Consumer Trends 2021: The Issues That Matter Most

People. Planet. Profit. The 3Ps, or the Triple Bottom Line, are the standards by which entrepreneur John Elkington argued that businesses should measure success.

Rather than focussing on profit alone, businesses should aim to improve social conditions and opportunities, and effect positive change to benefit the natural environment. 

The Triple Bottom Line framework is still as relevant today as when it was devised more than twenty-five years ago; arguably, even more so. And consumers are taking note. Increasingly, more consumers are looking for evidence that brands value People and Planet as much as they value Profit.

There are more than 3,500 B Corps companies around the world, a certified status that confirms that businesses, “[…] meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose." (B Corp)

That's a figure that’s set to rise. Thanks to changing consumer demands, more organisations are waking up to the value of doing good. 

Consumer trends in 2021 give reason for optimism. We're exploring the changes businesses can make to meet consumer expectations.

 

Consumer Trends 2021 | Transparency

Today's consumers want to buy from brands that operate in ways that align with their values.

They have no problem with holding companies to account, actively seeking out information that determines whether brands behave acceptably.

Brands that provide information about how they act and operate can help make consumers’ purchasing decisions easier. But if they don't provide this information, it won't stop consumers from doing their own research (as the rise of ethical watchdog websites like Good On You and More This indicate).

66% of consumers cite transparency as the reason most likely to attract them to one brand over another, other than quality and price. (Accenture)

If that's not a good reason for brands to raise the curtains on their business practices, then consider this: 73% of consumers are now willing to pay more for products that guarantee total transparency. (Sprout Social)

Millennials are paving the way in this area, ranking 'an inside look into companies' values' as more important than even 'information about changes to products and services'. (Sprout Social)

Transparency leads to trust, an area where most companies are deficient. A meagre 34% of consumers say they trust most of the brands they use. When consumers do trust a company, however, roughly two-thirds will develop brand loyalty. (AdRoll)

There are plenty of ways that brands can introduce transparent practices. This can include but is not limited to making data about hiring practices, diversity and inclusion, carbon footprint and supply chains available to the public.

One brand that's making waves when it comes to transparency is social media scheduling and insights tool, Buffer. The brand publishes data about everything from team diversity to individual employees' salaries (with detailed information about their salary calculator, which takes each employee's local cost of living into consideration). 

Significantly, Buffer practices radical transparency, sharing information even when it's not great, such as when they noted a 15% unadjusted gender pay gap (which has since been reduced to 5%).

While this might seem counter-intuitive when aiming to communicate shared values to consumers, it actually has the opposite effect. It humanises the brand and allows it to explain its plans to do better — a much-improved approach to sitting on negative data and doing nothing about it. 

The company points to SparkToro co-founder Rand Fishkin's tweet as a good summary of their beliefs about transparency. The tweet reads: 

"Will sharing this bring value to my company?" — that's marketing. 

"Will sharing this bring value to others, even if it doesn't benefit me/my company? — that's transparency." 

While SparkToro and Buffer might see transparency as distinct to marketing, we're going to have to politely disagree. Given the importance of transparency to consumers, sharing data, even if it doesn't put the company in the best light, is still marketing, albeit ethical marketing.

 

Consumer Trends 2021 | Climate

Many consumers have awoken to the immediate threat of the climate emergency. This is leading to a low tolerance for brands who won't play their part in cutting emissions and reducing pollution. 

Green-washing won't cut it. Today's sophisticated consumer is well-versed in climate issues and won't easily be fooled by false claims of sustainable practices. 

Oat milk brand Oatly learned this the hard way. Despite featuring prominent calls on the side of its cartons for drinks companies to publish their carbon footprint data, the brand was met with public criticism for selling shares to a private equity firm with links to deforestation in the Amazon. (Independent)

Roughly four out of five consumers in the UK report being very or somewhat concerned about climate change. (Ofgem)

Climate-conscious consumers are voting with their money In 2019, an average of 66% of UK consumers and 69% of consumers globally changed the products and services they use due to concern about climate change. (Statista)

Younger consumers are leading the fight. Of the causes Gen Z and Millennials want brands to support, climate change was the most important. (YPulse

The importance of sustainable practices will only intensify as Gen Z comes of age. Amnesty International's Future of Humanity report, which surveyed over 10,000 young adults around the world showed that 41% of respondents viewed global warming as the greatest global threat, followed closely by pollution at 36%. (Amnesty International)To meet consumer expectations, brands must now make meaningful change. 

Beyond switching off the lights in the office or putting up posters about kettle usage, it's time for brands to develop a deeper understanding of their impact upon the planet, including their supply chains, investors and product lifecycles.

Many companies are now publishing reports into their carbon footprints, detailing how their brands will achieve net-zero emissions in line with the UK government's 2050 targets (2045 in Scotland). 

While many consumers are aware of climate change issues, it's still important to educate them on how common practices within your industry impact the planet, and how the changes your brand is making mean that you are part of the solution. 

When communicating information about sustainability with consumers, it's important to use the right terminology. Ofgem found that most consumers understood terms like carbon footprint (92%), greenhouse gases (91%) and sustainability (86%), while fewer were aware of terms like 'decarbonisation' (40%).

Girlfriend Collective's approach is one to admire. The inclusive activewear company diverts plastic products from landfill to be used in its clothing. 50% of its material is made from recycled products, while the other 50% is produced with organic cotton, a sustainable and non-pollutive alternative to standard cotton.

Girlfriend Collective explains fast fashion's detrimental impact upon the planet through its social media platforms and website. Its homepage currently hosts a video explaining its recycling scheme which allows customers to return old Girlfriend clothes in exchange for store credit. The clothes are then recycled and used to make more Girlfriend clothes.

Girlfriend Collective is a great example of how brands can inspire rather than overwhelm audiences with education.

 

Consumer Trends 2021 | Authenticity

While closely related to transparency, authenticity is a distinct consumer value. Both are related to trust. Authenticity isn't just about providing information about brand practices; it's about validating brands' outward communications. 

It's easy to suddenly acquire fashionable values, but brands can get caught out if they're not acting authentically. One prominent example includes L'Oréal's mistreatment of beauty influencer Munroe Bergdorf, who was promptly dropped from her contract when she commented publicly about her views on racism in 2017.

Had L'Oréal been authentic in its values, it would not have dropped Bergdorf in the wake of the criticism she received. In 2020, Bergdorf accepted a new position as a consultant on L'Oréal's UK Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board. 

Authenticity also extends to how people are treated behind the scenes. In 2020, the hashtag #BoycottBoohoo trended on Twitter following allegations that workers at the UK-based factory of a Boohoo supplier were severely underpaid and given inadequate protection at the height of the pandemic. Several online commentators noted the brand's inauthenticity, referencing its claims of support for social justice movements like Black Lives Matter. 

When deciding what brands they like and support, 86% of consumers say authenticity is important, but 57% think that fewer than half of brands create authentic content. (Stackla)

It's difficult for brands to create trust. However, 63% of consumers say they would trust an influencer's endorsement, and a further 50% report having bought a product after an influencer recommended it. (Sprout Social)

To improve authenticity, brands must appreciate the importance of "closing the gap between what we say and what we do” as Deloitte recommends.

The Human Experience report from Deloitte also suggests a move away from demographics when deciding who to target, and a move towards consumer values, which it suggests is a better determiner of customer affinity. (Deloitte

If a brand lacks credibility in the eyes of its consumers, it can borrow some from an influencer. Choosing influencers who are considered authentic by their followers can help to improve brand perception.

A careful approach is necessary. Brilliant Noise recommends pursuing advocacy over endorsement: “The value of influencer marketing lies in the authenticity of the partnership. If it’s endorsement, people can smell it a mile off and won’t be convinced.”

Period product brand, Callaly, works closely with a handful of carefully chosen influencer partners, encouraging authentic conversations about their experiences of menstruation. 

Influencers talk frankly about the good, the bad and the ugly: a refreshing antidote to the euphemistic language and imagery often used by Callaly's more prominent competitors.

 

Final Thoughts

Both action without communication and communication without action are flawed plans when it comes to capitalising on consumer trends. 

An effective approach will see businesses couple considered change with a strategic marketing approach.

We couldn't talk at length about the importance of transparency and authenticity without putting our money where our mouth is. Moment is working hard to gain B Corp certified status, in line with our views as an ethical marketing agency.

 

Next steps

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