By Noelia Barreiro-Naveiro, Connections Manager at VMLY&R London
Conscious consumers are on the rise and sustainable products grow faster than other products.
According to the 18th annual Corporate Knights ranking¹, which analyses nearly 7,000 publicly traded companies, the companies considered the most sustainable are also the ones with the highest return to investors.
Recent research conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund² showed there was a 71% rise in internet searches relating to sustainable products over the past few years. This continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as more consumers adopted a sustainable lifestyle, whether by choosing brands that have ethical or environmentally-sustainable values and practices, or by no longer purchasing products if they have concerns about the brand’s sustainability values or practices.
Since 88% of consumers want companies to help them become more sustainable, and 68% are loyal to a brand that shares the same values as them, brands should pay special attention to their sustainability positioning³. It is important for companies to move past customer-centric business models that purely focus on increasing sales and performance and to understand the different forces shaping customers’ lives and adapting to customers’ shifting modes. An effective way to do this is through their online marketing practices.
Having a strong public perception of the company’s sustainability and climate change commitments and actions is particularly important in order to gain conscious consumers’ trust.
To improve a company’s brand positioning towards conscious consumers, there are actions marketers can implement online. The first step is to understand current conscious consumers’ behaviours. And secondly, to apply certain practices to target these consumers.
Over the last 12 months, certain brand values have become more important for conscious consumers when deciding to shop sustainably.
Inflation and supply chain disruptions in the last couple of years have had an impact on consumer behaviour as people are more likely to find innovative ways to spend less, therefore adopting a more sustainable lifestyle. When considering where to shop consumers are embracing circularity, meaning that although consumers still value recyclability and biodegradability, they are more inclined to value durability and reparability. One in two people claim to have repaired an item instead of replacing it with a new one⁴.
Consumers are also paying attention to sustainable packaging, reducing waste and a product’s carbon footprint when choosing companies to purchase products. Furthermore, special attention is given to a company’s ethical working practices and human rights issues4.
A company should understand what conscious consumers care about within their industry. For instance, if it's a food company then customers may be concerned with palm oil use, whether it’s fair trade, organic, or local. Whereas for clothing it may be about materials or working environments.
One in two consumers state that a business’s sustainability claims do not always create trust in the business’s commitments to sustainability4. So, in order to reverse this trend and gain trust with consumers, there are practices and optimisations tailored to current consumer trends that can be implemented online.
Businesses can optimise their website to adopt a clear position on sustainability online in the following ways.
As mentioned, businesses must move past customer-centric business models that purely focus on selling and performance, understand the different forces shaping customers’ lives, and adapt their offerings to customers’ shifting modes. Nowadays, people make contradictory choices, so companies must deeply understand the context of consumers’ lives and deliver the most relevant solutions for those contexts.
Consumers are constantly searching for answers online, and these queries represent a massive pool of insights about their interests and behaviours. Businesses should aim to monitor sustainability behaviours in their industry. To help with this, SEOs can regularly check organic search volumes on certain keywords and popular consumer questions. This is important because this research will help brands and content strategists focus on optimising products and their website’s content to match the intent of their audience. This will improve a company’s visibility online and attract the right kind of audience.
Moreover, using social media listening tools can also help companies monitor and analyse online conversations about the brand, specific topics, competitors and anything that is relevant to the company.
Conscious consumers tend to purchase from businesses that share the same values, so it is important that brands keep their mission front of mind in everything they do.
In today’s digital world, a successful business needs a strong social media presence, and social media thrives on storytelling, which makes this channel a great way to catch the eye of consumers. A brand could create and share an emotive video about the company’s founding story or produce a leadership piece on how the company is helping to change the world. Depending on the type of business, this could be published on socials, the website or even YouTube.
Actions speak louder than words, so social media gives companies the opportunity not only to publish content, but also to post plenty of images to showcase progress. The more authentic evidence shown, and the more transparent companies are, the better.
In today’s marketplace, there is no single typical ethical consumer, so it is also important that as brands grow, they put effort into exploring and showing up in different communities, hashtags, and online spaces to target new potential audiences.
As people search for reviews of products, they will decide whether or not to trust a company and its products before they even visit the site. Reviews give companies more opportunities to reach their potential audience during the most critical time of the buying process.
Posting authentic and unfiltered customer reviews is important for any shopping experience, but it is even more important for conscious businesses whose customers require a high level of transparency. Reviews can be what customers need to justify the higher price of eco-conscious brands when comparing to other more traditional brands that have the same offerings.
Also, staying focused on reviews is extremely valuable to organic visibility, not only because reviews can boost a company’s social appearance and authority, but Google also favours the higher-rated websites. Implementing Review schema markup will also help increase online visibility, build trust, and attract more attention to SERP listings. Therefore, brands should embrace reviews to transmit transparency and as powerful SEO boosters that will lead to more website traffic and higher conversion rates.
Another avenue brands can explore to highlight their sustainability commitments is profiling involvement in their community projects. This not only increases awareness on a company’s sustainability efforts, but good PR also drives referral traffic and reinforces web presence. SEOs can help optimise content and choose the right pages to link to within PR articles.
A further useful action to target the right audience would be using ‘green influencers’ to promote a company’s ethical ways/products or even upsell other services to repair customers’ previous purchases. This person can be found on social channels or there are dedicated influencer agencies that will help companies find the right profile. They do not need to be a celebrity who will cost a considerate amount of money but can be someone with a smaller niche following, but simply someone who is well known for promoting a green lifestyle and who conscious consumers are aware of. They can also answer some of the questions that conscious consumers are asking before visiting a company’s website. This type of influencer will bring the right type of traffic to the site and boost a brand’s visibility online. Companies can also track this traffic and remarket to them after.
Conscious consumers value certifications. There are a wide range of standards and certification programmes available for businesses that fit different industries. This is something worth working towards and including on any website to showcase a company’s effort on sustainability.
The benefits of these certification programmes go beyond a rating or certification of proof to gain customers’ trust, but also engage employees and create a green corporate culture.
Also, from an e-commerce standpoint, it is helpful to include certification badges on a product’s PDP.
It is a good practice to include these certification badges on the website homepage. However, more information about the specific certification can also be included in a dedicated sustainability page or blog, especially if the company has to make any major changes to obtain a specific sustainability certification.
Companies cannot simply talk about sustainability and expect conscious consumers to become customers. True sustainability always starts with quality products and services that customers are willing to buy. If this is combined with great online marketing efforts that show a company’s commitment to sustainability, brands will be able to attract more website visitors who will be happy to switch brands and become loyal customers.