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How Businesses Should Respond to a Shifting Consumer Mindset


By Doug Austin

While the discussion around millennials is often centered on tech trends and bootstrapped startups, that’s not all the generation is known for or where its influence ends.

In general, millennials — or those who reached adulthood around 2000 — value transparency, causes and sustainable business practices. As these influential consumers come of age, it naturally follows that organizations will need to rise up to meet them where they are — especially when it comes to green business practices.

How millennials are shaping the consumer mindset

American consumers have grown suspect of big corporations, and millennials are no different. It’s not surprising when you consider that many millennials entered the job market during the Great Recession and grew up at a time when concerns over global warming reached a boiling point.

As millennials mature, their strong opinions and values impact the global mindset in terms of green business practices.

Unlike previous generations, millennial consumers don’t just care about the products they buy; they care about where the products came from, who worked on them and how sustainable the production process was.

Surveys show that 40 percent of millennial consumers are willing to pay more for green products (compared to only 33 percent of consumers in other age groups). This is a powerful statistic when you consider that millennials’ spending power ranges anywhere from $200 billion to $1.3 trillion. And by 2020, the nearly 80 million millennials will constitute 30 percent of retail purchases. Baby boomers, on the other hand, are quickly aging and reducing their spending.

This emphasis on environmentalism will affect businesses across all industries that want to appeal to millennials. And don’t be mistaken: Consumers’ interest in process will only continue to increase, adding fuel to an already growing green-business flame.

How to adapt to changing consumer attitudes

As consumers’ values shape the global marketplace, your business must adapt to stay competitive. Luckily, every business can make changes to become more responsible, and even small changes can make a big impact when it comes to conserving resources.

1. Be transparent with your employees: Have an honest conversation with your employees about current green practices and what can be done to improve. Be willing to learn, share and try new things, and set up a process beforehand for reacting to and implementing feedback. If you let them, employees will be your biggest advocates. But this advocacy hinges upon their ability to be heard, so ensure their suggestions are acknowledged and implemented.

2. Strive to reduce wasted resources: Audit your current use of resources, and find ways to conserve or put them to better use. Make sure you’re cognizant of all resources used — from materials needed to make the finished product to the fuel used to transport it.

When you ask the right questions and take steps to ensure your business is as sustainable as it can be, you’re validating your company’s commitment to the environment, which your customers and employees will appreciate.

Reducing waste can benefit your company financially, as well. For example, you can actually earn tax credits for energy efficiency.

3. Encourage consumers to be Good stewards of resources: Whether your customers are everyday consumers or other businesses, you should encourage them to adopt similar habits to save energy and be kinder to the environment. Not only will this magnify your company’s impact, but it will also advance the discussion around sustainability and help you forge stronger customer relationships.

Consider Chipotle’s campaign, "The Scarecrow.” It focused on educating viewers about the benefits of sustainable farming and 'real food.' The campaign was shared and discussed widely online. The values-based advertisement advanced Chipotle’s message and solidified consumers’ perception of Chipotle as a responsible, sustainable brand.


Thanks to millennial influence, words like 'transparency' and 'accountability' dominate today’s headlines about brands. But by staying honest and engaged with your employees, collaborating with internal and external audiences, and being willing to make necessary changes, you can seamlessly adapt to the changing mindset of your most powerful customers.

Image credit: Flickr/francisco_osorio

For nearly 30 years, Doug Austin has been studying the “art of observation” and filtering out the human truths. Whether digging for key consumer insights or preparing the next national retail promotion, it’s all about the ability to “hear and see” what others may not and asking the hard questions. Austin is the SVP of growth and innovation and leads product and brand innovation sessions for Marlin Network.

3p Contributor

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