The COVID 19 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 these 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 has helped many to re-evaluate what is actually important to them. We must acknowledge, though, that this has happened during very strange circumstances. In extremes, people tend to adapt new behaviours. Now the question is, how long-lasting are these new desires and have consumers actually changed their consumption patterns?
According to Kantar’s latest research about sustainability, 42% of consumers in Europe say that 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 opportunity for consumers, as well as for companies. It’s a chance to take stock and adapt to a more sustainable way of working, consuming and living. It would be ideal to keep the momentum. But as we know, human beings are creatures of habit. Change is difficult. It’s 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 very 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 same 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’s in it for them. People want to know what impact or benefit they 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 food or products which’ “use by” or “sell by” date are coming to an end soon. It gives companies a chance to tackle food waste by selling to people in the neighbourhood, comparably low prices. So, consumers get a good deal. That’s what’s in it for them, while saving food from going to waste. These apps make things relatable as they are localised. And they make each person’s contribution tangible by adding up every single person’s contribution to the amount of food that has been saved from waste. An app like To Good To Go 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, taking the next step to share surplus food is another thing. It’s not a common concept to share food with people outside your household. It’s not a common concept to share food with strangers. The founders trialled their concept with a WhatsApp group first, before investing in the actual app. They started off with 12 complete strangers who lived nearby. Once they had started to post surplus food other consumers followed, and the response was very positive.
Herd mentality kicks in again once someone close by joins in. You might be more inclined to try it as well.
Olio started locally in North London but grew over the years and now they have over 3.6M app users in 59 countries, after only 6 years. Olio spreads the word by asking its users to share Olio on their social media accounts. They also have ambassadors, or 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 from business. So called “Food Waste Heroes” collect food from business to then post it on the app for locals to collect 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 your 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. They are addressing various needs, rather than focusing on one. Making themselves relatable and acknowledging that everyone is different and has a different motivation to sell or buy 2nd hand.
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 their app in order for them to feel the effects. It’s not an easy task, especially nowadays where people 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 trial they discovered that they had asked people to make too many decisions at the beginning, which added stress to the individuals. And stress is what they wanted to get people away from. So, Headspace focused on easily accessible techniques (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 users returning to the app.
The fundamental lessons here are to listen and accept that everyone can make a difference in their own capacity. Don’t overwhelm them by expecting too much at once. It’s important to think about what is important to them. Consider why they are they looking to make a change and why they came to you in the first place. In my view, everyone can start somewhere. No one changes over night. But once you see improvements by changing one thing it can be that motivator that someone needs to take the next step; and the next.
So, what do consumers need to experience in order to make a change?
- Remain local and relatable
- Show small, incremental improvements.
- Make them feel part of a bigger, but relatable movement by showing them the impact that their contribution makes towards a bigger picture.
- Offer an open dialogue. Don’t preach. Rather show ways to help them make the changes they would like to see.
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