Companies are recognising that consumers are attracted to brands who do more than just tell them how great they are. Brands with a purpose rate more highly in the EQ stakes (for more about EQ/Emotional Quotient read my blog here).
Your brand marks you out
The legacy of a brand’s actions can get in the way of its being convincing to consumers today. ‘We will be carbon neutral by 2030’ or ‘committed to reducing unnecessary plastic by 2025’ are platitudinous examples of brands blindly following the crowd.
More and more, manufacturers and service providers must realise that setting a distant target for performance improvement is not good enough. Here are a few examples of why.
Brands make all manner of declarations to persuade consumers they are doing their bit to reduce plastics in the environment.
In 2018, Coca Cola pledged to recycle a used bottle or can for each one they sell by 2030. Every year Coca Cola turns more than three million tonnes of plastic into bottles and sells over 100 billion single use plastic bottles.
Surfers Against Sewage, an environmental action charity, collects waste products washed up on the beaches around the UK and records the brands it finds. They’ve been doing this for over a decade. Coca Cola was, and remains, the single most present brand of plastic rubbish around our coastline.
Consumers will eventually see the disquieting connection, as they’re kicking a Coke bottle down the beach, between the company’s commitment to recycling plastic and their continued production of more and more.
Other, newer drinks brands are already positioned to offer alternatives.
The UK government says that it expects to see a 50% reduction in human consumption of beef and lamb by 2050. ‘Plant-based’ and vegan foods are now available in every supermarket. There was a joke that went, ‘how do you know when there’s a vegan at the table? They’ll tell you.’ It’s not a joke anymore.
To a business making meat products, the timeline above leaves a comfortable distance until they need to worry about revenue contraction. But, between now and 2050, the same company will see a new CEO at least three times, and a change in CMO 10-15 times.
If consumers are making changes to their eating habits now, what should the company do? If it’s a good idea in 2050, it’s a good idea to consider it now.
McKinsey tells us that 60% of all clothing finds its way into landfills or incinerators within a year of being made. Within a year. Staggering. At the same time, production of clothing is up by 100% since 2014 and consumers are each buying 60% more clothing.
The Ellen McArthur Foundation tells us that 20% of global industrial water pollution comes from dyeing and treating textiles, and in 2015, carbon emissions from textile manufacture were measured at 1.2 billion tonnes.
To anyone with an interest in change, these figures are extraordinary.
Most high-street consumers aren’t that bothered and clothing brands are very happy taking their money now, despite what the brand’s future environmental intentions may be. Brands such as Know The Origin and Vildnis however, are emerging as sustainable, affordable fashion businesses and starting to get consumers’ attention.
If it’s a good idea for 2050, it’s a good idea for now.
Businesses who genuinely want to make a difference, grow a point of differentiation, and help consumers to do the right thing are emerging every day.
While established brands use bland, time-based statements of intent to persuade consumers their hearts are in the right place, challenger brands are making more immediate declarations and winning market share. This is how change-making companies with an interest in growth must also behave.
Why is Design Thinking useful?
The methodology of Design Thinking puts consumers at the front and centre of product design decisions. The purpose of innovation is to offer them new and better alternatives than are available today. The purpose of room44 is to help business to survive and thrive into the future.
You probably know that your company will have changed by 2025/2030/2050. It’s likely that you’re putting off the work that should be done to work out what it will change into.
As I said at the top of this article, if it’s a good idea for 2050, it’s a good idea for now.
If we can be helpful to you, let’s talk. Here’s my diary.
Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.
This may be a bit uncomfortable for some of you, so let’s start by talking about something that many people find funny.
I’m from Cornwall, and for many years there’s been a small but vocal movement for Cornish independence from the UK. Funny? It depends who you are and what your perspective is.
When Brexit first became a thing, some Yorkshire folk decided that it too had a claim for independence. ‘YEXIT’ was floated, and the arguments for its ability to stand alone sound pretty good: a population close to that of Denmark, a larger economy than some entire EU nations, and Yorkshire athletes won more medals than Canada in the Rio Olympics. Amusing? Not to Yorkshire. To the rest of us? Maybe, but stranger things have happened.
How we choose to look at issues reflects our perspective.
Here’s another one: according to a Hubbub, UK consumers buy, use and throw away 11 billion pieces of single-use packaging a year, and that’s just for lunch. That’s the equivalent of 276 pieces of plastic for every person in the UK – every year. On average, more than one piece of plastic every working day per person. Which kind of cancels out the argument that individuals can’t make a difference.
Now, as a consumer, I know that none of us wants to be responsible for plastic waste, but we do want to eat. The opportunities to use and refill our own food savers, reusable cups and rented tiffin cans are growing. The opportunities for buying single-use plastics are not yet decreasing, but they will.
Logically, the pressure on consumer behaviour and the financial penalties that will come to bear on the plastics supply chain will squeeze companies whose entire output is of plastic.
Most of these companies are still bullish. They think this is a problem for tomorrow because, today, their customers are supporting them. Phrases I’ve borrowed before are apposite again here:
- The difference between animals and humans is our ability to deny reality.
- When consumers stop buying crap, they’ll stop making crap.
Plastic manufacturers, on their websites, are still saying things like:
“We’re global specialists in packaging for food and drink, dedicated to making every consumer experience enjoyable, consistent, and safe. Our purpose is to help great products reach more people, more easily.”
“Make food look great.”
“A leading global design and engineering company in plastic products.”
With some simple research, you can see who is working to introduce pulp-based products and where the focus on plastic is still a priority. There remains a lot of ‘selling what we can make’ rather than ‘making what we can sell’ embedded in the psychology of these businesses.
In business, the CSuite is where strategic decisions are sanctioned. The Chief Marketing Officer is probably the person who gets to assess the options a company has. Every company needs someone in this position to battle against inherent short-termism that always bubbles to the surface when targets and financial planning are the focus.
Unfortunately, according to Seth Godin, the average tenure of a Chief Marketing Officer is about eighteen months. About the same amount of time a CEO takes to realise that there is no easy fix to the corner her or his plastic producing machines are in. Ironically, the person with the long-term strategic brain is the person your company is most likely to lose the quickest.
Whether you have a desire to change your business attitude to consumers’ and environmental issues, or you simply need to nail a new direction to the wall for everyone to buy into, you may well stumble at the first hurdle – picking exactly what to invest in, out of the noise in your market. Luckily, this is what we do.
Future thinking. Future-proofing.
Get in touch. Time is ticking.
Presenting at a trade event gets the creative juices flowing. Sometimes this can be a good thing. Sometimes it leads to other ideas.
This is what happened this week. I was invited to present a short deck at Pro2Pac at London’s Excel. Appended to the annual IFE show, Pro2pac is a mash-up of machine and packaging manufacturers alongside smaller brands of, sometimes, niche and regional food products. It brings together a compelling mix of people and ideas.
My agenda time slot was titled ‘identifying and addressing consumer needs through intelligent design’.
My abstract read like this: Trends across consumer behaviour strongly signal that plastic packaging has lost its place in the hearts and minds of shoppers.
As Generation Z becomes more of a force in the buying community, companies grown and built on the belief that plastics present the best way of shipping CPGs and Produce, over long distance and in the extended supply chain, are being challenged.
How do we break the cycle that causes consumer frustration at the apparent apathy demonstrated by the packaging industry and its perceived lack of preparedness to accept responsibility for the change that is, in some peoples’ eyes, inevitable?
Already I can feel hackles rising amongst plastic packaging producers. So here’s my point: whatever output and efficiency targets incumbent producers need to hit to make money, how ever much the packaging industry tells us that we need plastic nets around oranges or seven-element packaging to make a pot of soup look premium, or a bag around bananas, or plastic wraps around trays of mushrooms… consumers know they don’t. Retailers may prefer pre-packaged goods to make the supply chain more efficient and to manage, their definition of, food waste within the system that the packaging industry and they have created – but consumers don’t NEED it.
With this single, unavoidable ‘black elephant*’ the packaging industry is losing the hearts and minds of consumers.
During my presentation, I referenced the work that is being done in class rooms with Key Stage 1 to 3 students in schools right now. Educating children about the impact of avoidable plastic usage and even more serious environmental concepts is having an effect.
Generation Z has received this information and the recent Greta Thunberg inspired schools strikes are an illustration of a change in the wind; new consumers beginning to make their feelings felt.
Not to put too fine a point on it, there’s a sentiment building.
With industry so hung-up on Millennials as the largest shopping age group, it’s no surprise that subsequent segments aren’t front of mind. For reasons of sustainability, yours and everyone else’s, Gen. Z should be. Do you even know what age Gen.Z is?
My presentation at #Pro2pac was along these lines. As an identified trend, age-specific shifts in attitudes towards consumerism is as clear as day. It’s signalled and is being shouted from all segments of your consumer audience. Resist all you like but if you don’t adapt and change, your business will feel it.
I’ve drawn a quick infographic that sums up this concept and you can get it here. It’s called ‘Who will you sell your packaging to?’ Have a look. I’m interested to talk to you if you agree with this sentiment. I’m more interested to speak to you if you don’t.
To talk about how we can help you re-envisage your product design strategy, we’re a call away and this link will drop time into my diary. Let’s talk soon.
*The Black Elephant is combination of boardroom clichés: the Elephant in the Room, the thing which everyone knows is important, but no one will talk about; and the Black Swan, the hard-to-predict event which is outside the realm of normal expectations, but has enormous impact.