Pre-pandemic, 23% of consumers were buying from purpose-driven brands but, at the end of 2020, this figure jumped to 51% wanting brands to focus on being eco-friendly, and 41% wanting brands to support social causes.
It seems that if one good thing is to come out of Covid-19, it is the decisive shift in consumer behaviour to embrace sustainable and purpose-driven brands. But what does this mean in practice for brands? In truth, it could mean anything from limiting the use of single-use plastic to paying employees a fair wage, from reducing carbon emissions to speaking out against social injustice.
It seems that if one good thing is to come out of Covid-19, it is the decisive shift in consumer behaviour to embrace sustainable and purpose-driven brands.
Responsible for 10% of all annual global carbon emissions (that’s more than all international flights and maritime shipping, in a pre-Covid world, combined) the fashion industry has been on a very slow journey to becoming sustainable.
Some brands are getting there faster than others: Patagonia, Veja, or Stella McCartney, for example, whose brand strategies are built upon sustainability and ethical choices.
It’s no wonder, then, that Veja threatened Primark with legal action back in 2019 when the discount retailer mass-produced a shoe very similar in design to Veja’s best-selling V-10 model.
It wasn’t just Veja’s design that was at risk but the brand’s socially-conscious ethos, too.
However, this too is now changing. In recent years, Ben & Jerry’s has caused waves in the industry by actively promoting its social agenda (sometimes more so than its products) and has become as synonymous with social justice, as it is with ice cream.
Another brand bringing change to the sector is global social enterprise, Terracycle, whose online, waste-free store, Loop, will be available in seven regions by the end of 2021.
Having teamed-up with Tesco to stock big-name brands in the UK, Loop aims to change the way the weekly shop is done – empty containers will be collected, cleaned and refilled, ready for reuse.
But brands, beware. Empty claims and promises of sustainable strategy will not be received well by consumers or regulators.
The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has come down hard on brands in recent months. Ryanair, Quorn Foods and Shell (to name a few) have all fallen foul of promoting misleading claims of brand sustainability (100% recyclable!”, “carbon free!”, “this product will save the planet!” ... you get the picture).
Even brands promoting substantiated claims must be careful. In a controversial ad-campaign to promote the business becoming carbon negative, BrewDog was reprimanded by the ASA for its provocative choice of words across several billboards:“F**k You CO2”
What’s more, the UK’s leading consumer protection authority – the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) – announced it would be examining eco-friendly claims made by businesses and how such claims impact consumer behaviour.
Unsubstantiated claims of brand sustainability could end up doing more harm than good.
Share your sustainability goals and address when these are/are not being met. While many brands in he UK and EU are now, legally, required to make environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) disclosures, consumers are more likely to connect with brands who are willing to re-evaluate their sustainability strategies. Don’t wait to be called out by consumers.
Closing the “Say-do” gap:
Don’t just make the claims, stand by them. The “say-do” gap is the difference between what a brand is outwardly saying it is going to do, versus what it is actually doing. A substantial gap can have a detrimental impact on a brand’s image, as it weakens consumers’ trust by not delivering on expectations.
Implement real change:
Financial donations aren’t the only way to show your brand is purpose-driven. Understanding what matters to consumers can have a real impact on how a brand is perceived. 56% of consumers want brands to better support people during the pandemic, whether that be supporting local suppliers, focusing on the well-being of employees, or improving customer accessibility.
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