Sustainability Message Confuses Consumers


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According to Incite, a market research firm, consumers are confused about what sustainability means despite brands pushing the message through marketing.

Consumers are split over the definition of sustainability.

  • 44% associate it with the environment
  • 44% align it with financial security
  • 12% were unable to define what the term means

Chris Wood, a principal of Incite, says the differing interpretation of sustainability has implications for brands and their communications.

Sustainability in the media is read in different ways. In the consumer world it’s not a word that’s used everyday and isn’t very clear. It demonstrates that businesses should be playing on their robustness and strength to drive confidence in their brand.

As one commenter on Marketing Week (where I first read the research) stated

Consumers don’t care about sustainability in the same way they don’t care about existentialism – it’s an abstract topic, whose definition may not be understood because it’s not in their everyday language, and its immediate relevance to their relationship with a brand probably isn’t immediately clear.

But if you ask them if it matters to them that a brand isn’t abusing workers or degrading the environment you’ll get a clearer answer, because it’s clear what you’re on [sic] about.

Brands need to champion specific issues not generic topics. It’s the only way they will engage people, and it’s the only way they’ll become credible and differentiated in this space.

In the pre-Internet days, sustainability was called corporate responsibility and companies placed image advertising in thought leader publications to get there message across. It’s morphed into corporate social responsibility (CSR) and so, I think a single word like “sustainability” is an attempt to provide a succinct word to describe an area that includes numerous complex business functions.

When you view the interactive sustainable and corporate responsibility reporting we’ve created for Sysco Corp. and Spectra Energy, then you can begin to understand the complexity of corporate sustainability and how far traditional messaging has come.

When I think about sustainability, I like to think of it in even simpler terms and boil it down to the 3Ps:

Planet, People & Profits

When a company can balance those three, then they can say they are a truly sustainable company.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Nicolette Beard
As a former publisher and editor, I'm passionate about the written word. I craft content to help drive the autonomous customer experience (CX) revolution. My goal is to show call center leaders how to reduce the increasing complexity of the customer journey.


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