Sustainability has become a hot topic among both consumers and companies. Today, many companies recognise that doing business in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way is more important than ever. Sustainable Brand Index™ evaluates and analyses how consumers perceive a brands’ efforts within environmental and societal sustainability – but who is the consumer? How do they see sustainability? What are their values, attitudes and consumption patterns?
By analysing consumers’ attitudes and behaviours over time, we have been able to identify four consumer groups in relation to sustainability and companies. These different groups classify consumers according to their 'typical' characteristics and attitudes. Underlying these different consumer groups is the yearly and independent research of Sustainable Brand Index since 2011.
The first group, Ego, is usually a middle-aged man with traditional values and strong views about how society should function. He is self-centred and focused mainly on his own interests, his country and local community as well as his sports team. His education level is slightly below national average, but he has more money than the average consumer. His main consumption priorities are availability, simplicity, speed, and price. He shows little interest in sustainability.
Moderate makes up the majority of the population; they are the “ordinary citizen”. They are satisfied with life, but they sometimes worry about the development of the world. As a consumer, they pay attention to longevity, quality, and function as well as the price tag. Their interest in sustainability, while moderate, is increasing.
Smart is often a woman focused on her own well-being and health. She has high standards and high demands for products and services. Identification with the brand, quality, and service are important priorities. In her everyday life, she wants to make a difference through her choices, balancing decisions that are good for herself with decisions that are good for the world. Smart follows trends and events in society and the world. She is interested in sustainability, has strong opinions and likes to discuss sustainability with others.
Dedicated prioritises sustainability in all parts of its life. It is a person of any gender or age that weights every consumption decision carefully. They are interested in international relations, politics, and culture. They are well-read, inquisitive and avoid accepting information directly from companies. They assume companies are bad until proven otherwise. They are active on social media and like to engage with a company to voice their opinion.
Consumers are lagging behind
The development of these consumer groups are rather stable over time. Overall, the Moderate group is the largest in all countries researched in Sustainable Brand Index™.
While people discuss sustainability as much as last year, their interest in the topic develops more slowly than that of politicians and companies. Thus, it is important for stakeholders to push and engage consumers more when it comes to sustainability.
Ideally, consumers would move more towards the Smart group over time. The Smart Group is an important consumer group to focus on, as the Moderate group often follow Smart's behaviour.
A polarisation of society
Of all the countries researched in Sustainable Brand Index™, Norway has the largest Ego group. An explanation could be found in the large role of the welfare state and the large availability of natural resources (mostly, oil). With that consumers have the ability (or inability?) to disregard certain sustainability issues. The Netherlands, in contrast, has the smallest Ego group and the largest group of Dedicated consumers, closely followed by Sweden.
At the same time, we see a polarisation of the market. After years of shrinking, the Ego-Group suddenly grew again in 2016, while the Moderate group declined steadily between 2015 and 2017. In the same years, the Smart Group grew, as did the Dedicated group, although more slowly.
Smart consumers drive sustainability issues, while Ego consumers might feel that sustainability is given too much importance. This is a consequence of concern about societal issues, such as immigration and integration. Societal challenges increase people’s insecurities and they then tend to focus more on their family and themselves.
Insights into consumer behaviour and how interest in sustainability (or lack thereof) affects brand attitudes is an important strategic tool for branding, communication and decision-making.
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