Consumer Conscientious

21/10/2016

This is the second article in our series of blogs describing recent trends in consumer behaviour. This time we will discuss the consumer conscientiousness and its impact on brands and their marketing strategies.

Maddy Sim Maddy Sim Strategy Director Edinburgh
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In 2015 Timpson announced that they would dry clean the interview outfits for free of those who were unemployed and seeking work. This wasn’t out of character for Timpson – they are known for their values. They’ve featured in the top 10 of the Times’ 100 Best Companies to Work for thanks to their raft of employee benefits and culture, and the company created charity initiatives like the Timpson Family Foundation long before it became a ‘must’ for any brand. 

The firm has recently posted a surge in profits, and searches for their brand on Google have been on the up ever since – it would be foolish to suggest that their HR and community policy drove performance (the increase in supermarket concessions of the brand has played a large part in the profit increase) but it does speak to a consumer trend. The ethics of a brand is steadily more important to consumers.

Price and quality are the 2 key purchase drivers. Behind that there are myriad reasons why one brand may catch a consumer’s eye over another. Marketing, for example. Customer service. Location. User experience.

But what about how that company behaves towards its employees and to those in the local community? In recent years brands have clambered over each other to show that they’re ‘human’, that they have a personality, hence the cringe-worthy social postings as they have ‘cheeky bants’ with each other. This got old quickly, sparking a backlash from consumers.

Instead, we are more likely to value brands that are authentically conscientious – and the best way for them to demonstrate such traits is to act in support of their employees and the community. In this way they can demonstrate considerate traits whilst still acting like what they are – a corporate venture and not, in any way, your ‘bae’. It pays off with customers. In a global survey by GFK of 28k consumers 63% said they would only buy products and services that appeal to their beliefs, values or ideals.

For some the conscientiousness is built into their DNA – Ben and Jerry’s built a global brand around a fair trade promise. Brew Dog pitched themselves as a ‘craft beer’ revolution – the independent brewer taking on the faceless giants. People Tree are a top fashion brand that uses only sustainable materials and that supports the communities involved in making clothing.

However for others the product, the positioning and the history of the company can make it more difficult to show a compassionate side. Brands should look at their impact in the community, their contribution towards customer problems, and their role in employee’s lives to ensure they put their best foot forward as a company. GlaxoSmithKline – a company most would probably put down as a ‘characterless conglomerate’ – ranked number 1 on Fortune’s Change The World list by reinvesting 20% of their profits in the least developed countries it operates in. It doesn’t require that sort of scale to demonstrate ‘good’. AutoTrader UK has a wine club, giving employees discounted wine delivered to their door every month.

According to the Medinge Group, responsible for the term ‘conscientious brand’, “A facet of conscientious brands is that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is not seen as a marketing tool” – and herein lies the danger. Many brands have faced backlash when their attempts to ‘do good’ are seen as a PR ploy. In the last month H&M has created debate – does their advert celebrating the diversity of women make them a socially responsible brand when their mannequins only represent one (stick thin) woman and the fashion brand is still seen to be exploiting supply staff according a report compiled by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance?

It’s a fine line and it can put companies off displaying the good they do. However, a brand should still do a sense check of their role in the lives of consumers, communities and employees to understand where they sit and how they can improve. And perhaps it’s up to consumers to be less cynical – yes, conscientiousness can be used as a marketing ploy; but if we expect brands to take an active part in solving problems, they can’t be expected not to shout about it.

Maddy Sim Maddy Sim Strategy Director Edinburgh
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