'Conscious Consumerism,' More Marketing Jargon Or A Genuine Movement?

There must be something in the SXSW air that makes participants leave a session feeling energized, ready to go out there and take on the world (or work). Yeah! You’ve been to about ten sessions. Now you’ve got a bag of new tips and tricks: campaigns and case studies that you can go back to the office with and put into application, but is it really that easy? I have attended quite a few sessions mainly focused around social good marketing, diversity in tech and communicating authentically. But the one that has stood out thus far has been on conscious consumerism. And, as the session was rightly entitled, “Is “Conscious Consumerism” Just a Marketing Term?”

When I reflect on the type of products or services I consume, I probably wouldn’t consider myself a full-time “conscious consumer” just yet, but I’ve been leaning towards making conscious decisions. Yes, I like the idea of knowing that my new pair of funky green eyeglasses contributed to someone in need of eyewear, and so did the ones I bought two years ago, but was it the cost, the cause or the convenience that was most appealing? In reality, all three influence my purchase behavior, but the mission makes me more loyal to the cause.



As seasoned marketing executive, Diane Ridgway-Cross explains, conscious consumerism is being very mindful about the products we buy, the brands we choose to buy and the companies we buy from. A Nielsen study even goes further to say that the conscious consumer is willing to pay more for a product or service from companies that implement programs that give back to society.

Generation Y happens to be the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in U.S. history. So it’s no surprise to hear that millennials are exposed to more information, are more educated, and embrace social change, while recognizing the differences in each other. Apparently, a large majority of Generation Y’s expect the brands they buy to be a force of good. The panel made up of Anthony Marino, CMO of thredUP; Bentley Hall, CEO of Good Eggs; Jordan Glassberg, VP of Business Development at TOMS and Victoria Fiore, Director, Mission & Marketing at Plum Organics features companies that are striving to do just that. These executives manage and market mission-driven companies and balance the whole notion of purpose versus profits.

As Marino frankly put it, running a mission-driven / purpose-driven business is already difficult, and if a business does not generate some kind of profit, it doesn’t succeed. Part of a larger collaborative consumption movement, thredUp encourages consumers to live in a more collective, sharing economy. The company’s business model does not involve giving anything away, but rather, they address the broken cycle of: “buy things, forget about them, run out of space.” They change the way their customers live and how they consume. Good Eggs’ philosophy is to grow, partner with and sustain local food systems worldwide, while Plum Organics is a sustainable, baby food company focused on inspiring a lifetime of healthy eating. And well, we all know about TOMS. In its 10th year, it’s one of the top mission-driven companies out there, with its one-for-one giving model.  

So why does it all matter, especially to marketers and brands? According to the 2015 Conscious Consumer Spending Index, 64 percent of consumers feel it is important to buy goods or services from socially responsible companies, while 65 percent actually bought from these types of companies within the last year. These statistics have been steadily increasing from the years before. Though it’s become a bit cliché, we all know the power of the millennial dollar and the group’s increased call for brands and campaigns to be more authentic.

The aforementioned brands all agreed that there is a huge advantage seen in how a culture is built. The internal company messaging and ethos have to be consistent with external messaging. The energy of the people who work there towards the same goal and the culture all translate into what is projected externally. As opposed to trying to save the world, amplify the solvable problem that can easily translate and make it really easy for the consumer. They focus on social conversations, small gestures, elements of surprise and delight and email marketing that highlight customers’ upshots. Some of them do authenticity checks from procurement to packaging. Marketing materials show the give, but if applicable, also show the giving partner as well. What is interesting is that the focus is often taken away from the product and placed on the outcome, playing to what makes their audience tick. These brands all focus on the customer experience, creating fresh, uncomplicated cues along the journey, resulting in long-term brand loyalists and advocates who fall in love with brands with a purpose.

The conscious consumer represents change for the landscape. Startups, purpose-driven companies or brands that focus on female empowerment have an opportunity to really lead in this environment once they get commitment from their consumer. But for incumbent companies, where change is difficult and the goal is the bottom line, it may be about doing a deep dive into the truth, acknowledging that the business model may not change, but using their resources to get on a platform to figure out what they can do and how they can genuinely improve to benefit their consumers’ passion for purpose and for the greater good.
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