When it comes to marketing, attempting to sell your audience on an idea or concept can sometimes be more challenging than simply selling a finite product. Historically, marketing sustainability has certainly faced its obstacles, particularly in the United States. Numerous approaches have been taken – some appeal to our higher purpose, or our environmental responsibility, while others believe it is more about focusing on the "me" factor, or the direct value to the consumer. Despite these challenges, recent studies are showing that U.S. consumer attitudes toward sustainability are trending optimistically, reaching an all-time high. With this in mind, marketing an environmentally-conscious brand story and business model may have an impact on more than just the environment; it may be as important as ever to your brand image and even your bottom-line.
According to a recent market report by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), over the past five years, both U.S. consumer awareness and consumer attitudes toward sustainable, or "green," brands have increased to an all-time high. In fact, NMI's study revealed that 85% of the U.S. population can now be considered, at least to some degree, accepting of sustainable practices, although only 22% can be considered true leaders in sustainability. However, those falling in the middle of the spectrum, about 63%, are increasing their purchasing of green products and continually adopting more sustainable behaviors.
So, how does this influx in consumer consciousness toward sustainability impact the companies marketing it?
Marketing a Sustainable Brand Story
Brand awareness and resonance are critical to successful marketing. We have seen, via the success of numerous companies, when businesses tell a compelling brand story that pulls at people's emotions, it resonates. People hear it, and they'll most likely remember it.
Sustainability is a story that has broad impact across brand appeal, and communicating that story to consumers is important. According to NMI, 69% of U.S. consumers say they care whether a company has a socially-responsible business model. When marketing an environmentally-conscious brand story, you are already capturing a large percentage of the market right from the start.
“Consumers are clearly getting more sophisticated about green marketing," says Scot Case, Vice President of Strategic Consulting for NMI. "Some are focusing on the attributes of the products, some are focusing on the sustainability efforts of the companies making the products, others are looking at both.”
“It is becoming increasingly important for manufacturers, brands, individual products and the retailers selling them to be telling consistent sustainability stories that resonate with consumers. It is the inconsistencies that trigger consumer concerns about ‘greenwashing,’ the feeling that one is being misled about the environmental benefits of a product, service, or company.”
But, getting your story out there is only the first step. The next step is to determine what that means for your bottom-line.
The Impact of an Environmentally-Conscious Business Model
While marketing sustainability is not always a walk in the park, the true challenge is getting U.S. consumers to act on their good intentions. But, based on NMI's research, we are headed in the right direction. Almost two-thirds of American consumers, or 62%, say they are more likely to buy a company's products if they believe in the company's "cause."
Companies are seeing the start of positive results from effectively communicating a sustainable brand story that resonates with consumers, with the percentage of consumers who believe eco-friendly products to be higher quality growing to 32% from 26% in 2009. The percentage of consumers who prefer to purchase products that are sustainably manufactured has also increased to 59%, an 8% increase from 2009.
In addition, when U.S. consumers are aware that a company is environmentally- and socially-conscious, 58% of them are more likely to try that company's products or services, and 53% are more likely to become repeat customers. Even one-third of consumers care more about a product's impact on the environment than its price. Upward trends like these are certainly encouraging to sustainable companies attempting to capture, and profit from, the U.S. market.
“My best advice to manufacturers and retailers is to understand the eco-motivations of the different types of consumers," says Case. "Assuming all green consumers want the same thing is as silly as assuming all men or all women want the same thing. Our data clearly shows that different green consumers have different needs and respond to different green messages.”
While the U.S. is definitely making strides toward a more environmentally-conscious consumer base, there is still more work to be done. When compared to the global market, the percentage of Americans who care about a company's social responsibility (69%) still falls short of the progress made in other countries, including the UK (70%), Brazil (85%) and China (94%). However, forecasts are optimistic, and as more and more companies shift to sustainable brand stories, more consumers will make the shift as well.
For more information on U.S. consumer attitudes toward sustainability, check out NMI's full report, The State of Sustainability in America 2015: Trends & Opportunities.
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