Commentary

Going Beyond The Most Affluent Is Critical For Conscious-Consumer Products

There is a trend in marketing right now chasing the “conscious consumer” – those consumers whose buying habits are often a reflection of their environmental, ethical and political concerns. The trend can be seen in everything from eco-friendly detergent to green homes to the slow food movement.

This trend carries with it a connotation of affluence – there is constant hand-wringing in the food world about how organic foods and produce often cost much more than their non-organic or processed equivalents. And while the conscious consumer is a prominent attitudinal trend, there is growing competition to deliver messages to the affluent. This means that marketing only to the wealthiest consumers is not enough to sustain a business, no matter how appealing the product.

Marketers pursuing the conscious consumer must broaden their base to pursue the mass affluent audience as well, leveraging increasingly sophisticated data sets to understand the values and beliefs of their consumers as well as their financial capacities.

To better understand how to broaden this audience, let’s look at the example of alternative energy, and home solar panels in particular. Reaching environmentally conscious consumers requires a story, and alternative energy has a good one to tell. It’s good for the environment, it helps consumers save money in the long run, and it’s trendy. But that doesn’t necessarily make it an easy sell. 

It’s safe to assume that a fairly high number of consumers want to cut their energy bills and save money, but that’s not enough to qualify them for a purchase with a high initial investment. It’s one thing to be a conscious consumer and buy goods that come in eco-friendly packaging, but it’s another to have the assets on hand to make a huge change. Not everyone who rides their bike to work can necessarily afford to place solar panels on their roof. 

Of course, when developing their marketing programs, alternative energy companies could pursue the most affluent neighborhoods and households in the country, but that creates a perception that this technology isn’t affordable. If environmentally responsible products are viewed as unobtainable, it will be harder to appeal to mass audiences.

The best strategy is to strike a balance, building marketing not around the wealthiest 1% in the country, but around the mass affluent. The environmentally conscious attribute is the initial qualifier, but the key is finding consumers who likely have liquidity and can make the up-front investment. The mass affluent are aware that the savings will take time, and it’s not primarily the savings that will convince them to purchase. Instead, it’s the story, and the idea that they can make a broader impact through a lifestyle change.

This can effectively turn the mass affluent into the trendsetter audience segment, with enough disposable income to break new ground and help define which products and services become popular with the general public. As more consumers buy in, new products and services become more affordable for mass market consumers. As an example, look at the hybrid car market, where affordability has gone from very exclusive to the mass affluent to the mainstream, with more hybrids on the road than ever before.

The conscious consumer segment is teaching us that a successful marketing strategy need not be limited to one tactic or a single qualifying audience attribute. Marketing to the affluent is shifting into something so much more refined than just identifying a consumer who might be able to afford a vacation or an auto lease. A brand’s story is equally as important as the consumers’ financial qualifications, especially when it comes to a product with a more-complicated sales cycle than grabbing a BPA-free water bottle off the shelf.

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