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Saving the Planet? A ‘CX Conundrum’ for Brands

January 2020

By Claire Brooks, Los Angeles

Saving the Planet? A ‘CX Conundrum’ for Brands

As Veganuary comes to an end with disappointing results in its US launch year, nearly half of Millennials say they have started or deepened business relationships with products that positively impact the environment/society. And yet, Millennial go-to services like Amazon Prime and GrubHub operate highly carbon-positive on-demand services.  More than half the world’s consumers now live in cities and so the Farmer’s Market – or Whole Foods - is now the nearest most Millennials come to experiencing nature. Consumers support environmental purpose in principle but the true impact must be emotionally communicated. How can opposing CX expectations be reconciled and what does it mean for brand strategy? This article suggests that sophisticated brand story-telling is the key.

“How Can I Possibly Make a Difference?”

Recent studies by ModelPeople, in categories as diverse as automotive, food/beverage and kids’ toys, indicate a high level of consumer inertia. Consumers recognize, and are even fearful about the state of the environment but don’t know what they can really do individually to make a substantive difference. So they opt for brand initiatives which offer benefits with little inconvenience, like hybrid cars and recyclable packaging, but won’t give up dinner delivery when they’re tired! Social bias towards green consumerism has not reached a tipping point; the planet does not have a #MeToo movement. And yet our research shows evidence that a sizeable segment of consumers will change buying behavior and incur inconvenience, as long as the rationale is compelling and the product is sexy.

Empathetic Story-telling is the Key

Tesla is evidence that a compelling eco-brand idea combined with sexy product can encourage consumers to put up with inconvenience in the form of range anxiety. Prada’s trendy capsule collection using recyclable nylon Re-Nylon is positioned as part of their inventive brand heritage, while new UK fashion brand Mother of Pearl puts transparency at the heart of their brand meaning, by allowing consumers to select product based on chosen sustainable attributes.

As in any good story, a hero is essential. David Attenborough’s films like Blue Planet II helped the EU justify legislation banning plastic straws. When David met Greta Thunberg (by skype to minimize their carbon footprints), two Jungian hero archetypes - the wise old man and the (warrior) princess – came together in an inspiring call for inter-generational activism. Corporations can be heroes too, as they realize that environmental efforts make for good CSR publicity: for example, Purdue’s foray into environmentally friendly online grocery shopping, targeting affluent consumers for brands like Niman Ranch with foam packaging that dissolves in water and a donation to plant trees to offset home delivery carbon footprint.

Brand Vision Must Include the Environment

While brands and corporations first have to make consumers care via story-telling, they then have to move empathy into action.

In my book Marketing with Strategic Empathy®, I redefine the brand positioning model, placing Brand Meaning at the core. How does the brand create distinctive emotional and cultural meaning for consumers by reflecting a compelling vision for the world around them? Brands must address consumer inertia head on and dare to be transparent about the CX trade-offs of eco-friendly initiatives. Increasingly, Brand Vision and Strategy must include an eco-Vision and a cooperative strategy with stakeholders.

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