“Values are now part of the value that people are looking for, right alongside price and quality and service. They’re looking for businesses they trust to do the right thing, at the right price.”
So said Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King at last week’s Green Mondays.
But in practice, Mr King’s customers seem unwilling to buy the values they increasingly expect businesses to sell. While 83% of people expect businesses to help solve social and environmental problems, only 22% are willing to pay for it, according to a Nielson report last year.
This disconnect matters because UK customers are three-quarters of the problem they want business to help them solve. And that’s only taking carbon emissions into account.
Simply educating consumers, in my view, is not the answer. We have long since reached fact fatigue. Besides, if changing behaviour was simply a case of laying out the science, we would have surely nailed this by now.
This is where the need to get smarter at selling sustainability comes in – using the power of brands to effect genuine social change.
Here are my first four thoughts on how we can do this more effectively, with win-wins for businesses, customers and society:
- Locate the sustainability attribute that enhances the purchase decision. For food this might be linking better animal welfare with better quality produce, for technology it might be showing how energy efficiency creates superior performance, for fashion it might be labour conditions and social status. This is about ‘choice editing’ with a stronger narrative
- Give products a social currency that connects consumers to their community. Tesco Computers for Schools is a simple but smart scheme using vouchers that add local value. And now a new initiative by Sainsbury’s Nectar points rewards people who add value with money-off vouchers.
- Get closer to customers by curating and rewarding positive civic actions. Having worked on this project I might be biased, but for me Orange RockCorps’ model of access to exclusive all-star gigs in return for giving back four hours to improve your neighbourhood is hard to beat for its simplicity and impact.
- Campaign for something (or you’ll otherwise stand for anything and nothing). While Waitrose were smart by backing sustainable fish film End of the Line, Ben & Jerry’s remain the master: Do the World a Flavour – a consumer campaign to publicise Fairtrade – is a great example of how to communicate supply chain ethics in a way that’s cool, not clunky
What would your four suggestions be?