Sustainability, climate change, and plastic pollution are the significant, unavoidable issues we need to face – and solve – in our lifetime.
While individuals can play their role in this, it is the brands that have the power to both help the cause and develop sought-after and future-proof products that are more sustainable – and that people want to shop for.
However, many new product strategies simply miss the mark, don’t affect sales, or are labelled as greenwashing. The only way to do sustainability right is to think about the full picture – the product, its advertising, its claims, and the aim to understand who your consumers are and how they relate to this issue.
With the ambition to help brands take the green leap in the new year and beyond, EyeSee has run a comprehensive study that utilised a combination of methods such as eye tracking and facial coding to uncover emotional engagement and visibility, paired with virtual shopping (which famously has a 0.8–0.9 correlation with real shopper behaviour). On top of this, traditional methods such as MaxDiff claim evaluation and surveys were used as well.
Additionally, to help showcase how this can be done in practice successfully, Colgate-Palmolive’s leading expert on sustainability, Cherie Leonard, shared her thoughts on what makes sustainable products truly competitive.
Here are the common myths about making sustainable products competitive on the shelf:
MYTH #1: SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS ARE A NICHE CATEGORY – VERY FEW CONSUMERS ARE INTO THEM
The study uncovered that 86% of consumers are open to trying more eco-friendly products – implying that this is not only a not niche category but also an opportunity- packed one. This group consists of two segments: the True ECO buyers that are motivated to make a difference and change their behaviour, and the ‘talk is cheap’ segment who state they care about sustainable products but need incentives to change their behaviour. The remaining 14% are truly not interested in the cause and have no intentions to change their behaviour.
From Cherie’s perspective, two big consumer trends have emerged – the first one is the urgency to take action. As she put it: “We see this not only because people are seeing the good, such as cleaner air and fresher skies, especially through the early days of lockdown, but also because they’re seeing the bad – suddenly, it became very apparent to consumers how much trash they produce as an individual and as a household.” The second trend is the uncertainty of where to start acting more sustainably – and this is where manufacturers have an enormous opportunity to help and encourage their consumers to act greener!
MYTH #2: CLAIMING YOUR PRODUCT IS SUSTAINABLE MAKES A REAL DIFFERENCE
Product claims are the best real estate to describe your green impact quickly and clearly. Therefore, the study incorporated a claim test to understand how consumers perceive some of the most commonly used claims based on clarity and impact on shopping behaviour, such as ‘eco-friendly’, ‘zero waste’, ‘sustainable’, etc. In reality, while most claims were somewhat equally compelling, some are definitely a smarter choice for brands.
For instance, the three just mentioned are some of the worst-performing claims out of the tested ones! These findings indicate that consumers are unsure how these types of products contribute to a cleaner environment – and as such, they have very little to no impact on shopper behaviour. One of the brilliant ways Colgate-Palmolive saw packaging as an opportunity to educate their consumers, as Cherie explained, is by putting a QR code next to a clear and straightforward claim, to encourage people to learn more about the product, the pack, and the process and ultimately build trust with them.
MYTH #3: BUYING SUSTAINABLE MEANS ‘SACRIFICING’ CONSUMER EXPERIENCE FOR THE GREATER GOOD
One of the biggest misconceptions about sustainability is that it means lowering the standard of living or making consumers give up on the things they love and enjoy. What we have uncovered is that 41% of consumers are ready to buy more sustainable products – but only if they are better quality. This huge portion of shoppers that are ready to make greener purchases are opening doors to brands not only to produce more sustainable products but to do so in a way that actually improves the consumer experience. And this is not a new trend – as with every NPD, every new product launch, brands are always striving to better the shopper experience and outdo the competition – so, why treat sustainable products any differently?
MYTH #4: WITHOUT CONSUMER DEMAND, THERE IS NO SPACE FOR OPPORTUNITY
Greener products are still a novel and growing market, so it is not surprising that the demand isn’t overwhelming yet. It’s the same with every new category – relying on the existing demand makes little sense. But this is where bigger brands can change the game – since over 27% of shoppers stated they would buy more eco-products if they were from well-known brands!
However, there are a few insights to keep in mind; as with any new product on the shelf, there are some consumer barriers that affect making sustainable products accessible and competitive to regular products:
- The price – The majority of people (50%) would purchase sustainable products if they were the same prices as their regular products.
- The unavailability – About 29% of consumers stated that sustainable products are not available in the shoppers’ area.
- The lack of variety – There are not enough options for sustainable products according to 27% of respondents.
So, when it comes to the incentives and barriers, it becomes evident that ‘sustainable’ must not become a synonym for premium and that the prices need to remain competitive.
MYTH #5: GUILT-TRIPPING WORKS WONDERS FOR ATTENTION
Most social media campaigns that tackle environmental issues communicate in a way that scares and makes consumers feel concerned about the future – but this approach has little impact on consumer purchase. This is why we zeroed in on how social media posts that focused on pollution impacted purchases for more sustainable options in a virtual shopping environment. Posts that are scientific in nature and offer some knowledge to consumers while making them feel good about their choices are the definite winners.
In Colgate-Palmolive’s case, social media is a tool that amplifies the conversation on sustainability – and drives energy and excitement for what they are doing as a brand. It is also an opportunity for brand enthusiasts to share their knowledge and message about sustainability.