See what's on at The Drum

Sustainability: bridging the gap between intention and action

This content is produced by a member of The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

Initials on how brands can facilitate sustainable purchasing decisions by making sustainable products that are easy to purchase

According to new research, 73% of consumers have a desire to be more sustainable in the next 12 months.

But while many consumers want to make more sustainable choices, they often revert back to price or product performance in the moment of purchase. The onus, then, is on brands to help make sustainable choices easier, simpler and more accessible.

As Olivia Sinclair, marketing manager at Doisy & Dam, says: “I believe it’s our job as a brand to make it as easy as possible for the consumer to make sustainable choices.”

While most consumers are aware of how shopping decisions impact the environment, the path to purchase throws up numerous barriers that can sway shoppers away from making more sustainable choices.

To overcome this, brands need a robust understanding of when to speak to customers’ hearts and heads and what messages to share.

In this article, we’ll explore how brands can bridge the gap between intention and action, flex messages across the path to purchase and further a more sustainable future.

What is sustainability, anyway?

Sustainability has become a ‘catch-all’ phrase in recent times, so it will be useful to explore how leading brands in the space are defining it.

Dragan Oudshoorn, global channel marketing manager B2C at Hansgrohe Group, says: “We are not only committed to creating high-quality products and solutions that directly save water and energy, Hansgrohe is also dedicated to thinking and operating sustainability across all production processes, factories, employees and resources. Our work focuses on three sustainable and responsible elements: economy, environment and society.”

For Ferry Kamp, global chief marketing officer at Meatless Farm, sustainability is about more than just reducing environmental impact – it’s actually about restoring the planet. “We’ve taken the decision to move beyond sustainability and become a regenerative business. We want to go beyond reducing negative impact and actually work to have a positive impact on restoring the planet.”

From ethical supply chain practices to sustainable ingredients to recyclable packaging, sustainability encompasses a host of different activities that are pertinent to brands.

A recent Deloitte study found that ‘waste reduction’, ‘reducing our carbon footprint’, ‘sustainable packaging’, ‘ethical working’ and ‘human rights’ were the top five sustainable practices that consumers want brands to deliver on.

Doisy & Dam have made this a non-negotiable business priority. Sinclair says: “Whether it’s our promise to never use palm oil or to only use ethically-sourced cocoa, we think our commitment to sustainability is what keeps our customers loyal.”

In today’s world, consumers believe brands should play a significant role in shaping the direction of sustainability.

When asked ‘how can brands help consumers adopt a more sustainable lifestyle?’, respondents cited ‘better schemes to remove plastics and packaging’ (64%), ‘greater clarity on how to dispose/recycle old products’ (50%) and ‘better information around origins and sourcing’ (46%) as the top three answers, respectively.

As Britvic’s director of sustainable business Sarah Webster notes: “It can be hard for consumers to do the right thing – for example, which bin do you put the recycling in? Do you leave the cap on or off? Do you leave the sleeve on? If you put any friction in the way, you create barriers to purchase.”

The role of time preference in high and low consideration categories

To bridge the gap between intention and action, brands need to recognize the ways in which time preference and high v low consideration categories can impact decision-making.

Let’s consider an example.

Jane wants to buy a new car, but she’s making a concerted effort to be more environmentally conscious. Since purchasing a car is a high consideration category, sustainability will be a key issue for Jane much earlier in the path to purchase.

As Jane is on the way to the dealership, she stops at a local supermarket to purchase a drink. While Jane wants to make more sustainable choices, she doesn’t consciously consider the environmental impact of the drink until she’s physically at the point of purchase. In the end, she decides to buy a familiar soda on sale, rather than opt for a more expensive drink with stronger sustainability credentials.

In this example, it’s clear that time preference (whether a purchase is for the long-term or more disposable) influences how and when consumers think about sustainability. Higher consideration categories need to emphasize sustainability upfront, whereas more spontaneous categories need to focus on highlighting sustainability at the point of purchase.

Sinclair agrees, adding: “Bridging the gap between intention and action is a tricky one. Closing conversions online or in-store comes down to building consumer confidence and trust. This means making sure our sustainability wording speaks to people as people and making sure our packaging stands out.”

How to flex sustainability messages across the path to purchase

Since sustainability messaging varies depending on the brand, product and category, it’s vital that companies think strategically about how to flex sustainability messages across the path to purchase.

Webster rightly notes that sustainability “needs to be matched with a clear hierarchy of messaging”.

“You can afford to have a lot more detail on your website, whereas labels are quite small, so you must be very clear and link into your consumer insights – what’s the shopper occasion? What’s the purpose of that purchase? What are the regulatory requirements?”

Nailing this journey can have a sizable impact on the decisions shoppers make.

Hansgrohe, for example, has designed a water savings calculator that puts the power of sustainability directly into the hands of consumers, and shows the direct impact one can make. Users enter their information such as the number of people living in their home and the type of energy used. Based on this information, the calculator will then determine how much water and energy consumers could save by switching to a Hansgrohe EcoSmart product.

This calculator demonstrates both the functional and emotional benefits of Hansgrohe’s products, appealing to consumers’ hearts and minds.

Oudshoorn says: “For our products, the first trigger is all about creating awareness and further educating consumers how they can make an impact and contribute to a better planet through our products and solutions. We do this through different touchpoints and campaigns that attract and explain our sustainability initiatives. It’s relevant to communicate this throughout the journey, whether that’s packaging, website or point of purchase.”

To flex sustainability messages across the path to purchase, brands need to consider when to speak to the heart and when to the head.

Here are a few tips to help brands communicate sustainability initiatives in a way that gets products in shoppers’ baskets:

  1. Make sustainability approachable and relatable – There are two main pain points that stop consumers from making sustainable choices: they feel hopeless based on the scope of the problem and/or they are unclear on how purchasing from a brand will contribute to change. To solve this, brands should focus on topics that their customers know and define individual actions to create authentic impact and encourage participation. It has to feel incremental, not revolutionary. Next, the contribution should be easy to understand and comparable. Use layman’s terms and focus on everyday choices.

  2. Be transparent – Brands need to be honest about their credentials and open about where they are in the sustainability journey. This authenticity will help brands connect with people; often the journey yet to be realized can inspire action.

  3. Show don’t tell – Don’t make hollow promises. Brands can drive authenticity by walking the walk and consistently supporting the effort. This means demonstrating how purchasing from a brand will positively impact the environment, such as showcasing small wins that are accomplished together with consumers. Messages that contain evidence are more believable, and measurable statements or claims are usually preferable to messages of intent.

  4. Be concise in brand and product storytelling – Today’s consumers digest information in small bites. How a brand delivers its messages is key; this needs to feel accessible, clear and engaging. Avoid over-intellectualizing sustainability narrative and don’t overcomplicate a product’s sustainable benefits.

  5. Be clear about objectives – When developing a sustainability campaign, brands need to be clear from the beginning about their objectives. Is the campaign meant to increase brand awareness and preference? Or should it also convert and increase revenue? Different objectives may require different tactics and various types of storytelling.

Moving toward a sustainable future

According to IBM, nearly six in 10 consumers are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact. What’s more, nearly eight in 10 indicated sustainability is important to them.

Clearly, sustainability is no longer just a ‘nice to have’. It’s an absolute must for any brand that wants to stay relevant, win new customers and drive loyalty.

Brands must help facilitate sustainable purchasing decisions by making products that meet sustainable standards and by designing these products to be easy, efficient and desirable to purchase.

Webster concludes: “No one has all of the answers. But that’s not an excuse for no action. We’re learning along the way, which is something we all need to embrace. Because we all want to move forward and make progress.”

By recognizing nuances in the path to purchase and flexing messages according to different shopper experiences and expectations, brands can do what’s right for the planet, increase sales and play their part in building a more sustainable future.

Mirella Mokbel, strategy director at Initials.

By continuing to use The Drum, I accept the use of cookies as per The Drum's privacy policy