We often hear a debate along the lines of, ‘how can we get consumers to pay more for sustainable products?’ To me, this argument is totally flawed. After all, what justification is there for knowingly making unsustainable products when we know our own future is balanced on a knife edge?
What right does an ice-cream manufacturer, bakery company or soft drinks producer have to destroy our forests, pollute our seas or exploit the poor?
We constantly look to drive loyalty in our brands. If you doubt this, look in your purse or wallet for the number of cards from coffee shops, retailers and others that reward your loyalty in a variety of ingenious ways. But this hard-fought loyalty can be quickly damaged if a brand is seen to be exploiting children, cutting down rainforests or forcing great apes to the point of extinction, for example.
What would be the cost to you, or your major brand customer, if you were giving the starring role in the next Greenpeace video? The impacts can be significant and long lasting.
Consumers do care, and the decision whether to trust a brand is often made well before your product reaches the supermarket shelf. Consumers want to buy a trusted brand and if that trust is damaged, well there is always other brands to choose from. So, communication on the packaging may have some benefit but more as a reactive measure to reassure shoppers. It is far more important to ensure you stay ahead of the campaigns and have a clear and defensible position before they hit the consumers.
Despite what we are led to believe, the customer is not demanding ever cheaper products. I am a consumer and my retailers of choice have never asked me if I want cheaper milk, or chocolate, or bread… they themselves choose to market this way. Equally, the negative palm oil campaigns that we often see online did not spring from some deep well within the collective consciousness, but off the back of campaigns by NGOs. While saying no to palm oil may not have been the desired goal, it is an easier message for the public to understand. The shopping public form their opinions based upon information they are given.
Knowing this, isn’t it sensible to start to build sustainability into the core of your brand, begin to eradicate the unsustainable practices and products and create a clear, transparent communication strategy that engages your customers and protects that loyalty that you have worked so hard to build.
Now that would be truly sustainable!