As we emerge from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, consumers will remain shell shocked. Possibly the greatest advance in sustainability over the last three years has been the global decline in consumer goods. When consumers decide to purchase, they don’t only consider where it was made and how it was created but whether they, as a consumer need the product at all. This is the beginning of a shift from willy-nilly consumerism to into a more reserved attitude towards consumption.
What is the implication of this for brands?
There are two challenges to brands. First, convincing the consumer that a product or service will make a noticeable difference in consumer’s lives and they are worth being purchased. The benefits of the product should be overt and apparent; a consumer’s interest in a product goes beyond its sustainability and greenness-brands and must differentiate themselves in other ways too. We are in the days of cautious consumerism, superior functionality must be proven or the risk a lifetime on the shelf.
The second challenge for sustainable products if to be specific about their green claims. Since 2005, we’ve seen a major increase in the consumers understanding of what sustainable means. Smart consumers are now looking for facts and figures detailing the chemicals that their cleaning products contain, the amount of energy consumed to move a piece of furniture and the carbon footprint of a pair of shoes. If brands are unable to provide such data, consumers will turn to sources like the GoodGuide and other champions of transparency to learn the truth.
Which Brand Will Stand Out?
Despite an ongoing interest in sustainability, few mainstream brands have smoothly transitioned this characteristic into their brand promise and image. Aside from Clorox Green Works, the most well-known green brands are niche players such as Toms of Maine and Seventh Generation. Landor’s annual ImagePower Green Brand Survey reflect what consumers think of corporate brands such as Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Wal-Mart, and General Electric as more sustainable than their product brands. Corporate brands must overcome the challenge of finding ways of extending the green halo onto their products and service brands.
The emergence of the electric car has made for plenty of press attention in 2011, whent here electric cars will be available in the United States: Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Tesla.
The Burning Questions for 2011
Is there an attainable balance between reducing consumption of resources and encouraging consumers to purchase sustainable products?