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Over the past six months, our branding and marketing agency BBMG has listened to American consumers during a moment like few others in generations. A new narrative is shaping our collective experience and changing how we think, how we work and how we live.
Foreclosure signs. Tent cities. A preacher in New York City leads a service asking God to save our homes. Banking industry turmoil. Stock market struggles. Confidence hangs from a thread.
At the same time, yearnings of hope and possibility. A new administration. A new direction. A new day. The clean energy revolution arrives. A stimulus-backed jobs plan embraces Green for All. Conspicuous consumption is out. Consciousness is in.
I’d like to highlight some of what we learned in our 2009 BBMG Conscious Consumer Report and share some opportunities for values-driven brands to lead, survive and thrive.
Combining a national poll in October and November of 2008 with ethnographic interviews in January and February of 2009, the BBMG study explores consumer attitudes, behaviors, preferences and priorities against the backdrop of profound economic and social transformation.
So what did we learn? Simply put, green is up, trust is down and consumers are redefining value in a new economy. Some highlights:
Interest in Green Holds Despite Tough Economy
Nearly seven in ten Americans agree (67%) that “even in tough economic times, it is important to purchase products with social and environmental benefits,” and half (51%) say they are “willing to pay more” for them. However, this interest may not be backed by action, as only 16% strongly agree it’s important to purchase green products in tough times and only 10% strongly agree that they are willing to pay more. This underscores the reality that green brands have to meet consumers where they are by delivering on price and quality – as well as social and environmental benefits – to drive purchasing decisions with a majority of cash-strapped consumers.
Food, Beauty and Cleaning Products Are Top Green Choices
In this recession, consumers are prioritizing healthy food, beauty and cleaning products that go “in, on and around their bodies.” Consumers make it a priority to purchase healthy food, valuing products that are “good for your health” (55% very important), “hormone or pesticide-free” (40%), “made from all natural ingredients” (31%), “not genetically modified” (30%) and “USDA Organic” (22%).
Similarly, more than four in ten consumers (43%) check the list of ingredients in personal care or beauty products before purchasing (18% always, 25% most of the time), demonstrating increasing awareness and interest in looking for potentially harmful or eco-friendly ingredients. Consumers also consider their home environment, or what they put around them. Four in ten consumers (40%) regularly buy environmentally friendly cleaning products (12% always, 28% most of the time).
Amanda, a 40-something mother in California, shared this point of view clearly in our interviews: “It’s perfectly acceptable to spend more money on things that go into your body or absorb into your body. We recently went through a period of very, very lean times. But what I cut back on food was virtually nothing.”
The Green Trust Gap
There’s a gap between consumers’ interest in green products and their confidence in green marketing claims. Nearly one in four U.S. consumers (23%) say they have “no way of knowing” if a product is green or actually does what it claims. So where do consumers look to verify green marketing? They are most likely to turn to consumer reports (29%), certification seals or labels on products (28%) and the list of ingredients on products (27%). Consumers are least likely to look to statements on product packaging (11%) and company advertising (5%), signaling deep skepticism of company-driven marketing.
Consumers Reward, Punish and Influence Based on Corporate Practices
Seven in ten consumers (71%) agree that they “avoid purchasing from companies whose practices they disagree with”; and approximately half tell others to shop (55%) or drop (48%) products based on a company’s social and environmental practices. To leverage the power of consumers’ peer-to-peer influence, forward-looking brands will educate, engage and empower a tribe – a community of passionate ambassadors who are eager to help shape, realize and share the benefits of products and services that align with their ideals and aspirations.
At the end of the day, what does the research mean for business leaders and marketers?
The economic recession has created a moment of reflection where consumers are redefining what truly matters and evaluating purchases based on both value and values. Consumers are looking for brands that cost less, perform better and last longer. They crave more meaning in a marketplace that stands for more than the exchange of shrink-wrapped commodities. They want the chance to be heard and be part of something bigger than themselves.
At BBMG, we believe that we live in one of the most challenging and promising moments in history – where creativity is a necessity, where the ideas and experiences of our stakeholders spark insights and innovation and where by aligning our values with our actions, we can empower a new way of life.
The silver lining of our current moment is that it provides an opportunity for leadership. By delivering on the multiple dimensions of value – price, performance, purpose and participation – brands will be able to close the trust gap, build deeper relationships with their customers, survive the recession and thrive in the sustainable economy of the future.