Is brand purpose overblown?

Consumers say they want companies to act ethically, but not many are willing to alter their purchasing habits — or sacrifice comfort for convenience.

How to have a true company purpose

There is a growing body of research that says consumers care about their world and the impact businesses have on it. According to a Sogeti Cap Gemini study, “79% of consumers are changing their purchase preferences based on social responsibility, inclusiveness, or environmental impact.”

Specifically about the environment: An IBM study reveals that “Nearly six in 10 consumers surveyed are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact. Over 70 percent would pay a premium of 35 percent, on average, for brands that are sustainable and environmentally responsible.”

Consumers are also socially “woke” about how brands and businesses behave. Deloitte found that “62% of customers said that they are more likely to spend with companies who have taken extra steps to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their employees during lockdown.”

Yet another IBM study in partnership with the National Retail Federation found that “one-third of global consumers—from Gen Z to baby boomers (ages 18 to 73)—would abandon even their favorite brand if it doesn’t align with their personal values. They will pay more, and even change their buying habits, for brands that do.”

That’s a lot of business at risk.

Amazon has had to launch Frustration-Free Packaging in response to anti-plastic and anti-waste groups. And its trucks will become electric.

P&G has formulated its plans under the “Ambition 2030” umbrella. The plan includes packaging that is 100% recyclable or reusable for brands such as Always, Dawn, Fairy, Febreze, Head & Shoulders, Pantene, Pampers, and Tide. The P&G manufacturing sites will cut greenhouse gas emissions in half and will purchase enough renewable electricity to power 100% of their plants. They also aim to stem the flow of plastic into the world’s oceans, protect forests, expand recycling solutions, and protect water in priority basins around the world.

The Albarda household is on-trend as well. We’re driving electric now, we get our environmentally sustainable washer and dishwasher pods from Dropps (never mind that they are home-delivered from Illinois), and we complain to Walmart when its grocery delivery service wraps each item in a separate plastic bag.

So clearly it is a thing. But — is it really?

My take is that it is probably mostly a “marketing thing.”  Many companies have dealt with negative press about something that drew consumer ire or outrage. We have protested the alleged hostile work environment in Amazon’s warehouses. We have threatened to never pull into a BP or Exxon gas station ever again when they pollute. The list goes on and on. Except we have not changed our consumption habits one bit.

If we are honest, we must conclude that what we say and how we live are two very different things (as they always are). Even if we are really concerned about the environment, we still love the convenience of the Amazon, FedEx and UPS truck fleet delivering our meals in a box, our (plastic) matcha pods or razor blades.

I do not doubt for a minute that P&G and all other companies benefit from the marketing stories around socially conscious issues. But I have yet to see that consumers are really prepared to “pay more, and even change their buying habits” if brands are not part of this trend. Consumers are lazy creatures of habit. We like the idea of social consciousness, but we are not always prepared to accommodate to the realities of it.

Maarten Albarda is founder of Flock Associates. Read more of his work on MediaPost.

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