are being produced, answer them, and let your content prove the importance of what you do. Whether by sharing statistics about your company’s carbon footprint compared to that of others in your industry or by creating a snappy infographic that explains the benefits of ethical sourcing, educate your customers so they’re equipped to make better decisions. This will create trust, the key to brand loyalty.”
3. Make doing the right thing part of your culture.
“Being a conscious brand doesn’t end with how you source your products,” says Mrs. Tannen. “When faced with a choice, we do what’s right, not necessarily what’s easy or most profitable. We believe our customers share this believe. Their interest in consuming consciously is what drives them to purchase from a business that shares the same values.”
The most successful conscious brands keep their mission front of mind in everything they do. Share your company’s founding story through anemotive video or publish a thought leadership piece on why your employees are on a mission to change the world. Show off that progressive culture you’ve worked so hard to create and maintain.
Even for Fortune 500 companies, doing the right thing can have a huge impact on how customers view your brand. Michelle Martin, who spearheads public relations at Qualcomm Wireless Reach, comments, “We work hard to invent technologies that can have a positive impact in the world. By investing in the communities in which we work, we’re able to demonstrate how mobile technology can do things like stimulate emerging economies by enabling entrepreneurs to grow sustainable businesses. While strategic in nature, we do it because our innovations have the power to transform lives, and ultimately, that is the biggest reward.”
4. Sell directly to consumers.
To create a competitive wholesale-as-retail pricing advantage over traditional retailers, Boll & Branch designs its own products, acquires materials directly from smallholder farmers, commissions production and sells direct-to-consumer online, diminishing the expenses associated with traditional brick-and-mortar retail and importing.
Through reinventing their category’s business model, the Tannens figured out a way to make high-end, fair trade-certified bedding more accessible and affordable than that of traditional brands. Within eight weeks of launch, the company sold out of its products — which were anticipated to last at least 18 months. Rethink how your industry works and put to bed — no pun intended — dated practices that don’t serve what you’re looking to do.
5. Lastly, post unfiltered reviews.
The availability of authentic, unfiltered customer reviews is important for any retail experience, but it’s even more important for conscious brands whose customers require a high level of transparency. The Tannens agree: “Consumers are smart — they know you think your products are fantastic, but an unfiltered review from real customers is powerful.” Reviews could be the nudge consumers need to justify the increase in cost of eco-conscious or fair-trade brands as compared to their traditional counterparts.
Sure, not everyone’s buying organic produce just yet, but the want is there and so are the sales. My prediction is that it’s only a matter of time until more conscious brands are widely adopted. Did I mention there are already public relations agencies that specialize in purpose-driven clientele? If that’s not a sign of the times, I don’t know what is.
by REBEKAH ILIFF