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  • Writer's pictureNina Franck

What customers need from brands to make a sustainable change

The pandemic has led many to appreciate the environment they live in much more. Less air traffic and car traffic has given the Earth a bit of a breather. Dolphins were spotted in Venice again; sheep took over villages. With less human interference nature has taken over. For a bit.

While this were just a few highlights and not a long-term change, people have however become more conscious of their environments.

Walks in nature, less commuting and appreciation of personal connection helped many to re-evaluate what is actually important to them.

Now, this has happened during very strange circumstances. In extremes people tend to adapt new behaviours. The question now is, how long-lasting are these new desires and do consumers actually change their consumption behaviour?

According to Kantar’s latest research about sustainability, 42% of consumers in Europe say they have stopped buying products or services that have a negative impact on the environment or society. However, 44% claim they have bought something without checking if they have for example been tested on animals. And 51% claim that while they aim to be more mindful with their consumption, their day-to-day priorities get in the way.

At the same time, 61% think it is the business’s responsibility to be sustainable and 51% think that brands have an important part to play in the social conversation about equality. So, people are looking at brands to make a change and still nearly 40% feel they are responsible as consumers too. There is huge potential for brands to help consumers with the change they want and expect.

This new consciousness is a huge chance for consumers as well as companies. A chance to take stock and adapt to a more sustainable way of working, consuming and living. Keep the momentum.

But as we know, humans are creatures of habit. Change is tough, seen as a big hurdle. For people to adapt their behaviour they need to see what is in it for them according to WARC’s article around green nudges. And now that lockdowns are about to be lifted (for now at least) it can be easy to fall back into old habits. Now is the time to act.

Show that everyone can make a difference.

Behavioural economics can be a massive helper. People are herd animals if you like. We tend to go along with what we think the majority does. For example, when hotels display in their rooms that 78% of their customers reuse their bath towels the chances are much higher that the guest in that room will use the towel again. If there is no display of such claim or claims that by reusing the towel the guest will help reduce the carbon footprint it has shown that people are less likely to reuse their towels. Providing social confirmation or proof can help to foster change.

Furthermore, people would like to see what is in it for them. What impact or benefit does one get when they act differently. This helps to break it down, to make the change and its positive impact less abstract. For example, Olio, a giveaway app to tackle waste, let’s you offer and pick left over food, food that has been bought in excess as well as any items no longer wanted and needed around your neighbourhood. You can see how far that person is away from you and arrange for a pick up directly through the app. It is easy and simple to do.

Similar to Olio, To Good To Go offers left over or products which use by or sell by date are coming to an end. It gives companies a chance to tackle food waste by selling it to comparably low prices to people in the neighbourhood. So, consumers get a good deal. That’s what is in it for them, while saving food from going to waste.

These apps make it relatable as it is local. And it makes each single person’s contribution tangible by adding up every single person’s contribution to the amount of food that has been saved from waste.

The app doesn’t only show you available products. It also shows you items that have been picked up recently. Again, this taps into social confirmation. Showing that other people are also actively saving food and that it is safe to do so.

Olio realised early on that while one third of consumers are ‘physically pained’ to throw away food, but taking the next step to share surplus food is another thing. It is not a common concept to share food with people outside your household, with strangers. The founders have trialled their concept with a WhatsApp group first before investing in the actual app. 12 complete strangers who lived nearby.

Once they have started to post surplus food other consumers followed. And the resonance was very positive with feedback being make it an app, keep offering the chance to save food and how can they help.

The herd mentality kicks in again, once someone close by joins in you might be more inclined to try it as well.

They started locally in North London but grew over the years and now have over 3.6M users of their app in 59 countries, after 6 years. Olio spreads the word by asking users to share Olio on their social media accounts.

And they have ambassadors, so called community heroes (UK only), who spread the word in their neighbourhood on behalf of Olio and users who post their rescued food on their social media account.

Companies like Tesco, Pret A Manger and Sainsburys in the UK have now joined Olio too which triggers further PR to spread the word and tackles food waste in households as well as business. So called Food Waste Heroes collect food from business to then post it on the app for locals to pick up the food for free.

Make people part of a community, ideally local so it remains relatable and relevant to the individual.

Vinted, a second-hand clothes app, does a great job at showing what selling on their platform does for you directly. Having more space, getting money for a new wardrobe, changing their style etc. In their communication it is not about sustainability or saving carbon footprint or avoiding fast fashion. While these topics are supported or tackled with 2nd hand apps such as Vinted, Depop or Ebay it is not the key motivator for the single user.

And again, they are addressing various needs rather than focusing on one. Acknowledging that everyone is different and has a different motivation to sell or buy 2nd hand.

Make it relatable.

Don’t preach, don’t judge. But listen.

Change sometimes needs some time in order for someone to notice any difference. The mindfulness and meditation app Headspace has learned the lesson to find ways to keep people coming back to the app in order for them to feel the effects.

It is not an easy task, especially in nowadays search for instant results. Headspace has noticed that early drop-offs in the first week and months made up the majority of the daily active user decline. After a 30-day diary research they have find that they have asked people to make too many decisions at the beginning which added stress to the individuals. And stress is what they wanted to get away from.

So, Headspace focused on easily accessible technique (i.e. sessions with eyes open rather than closed) that help reduce stress instead. Their adaptation of the user’s experience within the first weeks lead to an increase of 6% of them coming back to the app.

Listen and accept that everyone can make a difference in their own capacity. Don’t overwhelm them by expecting too much at once.

Think about what is important to them. Why are they looking to make a change and why did they come to you in the first place?

Everyone can start somewhere. No one changes over night. But once you see improvements by changing one thing it can be that motivator someone needs to take the next step.

So, what do consumers need to make a change?

· Stay local and be relatable

· Show small improvements for themselves

· Make them feel part of a bigger but relatable movement. Show the contribution a single person makes already with their own action

· Offer an open dialogue. Don’t preach but show ways to help make the changes they like to see.

I am writing as a Goodvertising Volunteer Contributor. This article was published on Goodvertising on 1st October 2021 (


Kantar: Sustainability, The European Story: What matters to consumers and why it matters to brands, Webcast from 8th September 2021

Article ‘What brands can learn from how Headspace builds healthy routines’ by Jo Bowman, published on WARC June 2021

Article ‘Green nudges’: Behavioural economics and sustainability’ by Sarah Oberman published on WARC August 2021

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