Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Consumer Goods Technology Magazine
Shifting work habits, more online shopping options, rising inflation, and stretched supply chains are just a few factors making it harder to discern what’s top-of-mind for shoppers today.
But we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what consumers say they value most right now. New Harris Poll research commissioned by Google Cloud reveals how U.S. shoppers are thinking about consumer goods brands in new ways—from apparel, electronics, and beauty products, to food and beverage.
While price unsurprisingly continues to be a major consideration in purchases, the average shopper is increasingly paying close attention to the values of consumer goods brands and how eco-friendly their products and practices are.
Shoppers want to buy from brands aligned with their values
COVID-19 drove people to reflect on their priorities, elevating concepts like community service, equity, and sustainability. A decade ago, most consumer goods companies would not have made these front-and-center, operational priorities. But today’s consumer not only wants savings and convenience, they also want that good feeling that comes from spending their money with a company that aligns with their values.
Our new research reveals that 82% of shoppers prefer a consumer brand’s values to align with their own, and they’ll vote with their wallet if they don’t feel a match. Three-quarters of shoppers reported parting ways with a brand over a conflict in values.
Even with their favorite consumer goods products, a majority of shoppers will not compromise on principles. If there’s a value mismatch, 39% of shoppers said they’d permanently boycott their favorite brand, and 24% would break ties at least temporarily. Most won’t be quiet about their concerns either: 28% of consumers that found their values at odds with a brand said they have shared their concerns with friends and family, and another 15% have shared their qualms on social media.
Consumer goods companies need to prioritize sustainability
A majority of today’s consumers (52%) are especially interested in supporting sustainable brands. They want to know how companies are managing their resources, specifically whether they are sourcing responsibly. These shoppers want to see meaningful, measurable efforts from CPG firms to save energy and reduce waste, like how Nuuly, URBN’s digital rental and resale business, has woven sustainability into its business operations, from its distribution centers to reusable packaging.
In fact, 66% of shoppers are now seeking out eco-friendly brands, with 55% saying they would pay more for more sustainable products. But these same shoppers are skeptical too: 72% think that companies and brands overstate their sustainability efforts. And they’re right to question brands’ practical application of their values. According to another Harris Poll survey recently commissioned by Google Cloud, 58% of executives polled across 16 countries admit that their organization has overstated its sustainability efforts.
Product availability is table stakes
A final point from the research: The global supply chain has stretched past its limits, and 60% of consumers are voicing some level of concern about it. At the end of the day, if a preferred brand isn’t actually on the shelves of a real or digital store, it doesn’t matter what the brand’s values or sustainability efforts are. A staggering 98% said they’d either buy from a different brand or search other stores or websites.
What’s a brand to do?
After more than 25 years working in the consumer goods industry in roles ranging from marketing and product development to business strategy and technology, at companies like Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly Clark, Carter’s, and now Google Cloud, I’ve seen successful brands do four things well when it comes to their values:
1. Don’t be generic.
Your brand’s values need to be authentic, and they need to have teeth. But being too bold could run the risk of alienating some consumer segments. This is where technology can help. Personalizing your messages and outreach to specific shopper profiles is one way to ensure that your core values reach the right customers at the right time.
2. Make your values clear and consistent.
When focusing on which values to highlight with your consumers and the world, make sure they make sense for your brand and that you’ll stick to them over time. For example, it’s painfully obvious when a brand is being opportunistic and inserting itself into conversations around values like sustainability or social justice, when it doesn’t have a history of voicing those values. The key to clear and consistent messaging of values is balancing authenticity with relatability and the appropriate amount of promotion.
3. Develop sustainability practices and communicate their impact to everyday people.
How everyday people perceive a consumer goods brand’s sustainability initiatives is different from how an investor or general business audience does. Shoppers don’t read business sustainability plans or impact reports. To increase awareness of your brand’s sustainability efforts, consumers need to identify and interact with your brand and products directly. Some of my favorite examples are how I love that Google Maps gives me the choice of eco-friendly driving directions, and that I know I can buy low-waste, packaging-free cosmetics from a company like Lush.
4. Reward customer loyalty.
Shoppers have more choices than ever before, and supply chain woes are testing preferences even further. But when someone chooses a specific brand because they feel aligned with their values or like their eco-friendly products, that shopper doesn’t always get recognized or thanked. Implementing a rewards program or following-up with customers after their purchases is one way you can make loyal shoppers feel appreciated while creating a lasting relationship that extends as long as possible.
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