Given the wealth of research released over the last few years, it is clear that consumers want to hear your sustainability story. However, there is a catch. What if your customers aren’t interested in the version you are telling, or they just are not impressed with your sustainability record? Research cautions that while there is great interest in the sustainability efforts of companies, you may be missing the mark. It is not only crucial to tell your story, it is also imperative to craft it with the concerns of the audience in mind.
Make no mistake, customers do overwhelmingly care. Research from Interbrand suggests that consumers are concerned about business environmental performance, although fewer would be willing to pay a higher price for a sustainable alternative. Given a similar price point among competing products, however, a potential sustainability message serves as a significant differentiator. “Pricing is a big influence as are functionality, features and appearance,” Madiken Verboven of Kandesign wrote in Do Consumers Truly Care About Sustainable Business. “But people also choose a brand because of its image and because of shared values. This is where a brand can really make a difference and inspire.”
The Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study (2015), which involved a survey of 10,000 people, agreed that a brand’s association with sustainability can strongly shape buyer behavior. It noted that “90 percent of global consumers would switch brands to one that is associated with a good cause, given similar price or quality.” Additionally, Cone/Ebiquity determined that a positive correlation to sustainability results in a more positive public image (93 percent of global citizens), greater trust (90 percent) and greater loyalty (88 percent). Around 84 percent of respondents considered a company’s corporate social responsibility record in determining where to shop.
According to Cone/Ebiquity, consumers pay notice to companies that go above and beyond in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts, as well as to those companies which fall short in this regard. “Companies can get attention the right way,” the report noted, “through bold goals and clear, consistent CSR communications.”
The consequences of not reaching consumers with your sustainability story can be high, Cone/Ebiquity reported. “Two-thirds (64 percent) of consumers say they only pay attention to company CSR efforts if an organization is going above and beyond what other companies are doing,” it stated. A sobering 52 percent of respondents assumed a company is not acting responsibly until they heard information otherwise.
Also important is creating a message that resonates with a specific audience. When A.T. Kearney and The NPD Group conducted an online survey of more than 200 millennials, they found that their interest was strongly related to the sustainability of the product they were planning to purchase rather than corporate CSR policies. “Of the 149 millennial survey respondents who cited a most important sustainability practice, only 21 percent specified social responsibility. This is less than half the number who said that the “inherent sustainability” of the product (like products that directly help consumers live sustainable lives) matters most.”