From Purchaser to Participant – Keeping Consumers’ Interest During Recession

Environmental_leader_jpegsPatti Marshman-Goldblatt, Senior Vice President at NMI, takes a close look at the way consumers use their purchases and brand choices as value and lifestyle expressions, even during a time of economic constraint.

Posted July 20, 2008
By Patti Marshman-Golblatt, Environmental Leader

Even in times of economic strain, people continue to strive for a
feeling of connection by participating and expressing their values
through their purcPatti_jpeghasing behavior. Perhaps consumers feel it adds
meaning and connection to their lives to shop in a particular way, or
they like the image that certain brand associations bring. Perhaps they
simply want to feel that they are improving the world around them. Whatever the cause, the effect is that brands that can support this
interest in sustainable consumption and make a positive contribution
are appealing to consumers’ current sentiments, particularly in today’s
ethical consumerism.

This is, in fact, the foundation of the LOHAS consumer marketplace.
LOHAS consumers, in particular, are price-insensitive (Figure 1);
therefore, price is not a main factor in their purchase decision
process. They are interested in purchasing products from sustainable
sources and are willing to pay 20% more to get them, while the general
population’s purchase decision is more focused on price alone. In place
of price, LOHAS consumers emphasize reviewing a brand’s stance on
issues that matter to them. This is what separates a brand like Toyota
from one like Ford, and an Aveda from a Paul Mitchell.


However, society is unlikely to be able to shop its way to
sustainability. After all, if consumers are still consuming resources,
there is continued environmental impact. Moving consumers from
purchasers to participants is the next generation. Doing so reinforces
the feeling of connection consumers are striving for, brings future
rewards to the brand (such as increased loyalty, etc.), and moves the
focus from price to partnership.

For those who are more price sensitive, participation does not have
to be consumptive, costly or complex — it can be as simple as reminding
consumers to bring their own non-plastic bags to the store (or giving
them an incentive to do so). Other examples include:

•    Starbucks’ Grounds for Your Garden program
•    Yoplait Lids to Save Lives campaign
•    Staples, Office Depot, and other retailers’ in-store programs to recycle ink, toner cartridges, and small electronics
•    Driving consumers to a website to learn more about green
activities they can be involved in (as Dean Foods did with its Green
Caps program)

The point is that action is required both on the part of the brand,
and on the part of the consumer, and that the brand is the consumer’s
partner in making a difference. The brand provides the leadership and
information that the consumer would not otherwise have access to, and
facilitates an action the consumer might not have been able to engage
in otherwise.

These programs can also be designed to have benefits beyond
increased customer loyalty and brand equity. For example, retailers are
saving money by not providing free bags to consumers; Starbucks avoids
paying to dispose of its coffee grounds; and ink manufacturers are able
to repurpose the materials in the cartridges.

Another approach involves using such programs as a part of a
campaign to improve a retailer’s CSR image that may have been damaged
in this climate of “Greenwashing Washout,” an insight into the
ineffectiveness of sustainability messaging. As Figure 2 shows, a rift
appears in consumer awareness of company environmental and societal
responsibility efforts: only 69% of the general population is aware of
any measured company having tried to improve its environmental and
social image.


Those rating the highest are McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, at 31% and
29%. This is notable in contrast to companies that have made a more
public media commitment to corporate environmental management, such as
General Electric and British Petroleum. The LOHAS segment showed
greater awareness of any company making an effort to improve its
environmental/social image, as well as greater awareness for each
individual company, though for those communicating CSR, these awareness
levels may seem quite low.

For the predictable future, LOHAS consumers will still purchase
sustainable products based on their values. The recession is not as
impactful on their purchase behavior as it is on the general population
because for LOHAS consumers, price has never been an issue. For the
more price sensitive consumer, implementing participation programs may
be a way to give eco-purchases more of a purpose. Saving energy and
being more conscientious in purchase patterns are very consistent with
behaviors evident during recessionary times so while green may take a
back seat in the headline news, the green behaviors will not.  In
addition, consumers will have many chances to become aware of corporate
efforts toward sustainability and these types of win-win initiatives
which can lead to long-term loyalty from consumers, customers,
employees, stakeholders, communities — and impact the environment.

Patti Marshman-Goldblatt is a Senior Vice President at NMI. She
brings 25+ years of marketing and research expertise to her position at
NMI including senior leadership at The Nielsen Company in both Spectra
Marketing and Homescan.

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