September 13, 2018 Full Contact

This Intern’s Perspective: Sustainability, Authenticity, Storytelling. It all Matters.

Advertising agencies often position themselves as expert storytellers, skilled in deepening the engagement between brands and consumers.  In essence, agencies are influencers with the power to influence consumer choices.

A new study by BBMG Globscan identified a new consumer segment ripe for agency targeting – they call them “Aspirational Consumers.”   According to their research, they are the largest identifiable consumer segment globally (40% of the global public).

Clearly, this segment presents brands with an emerging opportunity:

“Aspirationals are defined by their love of shopping, desire for responsible consumption, and their trust in brands to act in the best interest of society…yet only half can think of a single company as having a strong purpose in this way.”

The research goes on to say that 82% of “Aspirational Consumers” would purchase more sustainable products if their performance was comparable to or better than their current product.  Furthermore, 90% of “Aspirational Consumers” would pay more for products that are produced in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. In other words, these consumers want to purchase with purpose, and support companies who authentically mirror their own social and environmental commitment.

But this isn’t just about one study or one data point. It’s critical business acts as a catalyst for change.  Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because our bottom line depends on it:

According to a 2017 Cone Communications CSR Study, 76% of Americans expect companies to support climate change action, and 87% would purchase a product because that company advocated for an issue they care about. 76% of American consumers would actively boycott a company that does otherwise.

If agencies and marketers took a step back with their clients and evaluated the research, I think they would quickly learn that there is a solid and growing group of consumers out there whose preferences are shifting towards sustainability.

Given this growing mountain of insight, it’s time for brands to start considering some important questions: Are you doing enough to authentically connect with this rising customer segment? Do you have an authentic sustainability story? What will you tell to communicate your story to this rising consumer segment?

To be clear, not every client in every category can believably tell a sustainability story. For those that can, agencies need to consider how they work with clients to authentically “sell sustainability” and not fall into the trap of “greenwashing.”

Truly meeting these shifting consumer preferences may require advertisers and their agencies to re-think some important communication goals and disrupt the status quo. Here is some food for thought:

  • The Narrative Matters

In telling your brand’s story, the narrative matters.  A lot.  You can’t cover too many stories at once. You can’t get preachy.  You must be genuine.  You have to communicate why you care, and why your audience should too.  At the end of the day, this conversation is about the betterment of our shared global community.  Our present and future depend on it.  Aspirational consumers crave to learn more about rewarding choices, culture, and change.  This is a marketer’s dream.  Develop a voice that works for your brand but also engages this emerging audience and is true to your brand.

  • Celebrate Your Community

The key to inspiring consumers to align with important issues is linking it to their local  community.  53% of Aspirational consumers say they would purchase more socially and environmentally responsible products if the product connects them with a community of peers who share their values and priorities. The conversation needs to shift from one strictly about the environment, to one that focuses on something all consumers can get behind.  A socially responsible community gives your audience a sense of hope, belonging, and purpose. Celebrate the local consequences of your brand experience with consumers as something you’ve achieved collectively.  It’s not about what your brand achieved, but what you’re achieving together.

  • Let Sustainability Lead (authentically of course)

Being relevant today requires more responsible, holistic objectives.  Sustainability is about making things better, but it’s easy to ignore when it’s not part of your everyday strategy.  If sustainability isn’t a part of your brand story or focus today it’s time to consider what it would and could mean for your organization.  Authentically embracing sustainability and improving your bottom line do not have to be mutually exclusive objectives.  Consider whether your company can sync business strategy with sustainable goals.

In a world with a consistently growing number of “Aspirational Consumers”, sustainability has gone from a nice to consider to a must have, but it still has to be the right fit to authentically mirror your organization and brand story.  To effectively reach this growing segment of Aspirational consumers, the story must reinforce an authentic commitment to change.  When advertisers and their agencies deliver the right message, consumer trust is earned.  Deeper, more collaborative brand/consumer relationships are established.  Shifting consumer preferences are honored.  With concrete social and environmental action, authentic relationships can drive brand loyalty and sustainable behavior on a larger scale.

In closing, this intern’s simple advice to advertisers and their agencies: tell your sustainability story selflessly, authentically, and with purpose.

  • Share: