Marketing your responsible side: A differentiator for consumers

Marketing has always had a critical role in attracting and retaining customers, building brand and shaping product and service propositions. Shifts in consumer behaviour and expectations are now influencing not just what marketing does to grow your business, but how it does it to grow responsibly. Being responsible is increasingly a differentiator in a world of endless choice, transparency and consumer influence.

The rise of the conscientious consumer

The rise of ethical consumerism over the last two decades has been matched by the development of ethical products and brands - in everything from food to fashion - where purpose, values and consideration for the environment and broader societal needs are increasingly drivers of choice. This growth of ‘responsible’ brands that align with consumer values is likely to become even more mainstream according to PwC’s recent Global Consumer Insights Survey, which shows the rise of the ‘conscientious consumer’: a cohort of shoppers created during the pandemic who have changed their behaviour due to heightened health and safety concerns.

These findings are mirrored in a recent PwC Research QuantiBus survey of 1,000 shoppers, where 86% said it is ‘quite important or very important’ to purchase from a retailer with strong company values and who is committed to doing the right thing. Almost one in four consumers now rank a company’s values and ethics commitment to doing the right thing above price and quality when making purchase decisions. As noteworthy, 75% of shoppers see a company’s values as ‘quite important or very important’ in influencing any decision to share additional personal data.

This new group is willing to pay more for healthier, local and environmentally friendly options. It’s a trend we first highlighted back in May 2020, and one that continues to grow according to our latest Consumer Sentiment Survey. Their conscientiousness now extends to the environment and society at large, and their behaviours are unlikely to revert, even after safety concerns brought about by COVID-19 subside.

While being responsible or conscientious means different things to different brands, it must be much more than a positioning statement, compliance with accepted standards such as GDPR or supporting vulnerable or protected customers. Upholding these principles is of utmost importance, but a minimum requirement for a brand’s credibility.

In a sector where shoppers no longer have to balance trade-offs between convenience, price, ethics and quality, responsibility is increasingly central to the value exchange between retailer and consumer, particularly when it comes to the use of data and personalisation.

Marketing for responsible growth

Retail marketing has historically been geared around using customer data to understand buying behaviours to improve performance:, often to promote more products at a higher value to more customers. For many retailers, that process might have included mining a wealth of  transactional, footfall and customer engagement data to inform product promotion, pricing, display and merchandising that meets sales targets. While a degree of personalisation may provide more relevance, it isn’t necessarily always visible, obvious or what the customer wants.

Marketing for responsible growth is about turning that on its head and using data in the customer’s best interests. While it must still include more ethical, transparent and thoughtful targeting, as well as appropriate use of data, to be truly distinctive means much more than that.

Brands should look to differentiate themselves and drive loyalty by involving the customer in how they are targeted and engaged: helping them to understand consumption patterns, steering them towards products that are better for them, and away from those that are not. The PwC Research QuantiBus survey confirms 76% of consumers want to buy from retailers who actively help them make better or healthier lifestyle choices, so this change in approach must be an explicit part of the relationship and brand.

It’s an approach businesses such as GiffGaff have long championed, recommending customers change tariff if they are paying for more than they need. You only have to contrast the success of this approach against recent outcries against surge pricing models to see that consumers increasingly expect to benefit from the insight their needs and behaviours provide to brands.

As the ‘zoom effect’ with at-home workers continues to drive more digital shopping behaviours after lockdown restrictions are lifted, it offers potential for online grocery retailers. The convenience of repeatable baskets, favourites and offers provided by previous transaction data should extend into more intelligent customer dialogues, capturing additional insights on wants and needs to support recommending relevant healthier choices, cheaper, more sustainable, lower-calorie alternatives or plant-based products. There’s a real opportunity here for innovative retailers to convert shopping insight into genuine personalisation and differentiated service.

Ultimately, marketing for responsible growth is not just showing the products you think a customer wants, based on previous purchases. It’s using the insight and data you have - and are given - to improve experience and choices with their participation. Something that will ultimately inform better engagement, more chances for innovation and stronger, more loyal customer relationships.

Make consumers part of the process

Increasingly, we will expect the brands we trust to nudge us towards making better decisions: for ourselves, our community and society as a whole. They might reassure us that it’s okay to buy certain products at certain times, help offset other less sustainable purchases, and suggest cheaper or healthier alternatives. In turn, brands that can establish trust and loyalty are likely to get deeper insights and data from those customers that become champions.

Even greater trust and loyalty will then come from the responsible use of data. It will come from feeling known and understood by a brand and will be reinforced by experience: a seamless journey

that delivers the right products and information to a customer when they want it, how they expect it and in a way that delights them and allays their fears.

Those retailers that can make consumers part of the process and help them understand what they want - and deliver it to them - will put themselves in a strong position for the future.

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This article was also published in The Retailer, our quarterly online magazine providing thought-leading insights from BRC experts and Associate Members.