Marketing to the Conscious Consumer

woman with shopping bag
CC BY 2.0 Caitlin Regan

At TerraCycle, we are often approached by brands vying for the attention of the conscious consumer. In all of this rush, few brands have taken the time to really characterize this new target. Who exactly is the conscious consumer anyway?

Conscious consumers can be difficult to classify, as they can’t simply be identified by ethnicity, age, gender, or socioeconomic status. The conscious consumer is not as focused on price. Instead, they are focused on how their everyday purchases affect the larger political and environmental landscape. They are label-readers and fact-checkers; they are the brand-ambassadors and brand-trashers; they are the bloggers and the “sharers” on social media. Aligning brand marketing to capture this consumer segment requires a meticulously crafted strategy that includes a plan for authentic action.

When sitting down with partners who are approaching this consumer for the first time, I advise them to think about their PR and marketing campaigns only after nailing down the actual plan of action. That is, what has the brand done, or what is the brand trying to do, to make the world a better place? In other words, organizations boasting environmental or social stewardship are best served when following bold claims with equally bold actions.

The oil giant BP is a case-in-point example of what not to do. Back in 2000, the company launched a $200 million campaign to seemingly reinvent themselves as a clean, green brand that considered alternatives “Beyond Petroleum.” This entire campaign, which seemed absurd from the start, came on the coattails of a $45 million acquisition of Solarex, a solar energy company. You read that right: BP spent $200 million to tell the world of their $45 million “green” investment. Conscious consumers were enraged, and they took to blogging and trashing BP’s questionable campaign from day one. The conscious community boycotted BP long before the Gulf of Mexico fiasco, which only added another 150 million gallons of fuel to their fire. This disaster, combined with conscious consumer disgust, even led to BP’s removal from the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

Green Fire Productions/CC BY 2.0

Had BP followed their campaign with an aggressive strategy to make renewable energy a quantifiable percentage of their overall portfolio, they could have transformed the conscious consumer from a squeaky wheel to a loyal customer. At the end of the day, even a Prius needs to fill up its tank.

There is a growing niche of new businesses that have built their organizations with larger social or environmental missions in mind. Brands such as Clif Bar and Tom’s of Maine are prime examples of conscious consumer brands. Each organization was built, from inception, on pillars of social and environmental stewardship. Staying true to this mission has allowed them to grow from boutique brands to national leaders in their category.

Founded in 1904, Garnier has a long history of making lines of personal care and beauty products made using all-natural ingredients. However, it wasn’t until the last 10 years that Garnier revamped its marketing platform to communicate to consumers those natural ingredient products and the brand's larger mission of environmental stewardship.

Immediately upon launching their Pure Clean product line intended “For a Cleaner, Greener World,” conscious consumers put Garnier under the microscope. These conscious investigators found biodegradable ingredients, more eco-friendly packaging, and the absence of harsh chemicals still common in similar products.

After building their marketing platform on the success of their low-impact product lines, they followed with even more real action. Not only did Garnier sponsor a recycling program for their hard-to-recycle product category (cosmetics), but they also turned that waste into the building blocks for a community garden.

The key to Garnier’s success was incorporating authentic action, followed by marketing, followed by even more authentic action. When comparing BP to Garnier, BP made no real change in product or mission, but still dove into aggressive conscious consumer marketing. Garnier on the other hand created an entirely new product line just for the conscious community and communicated quantifiable changes to their business platform, both in the formula and in their recycling initiatives. When comparing Clif Bar and Tom’s of Maine to Garnier, we see entirely different business structures that ultimately converge on the idea that the only real way to gain value in the conscious community is through genuine action. Doing good, does good.

Tags: Consumerism | Corporate Responsibility | Greenwashing