Meeting Consumers' Emerging Values

A new consumer trend has been evolving. Some have dubbed it "precycling." I call it "pre-thinking recycling." It's important for marketers to take note of this trend because it goes to a fundamental shift in consumer values.

People are paring down and simplifying their lives. Consumers are increasingly selective about the products they purchase. "Excess" is causing revulsion, prompting consumers to purchase fewer products and more in bulk; then to repurpose as much as they can. Even trendsetters are reorienting their lifestyles to eliminate unnecessary waste. Good news for the environment and overflowing landfills.

These ideas have been embraced by the environmentally conscious for decades. Recently, though, this trend has caught fire with more mainstream consumers than ever before. Even before this economic downturn.

For one thing, consumers are buying far less bottled water. They're buying in bulk or filtering their tap water to refill their own containers. They're using canvas shopping bags to avoid plastic and even paper bags. More people are reading their news online, eschewing newspapers and magazines. A popular organization called Greendimes enables consumers to sign up on its site to reduce the junk mail they receive, saving tons of paper.

Eco-conscious consumers are using washable dinnerware again and cloth napkins to cut down on paper waste. And the cleansers they're using are gentle, yet effective natural cleaners to avoid toxicity in their homes, allergic reactions and asthma in their families, and pollutants in the waste stream.

All of these measures save precious natural resources. They also cut down dramatically on materials that have to be recycled or dumped in landfills. Given these trends, companies should analyze how they're doing business, and reexamine their product offerings to see what they can do to meet consumers' emerging value expectations.

As consumers purchase fewer products, businesses need to start rethinking their strategies. It's survival of the fittest time. At a time when brand loyalties are plummeting, eco-conscious brands are giving consumers reasons to believe.

Implementing measures from an environmental stand-point makes more sense than ever. Better yet: costs can be cut in many cases, making product offerings more price competitive, bolstering bottom lines and - allowing companies to tell consumers a great story.

Making products from renewable or recycled materials as much as possible is a great option. Using recycled paperboard, plastics or biodegradable materials for packaging and shipping cartons makes sense, too, as does the use of biodegradable inks. Doing away with extraneous packaging saves money and cuts down on waste.

By concentrating products where applicable, and making them more efficacious, smaller packaging is required, cutting down on pack sizes and/or weight, making them more energy efficient to ship. Offering refills to consumers so that they can reuse containers over and over again is an old idea whose time has come again. Suggesting ideas to consumers on how to repurpose products and packaging is another idea. Companies like TerraCycle do that themselves.

Now when the economy is making it hard to do anything as usual, brands and products marketed in an authentic eco-conscious manner enable marketers to respond to emerging culturally driven values meaningfully. Companies can reposition their brands to be in sync with the communities they're doing business in and offer greater perceived value to consumers than their competitors do.

Social responsibility, transparency and environmental values are resonating with consumers. Companies that work toward honestly stated, specific goals without "green-washing" will stand to profit, in every sense of the word.

Consumers are increasingly attuned to brands that are doing something positive for the planet ... because that's where their values are increasingly headed.

6 comments about "Meeting Consumers' Emerging Values ".
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  1. Derek Vogel from Vogel Designs, August 26, 2009 at 1:54 p.m.

    I'm trilled that our culture is trending toward more responsible and conservative (read: conservation, not politics) habits. It will mean a smaller, but much more healthy economy. The environmental trend the author cites is also hard proof that government mandated policies (Cap and Trade) are completely unnecessary. The free market and society at large will drive innovation and adoption. TerraCycle and many others are great examples of this.

  2. Andrea Learned from Learned On, LLC, August 26, 2009 at 2:26 p.m.

    Marketers should "respond to emerging culturally driven values meaningfully." This is the way it should always have been, but brands continue to need these reminders - to respond, in general, to consumer values *meaningfully*. Those who buy products are absolutely forcing the issue now. Brands that respond early and honestly, openly revealing their steps in a more eco-aware direction, will get a lot of attention. They'll also gain the edge in building a longer term trust.

  3. Robert Sawyer, August 26, 2009 at 3:01 p.m.

    A credible article but not "precycling" is not news and I would consider it a given in any brand discussion circa 2009. The real desires here are not hidden. First, the foremost driver of consumer behavior is the state of the economy, which for the great majority of consumer remains troublesome at best, and painful at worst. Restricting or altering one's habit have less to do with brand loyalty—consumers are not so much rejecting their favorite brands as they are making concessions to new realities. The same is true for buying in bulk or driving out of their way to buy gas at Costco. These and other new consumer habits have an number of unforeseen negative impacts on the economy—from shifting the costs related to redesigning packaging, to the consumer, and to cutting profits of companies that supply the raw materials for packaging. Each will in different ways account for increases in prices and/or new reduced sizes of in standardized packaging. What remains inherently true, as Ratushny points out, is that people, in general, are more conscious of waste and find it increasingly abhorrent. Saying this, what is also true is that people have also, and will continue to discover the different ways in which excess and waste costs them in any number of hidden fees and taxes.

  4. Robert Sawyer, August 26, 2009 at 3:06 p.m.

    I also would like to say that I agree with Derek Vogel's thoughts regarding consumers habits changing without the incentive or disincentive of government-mandated policies, i.e., cap & trade. I also believe the free-market informed by enlightened self interest will continue to drive innovation and the adoption of smarter, "greener," buying decisions.

  5. Brooke Farrell, August 27, 2009 at 11:52 a.m.

    If you like the idea of driving innovation and reusing materials like TerraCycle - check out We're helping companies in a wide variety of industries reduce their waste and costs. Using one company's waste as another company's raw material opens up great opportunities to improve the environmental and economic impact.

  6. Rodney Brooks from ToTouch One, Inc, September 2, 2009 at 4:18 p.m.

    Are people really interested in “Going Green”…The Answer is only if it is convenient.

    I just started a home business and represent a Wellness Company. We offer physical wellness and environmental wellness. As I have begun to talk with people about it, I find that they are all jazzed about their health and the environment. They get the BIG picture about nutrients that make you body stronger and healthier. They get that caustic chemicals in their laundry soap and dishwashing soap are bad. They want to be healthier and they should do something about the environment…but when it is time to place an order, it becomes a very different story.

    “I have spent years with Brand X and it does the job”… “My mother said this is the best product she has ever used”… “My dishes are clean, why do I need to change?” … “My body has gotten use to these, I don’t think I need to change” and the lists go on and on as they jump into their hybrid and drive away. Is it all just lip service?

    I guess my question is - Do people really care about this or is it something they heard from someone else and it is trendy to talk about? Or is Going Green, no matter now convenient, really that hard a mindset change?

    Am I asking the wrong question or expecting too much?

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