Conscious Consumers and Woke Brands

What is it and why should you care?

While trends may be intermittent in nature and flicker away in a blink, the underlying consumer behavior that births the said trend is often a permanent paradigm. Conscious buying is one such behavior that is not only here to stay, but is driving market demand and is modulating trends. What makes it even more significant and ‘sacred’ is the direct impact it has on how a brand’s offerings are adopted and popularized.

It is the Era to ‘Stay Woke!

Staying woke has become the new life mantra, as people of all generations “wake up” to issues of social, ethical and even environmental injustice. As it slowly seeps into different aspects of life, this new mantra is expanding the horizons of consumerism that were previously limited to price, value, and packaging. Now, factors like eco-friendly production, sustainable disposal, humane working practices, and the usage of the profits also route the purchasing journey.

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In fact, IBM’s Meet the 2020 Consumers Driving Change report suggests that 57% of consumers are willing to change their purchasing habits to help reduce negative environmental impact. At the same time, Nielsen Global Survey found out that three out of four millennials were willing to pay more for sustainable products and 51% of Boomers were also inclined to do the same.

And if you look carefully, you can notice the traces of conscious consumerism all around you. The word ‘organic’ has suddenly become more attractive. ‘Cruelty-free’ is now a competitive advantage for self-care products. Regular auto-pilot trips to the supermarket have been replaced by thoughtful considerations of the impact of products. Consuming is now a form of voting (and this is not the first time it has happened). 

Buy v/s Buycott: The Evolution of Positive Purchasing 

From Quaker abolitionists who refused to buy goods produced by enslaved people in 1840s America to the Swadesi movement in the early 1900s that boosted national small-scale businesses in India and the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the 1950s that paved the way for the end of segregation laws – history is a testament of the power consumers hold in their hands.

The modern concept of “Dollar Voting” emerged in the 1950s as a component of individual participation in the economy. Today, every dollar is spent as a vote for what consumers believe in. And it’s not just about one’s culture, race, or country; it’s about the whole planet. Consumers have taken their rights and transformed what it means to be a paying customer, with technology as the catalyst. Everybody is connected, so everybody can research, stay informed, and have their voices heard. 

Responsible Consumers Demand Responsible Brands

There is a lot of noise surrounding the conscious consumer. And brands are taking notice. Sustainable products sold 5.6X more than conventional ones between 2015-2018, the resale market grew 25X faster than retail in a year, there was a 300% spike in Google searches for “How to find Black-owned businesses in your area” in the US, and shoppers have become 65% more likely to tailgate towards sustainable products.

Conscious Consumers demand Conscious Branding. As the consumer’s psyche mirrors that of an activist, ours must as well. Brands must also be ‘woke’. Simply delivering convenience and speed is not enough; you need to offer value that aligns ethicality, sustainability and organic production. In other words, the consumer is not the only customer anymore – it’s the whole world. And your offering and identity should appease the entire planet, as a whole.

To draw these parallels, brands need to leverage factors like transparency, human centricity, and positive science in their product development and communication. Success now depends on providing fast and easy access to relevant product information that captures the right emotions. Being socially aware is a brand feature and, when marketed properly, can work in our favour. But we must also remain conscious. Choosing the wrong ‘cause’ can be a disaster, just like Gillette’s ‘The best a man can be’ ad in January 2019 backfired with $8 Bn in reprimands.

Now is the time to shift from story-telling to story-proofing with an integrated perspective, defining where they focus, how they differentiate their products, and why consumers should trust them.

And enterprises across industries have already jumped into this bandwagon. Volkswagen is developing a retail EV charging network, IKEA has launched recycling and buy-back schemes, the Apple Renew program is recycling old products, and so on. Companies like LEGO, Unilever, The Coca-Cola Company and others have even pledged to use 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging by 2025.

In my opinion, you don’t need to start so big. Donations and charities and green banking and outdoor events and NGO affiliations are the long haul projects. Take baby steps first. An emotional story for public awareness, an empathetically-designed logo, a social media campaign towards a national/international cause, a simple paragraph that tells the journey of the product, or a sales video that narrates the product’s impact on the environment – can all go a long way.

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Conclusion 

Building a relationship with consumers that lasts through turbulent times can be a solid foundation for your brand value. And this can be done only when ethics have been embedded in the social contract between consumers and companies.

Conscious consumers are here for the long haul. And they are driving the next brand revolution.

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