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Saving the Planet? A Consumer Experience Conundrum

October 2019

By Claire Brooks, London

Do Millennials care about saving the planet?

Volvo’s advertising for their XC40 hybrid car positions the brand directly counter to on-demand consumerism, promising ‘Everything you Need, Nothing you Don’t’. Nearly half of Millennials say they have started or deepened business relationships with products that positively impact the environment/society, and almost as many say they stopped/lessened those relationships with products/services that have a negative impact on the environment/society in a survey  And yet, Millennial go-to services like Amazon Prime and GrubHub promise a fast delivery experience no matter how carbon-positive!  How can opposing CX expectations be reconciled and what does it mean for brand strategy? This article suggests that sophisticated brand story-telling is the key. 

“How Can I Possibly Make a Difference?”

Recent studies by ModelPeople, in categories as diverse as automotive, food/beverage and kids’ toys, indicate a high level of consumer inertia. Consumers recognize, and are even fearful about the state of the environment but don’t know what they can really do individually to make a substantive difference. So they opt for brand initiatives which offer benefits with little inconvenience, like hybrid cars and recyclable plastic packaging, but won’t give up dinner delivery when they’re tired or lightweight, affordable plastic high chairs in favor of the recyclable wooden versions which lead the market in eco-strict Germany. Social bias towards green consumerism has not reached a tipping point; in the US at least, the planet does not have a #MeToo movement. And yet evidence from the automotive category shows that a sizeable segment of consumers will change buying behavior from a hybrid car to an electric model, and incur the inconvenience of range anxiety, as long as the rationale is compelling.

Empathetic Story-telling is the Key

More than half the world’s consumers now live in cities and so man’s instinctive empathy for the natural world has been blunted. The Farmer’s Market – or Whole Foods - is now the nearest most Millennials come to nature. Consumers support environmental purpose in principle but the true impact must be emotionally communicated to speak to their primal instincts.

Tesla is evidence that a compelling eco-brand idea combined with sexy product can encourage consumers to put up with inconvenience in the form of range anxiety. And Prada’s trendy capsule collection using recyclable nylon Re-Nylon is positioned as part of their inventive brand DNA.

As in any good story, a hero is essential. David Attenborough’s sorrowful exposure of the effects of plastic waste on ocean creatures in Blue Planet II helped the EU justify legislation banning plastic straws. And Warrior Princess Greta Thunberg fearlessly lectures the world on climate change emergency, heroically voyaging to New York by eco-yacht.  Governments can also be heroes by offering rebates (e.g. on electric cars) or taxes (e.g. on plastic carrier bags: following the introduction of a 5p/7¢ charge for a bag, customers in the UK now buy 10 bags a year compared with 140 in 2014. 

Brand Vision Must Include the Environment

While brands and corporations first have to make consumers care via story-telling, they then have to move empathy into action.  In my book Marketing with Strategic Empathy®, I redefine the brand positioning model, placing Brand Meaning at the core. How does the brand create distinctive emotional and cultural meaning for consumers by reflecting a compelling vision for the world around them? Brands must address consumer inertia head on and dare to be transparent about the ‘consumer experience’ trade-offs of eco-friendly initiatives. Increasingly, Brand Vision and Strategy must include an eco-Vision and a co-operative eco strategy with stakeholders.

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