The different demands on brands and their sustainability
Over the past few years, sustainability has become a prominent trend due to noticeable climate change and the efforts of the Fridays for Future movement. It has now influenced almost all aspects of life and significantly impacted our lifestyle. The challenges and experiences that society has faced due to the pandemic, war in Europe, inflation, and natural disasters such as those in the Ahr Valley have also contributed to people’s desire for a secure future and a more conscious lifestyle.
The crucial question is whether this desire for a sustainable lifestyle will remain a mere wish or result in action and a change in behavior. During the pandemic, the willingness to engage in a more sustainable lifestyle and even spend more money on it has increased, particularly among the younger generation. However, according to a 2022 survey by EY-Parthenon, 51% of respondents are now more concerned about the rising cost of living due to inflation, putting climate change and pollution on the back burner. The study also revealed that 58% of Gen Z is willing to adjust their behavior to live a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, but interestingly, this percentage is surpassed by Baby Boomers at 72%. This intriguing result is worth examining more closely by looking at the different generations.
Generations in comparison
We cannot and should not reduce individuals to their birth year and stereotypes. However, it can be useful to take a more general approach to understanding different generations.
While there is much discussion about the current “last generation” fearing for the future and taking drastic measures, we must also consider those who grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, forest dieback, Chernobyl, the ozone hole, polluted rivers, and not to forget the people in East Germany who had to find their way in a completely new system after German reunification because the country they grew up in no longer existed. Each generation has its unique history and values that should not be overly generalized.
Nevertheless, different experiences result in varying demands for brands and sustainability practices, which, in turn, impact consumer behavior.
Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, have witnessed significant social and cultural changes. They are often loyal customers who prefer traditional brands they know and trust. This generation values structure and stability and is generally hesitant to embrace change. They prioritize quality and may be willing to pay more for products that meet their needs. Concerning sustainability, they prefer brands that are trustworthy, credible, and environmentally conscious in their production processes.
According to the study “Shaping the Future Together” by the Prognos Institute and Kantar Public, baby boomers are more sustainable in their behavior compared to Gen Z. The study found that 81% of baby boomers waste less food, water, and energy and avoid plastic bags to reduce waste. Additionally, 49% are foregoing air travel for the environment. This frugality is attributed to their personal history and their childhood and youth not being characterized by abundance.
Gen X, born between 1965 and 1979, is described as pragmatic and self-sufficient. Having grown up in a time of social and economic turbulence, they are adaptable and independent. Due to their external circumstances, they often see changes as opportunities. While less brand-conscious than baby boomers, they remain loyal to their preferred brands. Quality is a significant factor, and they may be willing to pay more for products that meet their needs. Gen X considers the environmental impact of products and prefers brands that communicate their sustainability goals.
Millennials, or Gen Y, born between 1980 and 1995, are digital natives and confident in the digital world. They prefer brands committed to social and environmental sustainability. A work-life balance is particularly important to them, unlike the older generations. They also value a seamless omnichannel customer experience and favour brands that use social media and digital channels effectively. Gen Y values flexibility and self-actualisation, has a relaxed work style and advocates for change, which they view as improvement. They are tech-savvy and prefer communication via social media and online platforms. Diversity and inclusion are essential values, and they often support social justice causes. Gen Z, born between 1995 and 2012, shares many of these characteristics.
A survey conducted by McKinsey & Company in 2021 revealed that 75% of Gen Z consumers prefer personalised and authentic brand experiences. Growing up in a fast-paced technological world with social media at their fingertips has resulted in a new type of consumer behaviour that differs greatly from previous generations. According to a study conducted by ECC Cologne in 2022, “Future Needs of Generation Z”, consumers in this generation have a desire for sustainable consumption, but without having to make significant sacrifices. This is a challenging goal to achieve and often overwhelms this group. Purchases are frequently made spontaneously at the point of sale, with price often taking precedence over sustainability, despite their values. Gen Z values social justice and sustainability and considers change to be natural. As digital natives, they shop through multiple channels and prefer brands that provide personalised experiences and share their values. Brands that are committed to social and environmental issues, are transparent, and take active measures to reduce their impact on the environment are highly preferred. According to a study conducted by the Prognos Institute in collaboration with Kantar Public, 62% of Gen Z consumers pay attention to reducing food waste, while 34% avoid air travel. However, these numbers are significantly lower than those of the baby boomers, suggesting that Gen Z identifies and raises concerns but needs support in addressing them or expects help from older generations. Although there are differences in values and expectations of sustainability from brands, each consumer within a generation differs individually. The willingness to change is present across generations, but consumers are less willing to spend more due to the increased cost of living. Consumers who desire to live more sustainably face a challenge, and brands can play an active role in helping their customers achieve their personal sustainability goals.
Generational needs and preferences
To effectively target different generations, it’s important for companies to understand their specific needs and purchasing behaviors. Conducting research can help identify what each target group values in products, communication, packaging, and design.
For instance, if baby boomers prioritize reducing food waste, sustainable packaging design should take this into account. Packaging could be resealable to support this goal, and reusable packaging that allows for a second use can appeal to this generation.
On the other hand, Gen Z is concerned about environmental issues like climate change and pollution. They prefer environmentally friendly packaging with minimalist designs, and tend to support brands that are committed to sustainability. Given that this group makes more spontaneous purchases, the sustainability aspect of packaging and branding should be quickly and easily recognizable. It’s also important that packaging design communicates proper disposal information clearly, so that sustainability goals are fulfilled not just at the point of purchase but also through proper recycling.
Additional information regarding the sustainability of a brand is highly valued by Gen X, who prefer to gather information both online and offline to ensure they are making the right purchase decision. This can be achieved through the use of QR codes on packaging, although it is crucial that the link behind the code leads to the correct landing page. All age groups appreciate products with reduced packaging materials, as well as materials that require less energy and resources to produce, and are easily recyclable or biodegradable.
Packaging is just one part of the consumer journey and brands cannot rely solely on packaging to communicate their sustainability efforts. In order to show more transparency and provide consumers with more information, brands can use other communication channels in addition to packaging. Generation Y in particular values a seamless omni-channel approach and honest and authentic communication across all relevant touchpoints can be the right way to win over this target group.
To avoid being accused of greenwashing, it is crucial for brands to be transparent about their sustainability initiatives and progress towards achieving them. Even if their entire production process is not yet fully sustainable, it is still important to demonstrate that they take environmental protection seriously and adhere to environmental and social standards or sustainability standards such as FSC or Cradle to Cradle. Certifications that attest to their sustainability efforts can provide transparency and help build trust with consumers who prioritize sustainable products and seek support in their efforts to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.
How does sustainability affect customer loyalty and brand love?
Sustainability is a crucial factor in building and increasing customer loyalty towards a brand. Modern-day consumers don’t just want to purchase products; they seek an experience with a brand that they can trust and remain loyal to. They demand proof that the brand they trust is not causing harm to the environment but rather improving it. By committing to sustainable products and processes, a brand can build long-term customer loyalty and show its customers that their trust is well-placed. It is essential to communicate the brand’s sustainability efforts through relevant touchpoints and answer any sustainability-related questions that consumers might have. This way, consumers will identify more closely with the brand and build a stronger emotional connection with it. Ultimately, brand sustainability leads to higher customer loyalty, increased sales, enhanced customer satisfaction, and more growth. In conclusion, sustainability is a critical factor in cultivating customer loyalty and brand love.
In general, it can be concluded that sustainability plays a crucial role in consumers’ purchasing decisions, and companies that demonstrate their commitment to sustainability have the potential to enhance their market position. Nevertheless, it is essential to comprehend the demands and choices of diverse generations and consider them in product innovation, packaging design, and communication strategies.
Sevil Hoppmann, Business Development Director
For almost 25 years Sevil Hoppmann has been working for and with well-known brand owners and retailers in Europe, supporting them in staging their brands and achieving a homogenous market presence at all touch points of the customer journey. The expansion of our portfolio and the achievement of highest customer satisfaction are particularly important to her. As Business Development Director at SGK, she is responsible for increasing sales in Continental Europe.
Source from sgkinc.com
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