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The Ethical Consumer – 5 Steps to Market Your Sustainable Brand

Who is the Ethical Consumer? Marketers know that if you want to sell your product successfully, you have to understand your customer. When it comes to the ethical consumer, marketers are facing a special challenge because oftentimes, they are confusingly contradictory.

Sociologists discovered the “attitude-behaviour gap” describing consumers saying one thing but doing another. They say they are concerned about social and environmental issues but do not put this attitude into action.

In this context — if you want to market your product to ethical consumers effectively — understanding your customers becomes an even greater imperative.

So what exactly is there to consider and how can you turn situational complexity into an opportunity? Follow these 5 steps for effective marketing:

Step 1: Give moral orientation

This is the most important point. It is helpful to recall that ethical consumers are very interested in issues that have negative impact on societies and the environment but still don’t know everything. You can help educating them while positioning yourself at the same time.

Tell them how their purchase will make a difference in that specific moral issue. It’s also important as consumers generally do not believe they can make a difference. Take this as a chance to inform about your industry, the trends and where you take your standpoint.

This also means putting good thought into your online presence and packaging. Consumers rely on product labelling and are more likely to examine your packaging, even small print, and read your website. Don’t forget to communicate essential facts and initiatives.

Industry-specific certificates give orientation, too. In Germany, certificates such as PEFC and FSC are important to have when it comes to products and packaging made of wood or paper.

Step 2: Identify which ethical issues are important

In Germany packaging of food and goods gains more and more traction in mainstream discussions. PwC Germany conducted a research showing that 45% of the German consumers feel that producers are primarily in charge of reducing unnecessary packaging material, especially in regard to food packaging.

Companies have to identify which ethical issues matter to their customers and ensure they address and communicate them without causing too much discomfort. Emphasize on an issue that is in line with the issue your customer cares about. As a first step, look for local research reports online as “ethical issues” vary from country to country.

Step 3: Engage with your customers

If you want to address the issue of sustainable packaging, engage with your stakeholders through social media, personally or on trade fairs and events and ask them about their expectations and comparable role models. Engaging means also to make an effort to understand their mindset.

Where are ethical consumers buying food and other goods? In Germany, Berlin is leading in sustainable commerce, so taking a closer look at the shops and the products displayed will give you valuable insights into local decorum.

The feedback you receive from your customer is invaluable, as they are naturally interested and supportive when it comes to a good cause. Also, don’t forget that there are more stakeholders you can address besides customers: government, employees, media, community.

Step 4: Communicate all you have

In Germany, brand loyalty is an important factor as Germans tend to be very loyal towards brands they trust. You can assume, once you have won a German customer and delivered to your promise of quality he will not change his mind that easily. If your product addresses your customer’s concern of sustainable packaging, he is happy to pay a little more — as long as he knows.

Whatever cause you are supporting with your brand, communicate it wherever possible. If your product is exploitation-free, free of animal testing, fair trade, organic, or based on any philosophy such as zero-waste, cradle-to-cradle, make sure customers are aware.

It is an opportunity you can always leverage in your communications. And remember not only to say what you are doing but why. The “why” has the potential to capture your customers and you can expect them to be very loyal if their personal values are addressed and reflected in their purchase.

Step 5: Get used to storytelling

The “Berliner Stadtwerke” (municipal utility) apply storytelling in their latest image campaign to communicate that they are supplying the city with 100% green energy. Even without understanding the video, the effect of storytelling is clear: they have found a funny, likeable and relatable (!) way of transporting an in itself fairly dull message: energy supply of a city.

In case you don’t know yet: storytelling as a marketing tool is your secret weapon. Whereas conventional companies have already discovered storytelling as an effective way to convey a message — because it gets to your emotions — storytelling comes naturally to ethical brands because the cause isthe story and sustainability is a lifestyle. We advise to form your key message based on the impact you want to create with your product and look for ways to gift wrap it through storytelling.

The Dilemma of Ethical consumers

Why does the earlier mentioned attitude and behaviour diverge in the first place?

Psychologists have found a number of explanations for the gap, including the fact that many factors must be considered to explain consumer behaviour, especially the complexity of situations where consumers are deciding what to buy. Factors like information overload, social pressure, limitations in market accessibility and habits that are hard to overcome.

Nowadays, decisions are made in a heterogeneous environment that can lead to confusion and lack of orientation. In essence, ethical consumers want to feel like they are making an impact or difference in the world and it is up to you in which degree you will help them to fulfill this endeavour.

Bringing these principles into action and really following through on them should help you to focus on that goal. The goal to serve your customers better and make more impact in the end.