Consumers increasingly concerned about brand ethics

Old models of CSR no longer fit the demands of increasingly savvy consumers and companies that wish to woo the growing number of ethical shoppers need to rethink their strategies.

Sharon Greene, managing director of consultancy RISC International, spoke to edie about the need to engage consumers by understanding their motivations, rather than 'talking down' to them and assuming the brand knows best.

She said that the internet had empowered consumers and shown them how to join forces with others who might share their frustrations about a brand.

"20 years ago people would say 'I don't like it but what difference can I make'," she said.

"But today people are connected and a motivated person can mobilise other people."

She added that it is important to be aware that consumers are not going to stop buying the things they want any time soon, as for many shopping and acquiring new things would always remain a pleasure.

But while consumption will inevitably continue, consumers are being increasingly motivated by ethical decisions and, where the choice was offered and quality remained high, would often opt for the more ethical brand.

She said it was a mistake to pigeonhole consumers as being focused on a single issue, as the majority of people were now aware, and concerned about, a whole range of issues from the environmental to the social.

Companies wanting to succeed in this arena needed to listen and respond, developing real relationships with their potential customers and would have to embed ethical practices deeper within their operations.

She held up Cadbury's as one example of a company that had got it right, by making its Dairy Milk brand fair trade, rather than offering an alternative 'ethical' chocolate bar at a premium price.

"The consumer gets to feel good about buying a product they might have bought anyway," she said.

She also argued that ethical did not have to mean more expensive, and cited examples of the many companies that had cut their costs by looking at this agenda, from those who had achieved lower energy bills for those trying to cut their carbon emissions to those who had increased productivity on agricultural land through better engagement with farmers.

Sam Bond



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