An unexpected outcome of COVID-19 was the compression of a decade’s worth of change into a mere two years. Without question, the pandemic has reshaped businesses, industries, and our broader culture in a multitude of ways – from how we work, shop, receive medical care – even to our level of consciousness for real-world issues like sustainability, climate change, and more.
As businesses emerge from pandemic retrenchment, we find many CPG brands, both small and large, are seeking to gain favor with consumers over their growing concerns around environmental issues by claiming to be eco-friendly, and sustainability driven. Still, according to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, 69% of people around the world believe businesses are not performing well in addressing climate solutions. As further testament of the importance of this issue, 58% claim to buy or advocate for brands that support their beliefs and values on fronts like this. That said, opportunity awaits companies willing to exercise true category leadership in this realm with high quality products that enable these shoppers to connect with their cause via a rewarding and engaging experience.
Raising the bar, building loyalty and meeting with success
Since environmental consciousness is an emotionally driven issue, brands wishing to trailblaze in this space must not only work to build relationships with consumers embracing a cause, but also demonstrate their own commitment to it if they wish to foster brand loyalty and drive critical mass. Grove Collaborative, a household cleaning and personal care products company saturated in sustainability is an example of this very strategy in motion. Not satisfied with just offering high-quality, eco-friendly, ethically/humanely produced items, Grove raised its own the bar as a true sustainability market-leader by securing certified B-corporation status and pledging to be 100% plastic free by 2025.
Recognizing their customer base was equally as enthusiastic about the environment, they worked to create bonds with these consumers through social media tactics leveraging high-profile advocates/influencers and with content conveying their unflinching environmental commitment. This strategic approach clearly served Grove Collaborative well, given that they secured a public listing on the NY Stock Exchange in just six short years since their founding.
Repositioning and repackaging for a bit of responsible indulgence.
While consumers want to do good for the earth, it is important that CPG brands not lose sight of the fact that these same shoppers also want their eco-friendly products to be functionally satisfying and bring a little something special to the table – essentials for driving repeat purchase. Waterdrop, which markets a line of naturally derived, vitamin-packed, exotic flavoring additives for water, along with beautiful re-useable water bottles, is disrupting the beverage category with this very strategy. Designed to fit through the neck of any re-useable water bottle, each delicious Waterdrop flavor cube encourages consumers to drink more water for better health and hydration, all while leaving the plastic bottles behind.
The brand cleverly took an existing concept (think Crystal Light flavoring in a little plastic bottle) then beautifully repackaged and strategically repositioned the idea to yield a sophisticated, environmentally responsible way for thinking about the fluids we consume. Insurgent and innovative, Waterdrop clearly did its homework by masterfully tapping into the cause-related emotions of eco- and health-conscious consumers who want to feel good about what they drink, all while engaging in a little bit of self-indulgence.
Scaling sustainable luxury.
Millennials and Gen-Zers are a force not only of the here and now, but also the future – and they hold brands to a higher environmental standard than do older generations. This means that to successfully appeal to the cause-related emotions of these shoppers, CPG brands must be willing to ‘walk the walk’ to establish real credibility and trusted market leadership in the eyes of this group. Aether Diamond, an award-winning climate tech startup, is becoming a force on this very front. Although not alone in the manufactured diamond market, Aether is truly a pioneer in that it set out with the purpose of creating a carbon negative diamond. By synthesizing CO2 directly from the atmosphere, Aether creates exceptional diamonds with clarity and color rivaling the top 2% of naturally occurring diamonds – all while removing 20 metric tons of CO2 from the air per carat produced.
Understanding that it takes more than a product with a claim to truly win over these consumers, the brand strategically built their positioning around the premise of the love between two people and love of the earth – a message that strongly resonates with Millennials and Gen Zers. With brand mission and commitment of this caliber, it is no wonder that Aether has been an honoree of Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Award for two consecutive years.
Having the right stuff to make a difference with the target audience.
No doubt, ability for smaller brands to successfully break into the flourishing ‘environmentally friendly’ market is no easy task – especially with many big CPG brands laden with large promotional and advertising budgets also jumping on the ‘eco-claim’ bandwagon. That said, smaller brands must work harder by first having a keen understanding of the experience the environmentally conscious consumer wants and expects from their purchase – both on a functional and emotional level. It means doing more than producing high-quality products but delivering meaningful impact that allows consumers to feel they are actively partaking in environmental solutions. It also takes careful cultivation of brand positioning and well-crafted messaging to form a credible connection with the growing bank of eco-conscious consumers. Finally, it requires willingness to ‘walk the walk’ to earn the status of trusted market leader by embracing the mission in ways beyond just making a claim.
Although vastly different, these three brands are clearly shaking up their respective categories in new and exciting ways – not just with their products, but with their commitment-driven, strategic purpose and value – emerging as category pioneers and leaders. Perhaps most interesting is that through their nimbleness and creativity, they have all taken a global concern, turned it on its head, and presented consumers with something they can feel good about, not just for themselves, but for the world.