We previously covered BBMG’s first Conscious Consumer Report here last year, but as we limp through one of the most crippling economic crises since the Great Depression, this year’s report takes on a particularly relevant tenor.
“Consumers now more than ever expect more from brands and products,” Bemporad said in a recent interview. With consumer confidence at a new low, combined with increasing unemployment, and a populist backlash against Wall St. scandals, “[Consumers] are yearning for the combination for the combination of value and values in the relationships with the brands in their lives. They are hungry for that authenticity.”
Several questions were posed in the approach of this year’s report. Will consumers seek green benefits in a tough economy? Which product attributes matter most in a recession? How do consumers know if sustainability or socially conscious claims are true? How can socially responsible brands survive the economic crisis and thrive long-term? And the report’s results offers “new strategies for innovation by delivering on the multiple dimensions of value – price, performance, purpose and participation.” By doing so, BBMG claims brands will be able to survive the crisis, build deeper relationships with customers, and thrive in the sustainable economy of the future.
Conspicuous consumerism is out. Consciousness is in.
As the recession tightens spending practices, of those surveyed in this year’s report (over 2,000 people from both East and West Coasts during October), the types of products that are most important to consumers fall under the food, health, and cleaning product verticals. Or rather, those products that we put in or around bodies on a daily basis.
“Bling is gone,” Bemporad cheekily remarked. “The need to have the latest, greatest things is out.” Though we will surely still see those walking down 5th Avenue with their Louis Vitton bags, that is decreasing trend claims BBMG.
According the report, 2 out of every 3 Americans (67%) agree it’s important to buy products with social and environmental benefits and over half (51%) agree that they’re willing to pay more for products with social and environmental benefits.
However, almost 1 out of every 4 consumers (23%) also say they have “no way of knowing” if a product is green or actually does what it claims. And this is further exemplified by the fact that WalMart topped the lists for being considered both most and least responsible corporation in America. This suggests a lack of confidence or efficacy in green marketing, something that Joel Makower also points out over at GreenBiz. BBMG calls this the “green trust gap.” There is a disconnect between the desire for green, sustainable, or otherwise socially responsible products and skepticism about the validity or authenticity of those types of claims.
Value and Authenticity
The report conceded delivering practical benefits like price and quality is essential for a brand’s success in a down economy. However, brands also have a unique opportunity right now to differentiate on social and environmental attributes that emphasize relevancy and specificity.
Yet how do companies reconcile the skepticism around the validity of social and environmental attributes? This demonstrates the power of third parties, impartial arbiters of information, and peer influencers such as social media and certification programs to shape brand reputation.
One of the major takeaways from the report – aside from the statistics from the survey – is that with increased expectations and visibility, it’s not what the company says but does that matters. Every decision in the lifecycle of a product or service – from purchasing to design to development to delivery – is now a brand decision.
As we watch history being written, Bemporad commented, we are witnessing a moment of “game-changing innovation.” We are at a transformative moment in history – one that is both mirrored by and set apart from other critical, historical junctures – where the confluence of economic reform, social awareness, and technological innovation will help us “rethink and redefine what truly matters in our lives,” according to Bemporad.
The report claims authentically aligning products, services, and operations to address issues that matter to consumers demonstrates an understanding of consumer interests, values, and concerns; builds deeper relationships; and wins brand loyalty. Truly successful brands will address issues that are important both to their consumers and to their business strategy.
Triple Value Proposition: Delivering Practical, Social, and Tribal Benefits
BBMG proposes that the successful brands deliver on the “multiple dimensions” of value by offering what they have trademarked the “Triple Value Proposition.” It is the integration of practical benefits (price, performance, convenience), social benefits (purpose via positive impacts on the environment and society), and tribal benefits (belonging to a larger community with similar values) into a consistent brand message, image, and experience. This may seem oddly similar with what we familiarly call the triple bottom line, and that’s because it is based on the same types of principles. Leveraging the Triple Value Proposition means “sustainability will emerge in every product, service, action and micro-interaction,” providing a brand or company value for the consumer in its own respect. This way, consumers won’t have to seek out a company’s sustainability performance in a CSR report, which according to the report, hardly anyone reads anyway…
In conversation with Bemporad, the Co-Founder of BBMG was particularly emphatic on the role of the “tribal” in a brand message. It’s something that connects people in a larger more meaningful way. Yet it also allows a company to leverage its brand value. As people connect to others in the tribe, the particular product that aligns to a given value serves as a type of badge for the members within that community. It is also, however, a powerful marketing tool.
Picture everyone you see walking down the street with Kleen Kanteens. Showing off the Kleen Kanteen logo, that person is representing the fact that they are using an environmentally-friendly product. That they reuse their bottle instead continuously using and disposing of plastic ones. That they care. Yet that person is also serving as walking advertising for the company itself, facilitating the moment when Bemporad says consumers also become “creators of brand content.”
One might submit that this is just a new type of conspicuousness (See above: Conspicuous is out…), but perhaps that is simply a matter of semantics. What’s important is that the extravagance of a good isn’t necessarily what is emphasized, but its value, quality, and social impact. And more importantly, in doing so, consumers will have access to better, more worthwhile products at a time when excess and poor quality doesn’t make sense. Companies will have the tools and strategies to weather an economic downturn, and we will have the begins of the foundation of a more sustainable economy.