April 22, 2020, will mark 50 years of Earth Day. This year’s theme is “Climate Action,” but we all know that this year’s Earth Day will be very different from the ones in previous years. It will be largely overshadowed by COVID-19. Climate change, waste management, social responsibility etc., which were otherwise considered top priority concerns for governments, businesses and consumers, are not top of mind today.
COVID-19 has changed everything, hasn’t it? The way we work, learn, shop, eat—everything’s changed. Think about the behavior changes that have been observed since the outbreak of the virus; many will likely become the new normal post COVID-19—online shopping, better hygiene practices, lesser travel, a renewed cautiousness about health, preference for products with endorsements from authorities, local sourcing etc.
So why should businesses and marketers have sustainability on their agendas?
While certain sustainability claims may not seem as relevant today, some, such as local sourcing, will become ever more important to consumers in the near future. Sustainability in new product innovation will remain just as important: however, manufacturers will have to look at what claims and benefits will make most sense to their categories, and how they can be combined together with other benefits relevant to consumers.
What can manufacturers do to integrate sustainability into their forward looking, post-COVID-19 innovations to make these products consumer-centric and relevant?
First and foremost, COVID or no COVID, every product provides a service to its consumer. For example, my mobile phone provides me the service of making phone calls. It also provides me the services of taking photographs and browsing the internet. Today, these services are really the basic jobs my phone must do for me. If it failed at any of these basic jobs, I’d be dissatisfied with it. Having these basic abilities or features will not add to my satisfaction, but not having them will make me dissatisfied. Now, the phone manufacturer may add additional features to make the phone even more attractive—to enhance its performance. Having these additional features will increase my satisfaction and will become motivators for me to purchase one model over another.
Think of this as a pyramid similar to that of Maslow, describing a hierarchy of purchase motivators. Keeping the consumer at the center, based on the category you are playing in, your product (or pack) may have different purchase motivators for buyers, outside of the very basic job to be done. Some examples include—convenience, health, cost-effectiveness, attractiveness and earth-friendliness. These are placed in different hierarchies, depending on what consumers want from the product.
GUIDELINE No. 1
It’s important to understand that the basic job to be done is at the very base of this pyramid, and if a product fails to do that well, it will not be preferred for purchase (or repurchase) no matter how sustainable it is.
Make a sustainable product more consumer-centric by reassuring consumers that it is at least as good as its non-sustainable alternatives at its basic jobs.
GUIDELINE No. 2
The place of sustainability in this pyramid will depend on the category and the usage occasion. For example, in today’s COVID-19 context, a household cleaning product with cleaning as its base, could have efficacy at killing germs very close to the base. A sustainable benefit, such as compostable packaging or ingredients, may come higher up the hierarchy. But for some packed foods, local sourcing, which is a sustainable practice, may remain closer to the base, while taste may come higher up.
Identify where on the pyramid sustainability should fall (some categories and occasions are more “ready” for highly sustainable products/packs than others), understand what consumers want from your category, and align your development resources, investments and your positioning to deliver on all motivators in your pyramid hierarchically.
GUIDELINE No. 3
It’s important to note that the purchase motivation for a product grows three fold if its benefits (basic and others) are combined together with sustainability benefits. So including a sustainability benefit has large positive consequences, if this is in addition to other product benefits. Take the simple example of compressed deodorants: There is a sustainability benefit of reduced packaging there, which consumers appreciate, but what makes the product compelling is that it is easy and convenient to store and carry. In the new normal following COVID-19, consumers will look for more such combinations—the good for ME and good for WE combos. For example, food that is safe, nutritious and is sourced locally, or a cleaning agent that kills germs and comes in recycled packaging.
Think of your value proposition along the dimensions of me and we. Products that are “me” focused may do well in the immediate term, while people are in much fear. But over a longer period, as life restarts, people will expect more. Products that are only “we” focused will likely fail in the near future.
GUIDELINE No. 4
In their new normal following the COVID-19, consumers will remain cautious. They are going to be skeptical when they make their purchase choices. So it will become more important to provide them with sufficient detail and information to make their choices easier. Make it as easy as possible for them to understand the product and decide if it is for them. Consumers will be open to making small sacrifices that will benefit the Earth, but, their appetite will be limited. So, if the sustainable product is adding extra work/inconvenience then it is likely that it will have limited appeal.
Minimize hidden costs for consumers when you develop your sustainable proposition, and make life easy for them by communicating clearly; be it recyclable or refillable or something else, make it easy for them to understand and execute.
GUIDELINE No. 5
While sustainable products and packs will remain purchase motivators for consumers, there is little doubt that consumers will make more and more purchase choices based on the processes that manufacturers follow in their supply chain to minimize supply chain risks on health and on the environment. Being carbon neutral, giving back a percentage of profits to the community, waste management, saving water, having cruelty free facilities are a few claims that brands make in their corporate communication and marketing. But consumers don’t always find these relatable, and communicating on issues or topics that aren’t close to consumers will have little impact on purchase motivation. For example, is “saving water” an issue that consumers in Europe care about today? Will this trigger their personal interest?
Pick the issues that consumers can relate to. Claims that do not have personal relevance to consumers will not trigger their personal interest, and they won’t turn into purchase motivators.
GUIDELINE No. 6
Today’s consumer appreciates honesty. Making a claim and not delivering on it will not work. This will become all the more important in the new normal that consumers will return to in the following months.
Stay truthful, accurate and specific when you make your sustainability claims and promises.
Integrating sustainability into your value equation remains an opportunity for growth. But making the value proposition consumer-centric and context-relevant is critical to make your initiative successful in the years that follow. Successful value propositions of the future will see an integration of “Good for me and good for we” (Good for me, and for the Earth) philosophy at their core.