Connecting with Conscientious Consumers

Posted on October 1, 2014 by Marian Salzman

BeCause It Matters

[Originally posted on PRWeek.com.]

This fall, Havas PR launches its BeCause It Matters reports, based on an insight and a belief. The reports are also designed to answer a question. Our insight: A worldwide trend toward conscientious consumption is traveling together with a shift toward conscientious capitalism. Our belief: This trend is net positive—good for business, consumers, the economy, and good for general well-being.

As a collective of PR agencies represented in dozens of countries around the world, Havas PR is focused on communication and messaging, so the question we aim to answer is this: How can conscientious capitalists connect more effectively with conscientious consumers and with people who are likely to become more conscientious?

In these reports—one global report and one each for 14 of the 22 countries we surveyed (Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Poland, South Korea, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States)—we look at the rise of conscientious consumerism and the local findings of a massive global online consumer survey commissioned by Havas Media for its Havas Meaningful Brands study. The total sample for the 22 countries was 31,000 respondents. The U.S. section yielded a nationally representative sample of 6,695 adults over age 18, with a male-female split of 44:56.

Below is some food for thought. The observations preview what we can provide if you want more information at the local (U.S.) or global level.

Disruption is driving the growth of conscientious consumerism
Like the rest of the world, people in the U.S. are still working through the aftershocks of what happened in 2007-08. Some call it the financial crisis, some refer to it as the banking crisis. Others call it the Great Recession. Americans John Hagel, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison call it the Big Shift in their book The Power of Pull. They are optimistic and talk about customers having more choices and information to make those decisions. Meanwhile, Australian environmentalist Paul Gilding has called it the Great Disruption in a book of the same name that aims to show “why the climate crisis will bring on the end of shopping and the birth of a new world order.”

Disruption certainly seems like an apt term for what has happened. Businesses, economies, expectations and assumptions have all been disrupted. Previously normal patterns of life have been shaken up. This has prompted people to start paying more attention to what’s going on and how it affects them. Media coverage of massive wealth inequalities, banker bonuses and corporate tax avoidance schemes has fueled vigorous debates about what is fair and acceptable at a time when most incomes have stagnated at best. The notion of ethical has expanded way beyond environmental concerns to touch on issues such as fair trade, equal opportunity, social justice, conflict sourcing, tourism and animal welfare.

This is the backdrop of conscientious capitalism, which Havas PR has described as not just a different mindset, but also a different heart- and soul-set. It’s about brands doing what’s right, combining profit and conscience, simply because it is the right thing to do, rather than just another clever way to create photo and branding opportunities. That’s a tall order in itself.

What’s more, corporations that embrace conscientious capitalism have to walk a fine line between boastfully trumpeting their good work—and irritating people in the process—and modestly keeping it so quiet that nobody knows about it. It is essential to get this balance right because the counterpart to conscientious capitalism is conscientious consumerism. For consumers to be conscientious, they need to know what companies and brands are doing. They also have to believe and respect it.

Today’s conscientiousness among consumers is a new phenomenon. Conscientious consumers are people going through a change. For some, the change is deliberate. For others, it’s a gradual shift, going with the tide of changing public sentiment. For whatever reason, they feel concerned about the status quo and have a sense that they want things to change and recognize they can have some influence in that. They actively seek information that’s relevant to their areas of concern and look for opportunities to make a change.

The ethical interests and behaviors of conscientious consumers vary widely and aren’t necessarily found all together in the same person. In our analysis of the survey, we did identify standout characteristics of conscientious rejecters and potentials. And through nine statements in which respondents rated their past, present and future conscientious behaviors, we determined that women value conscientious consumption behavior more than men do, which likely reflects both their actual behavior and how they aspire to behave, among many other noteworthy findings.

With an eye on decoding the future, the survey asked respondents to think, for instance, about what they would be likely to do in terms of loyalty to responsible brands. In other words, rather than making a commitment about what they will do, they were asked to predict their probable actions in the future. It’s a small but significant difference.

The “likely to” scenario shifted opinions more toward conscientious thinking and—potentially—more conscientious behavior. Rating their agreement that “I am likely to be more loyal to brands that are responsible, ethical and sustainable,” the proportion of non-conscientious respondents dropped to 12% from 16% who said they wouldn’t more often consider the contribution to well-being and sustainability of the brands they buy. The proportion of undecided (neither agree nor disagree) shrank to 29% from 39%, while the percentages predicting they would be more conscientious increased significantly: 38% agreed somewhat and 21% agreed strongly, versus 33% and 12%.

So what does that mean for what’s next in the U.S.? Being a brand with a positive reputation is likely to earn the loyalty of many U.S. consumers. Watch likely loyalty to responsible brands keep growing.

To receive a copy of the global BeCause It Matters report and any of the 14 country reports, please go to us.havaspr.com.

Marian Salzman is CEO of Havas PR North America and chairman of the Havas PR Global Collective. This year she was named as PRWeek’s Global Agency Professional of the Year and landed on PRWeek’s Power List.

[photo: creativecommons.org/U.S. Department of Agriculture]

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