Businesses may appear to be at the mercy of consumption trends. If the current market favors a product, consumers will buy it, but if the market is on the decline, businesses are unable to do anything to salvage their revenue.
Actually, businesses have far more power in influencing consumer behavior, and thus consumer trends by extension. Research has suggested that consumers can be influenced by factors in three main categories: psychological, personal and social. These factors affect how a person responds to advertising and whether they decide to make a purchase. To increase the chances that a potential customer buys a product, companies employ marketing strategies which aim to convince certain target groups that the product is worth buying. As such, it is important for each business to carefully analyze their customers’ needs so that they can create more effective marketing campaigns.
In the past, various products have been at the forefront of innovation, being the first of their kind to enter the market, and convincing people that they have a need for the product. For instance, before the advent of Apple, there were no sleek and compact technological gadgets. People were accustomed to using bulky and large computers that were not so up-market and focused less on user experience. However, Apple rocked the world when it released the iPhone and Macintosh. Although the concept of designer devices was new, consumers readily embraced the idea, realizing that the user experience was what they had been missing in their devices all along. Thus began the focus on designer gadgets, driving consumers and businesses alike to adapt to the new status quo. Today, new jobs specializing in user experience have sprung up. Almost all technological devices are made to be aesthetically pleasing. Still the consumers demand more, all because one company started the trend.
Of course, not all businesses operate on such a large scale. Even so, they can still influence consumer decisions in their own ways by marketing products characterized by what consumers want.
Now, let us look at the business aspect of promoting sustainability. Sustainability and businesses may seem to have opposing goals. While businesses would want more people to purchase their products, sustainability is based on ensuring that people consume – and purchase – as little as possible, at least in a way that has the least environmental impact. However, more eco-friendly methods of production are usually not conducive to businesses’ growth as they are less efficient. This prompts the question, how can businesses establish themselves as environmentally friendly without hurting their income?
While it may not be feasible for all businesses to eliminate their environmental footprint completely, they can make efforts to do as much as possible while still making money. Even a small reduction in consumption can go a long way in conserving the environment. This possibility was discussed in-depth at the Business Role in Sustainable Consumption forum in Washington in 2012. Major companies known for their sustainability programs were represented at the forum, including Walmart, Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, and Procter & Gamble. They discussed various ways to incorporate sustainability into the supply chain, emphasizing on life-cycle assessment to quantify the environmental impact of their products. The forum found that there were still numerous ways to “go green” by utilizing renewable and sustainable resources instead of depleting the earth of its natural supply.
With the knowledge that businesses can take small steps to reduce their environmental output, and that they can market their products to be appealing to the consumer, what about marketing products based on their sustainability?
This is where the problem comes in. Many customers do not take sustainability into consideration when shopping for a product. Len Sauers, vice-president for Global Sustainability at Procter & Gamble, stated that only 15 percent of consumers actively look for environmentally friendly products, while another 75 percent are aware of sustainability issues but do not wish to make the sacrifice for environmental conservation. Sustainable products tend to be a trade-off for performance and cost, as in the case of compact fluorescent light bulbs compared to incandescent light bulbs. If the majority of customers are more cost-oriented, they would probably opt for the cheaper incandescent bulbs instead of the more expensive fluorescent bulbs, even if the fluorescent bulbs are marketed as more environmentally friendly.
The forum also noted that consumers’ needs and wants varied according to the region. In the United States, consumers would opt for cost-saving products. In Europe, consumers might be more inclined to purchase products that saved the polar bears. The first step in sustainable marketing would thus be to identify the most attractive characteristic of a product in a certain region.
However, another setback is that businesses tend to follow existing trends instead of taking the lead and creating their own. Apple had enough ambition and resources to make a gamble and introduce a completely new concept to the consumer base, but not all businesses are able to afford the same risk. From a profitability standpoint, it would make much more sense to follow the existing trends that have been proven effective, instead of spending money and resources marketing to a target group that may potentially be smaller than the original consumer base.
Changing consumer habits is a gargantuan task, which can end up poorly for a company if it is unable to shift consumer habits. In a failed attempt at disrupting the market, Coca-Cola took the initiative to change their red cans to white in support of the polar bears. However, the campaign soon backfired, just a month after its release. Consumers complained that the white cans looked too similar to the silver Diet Coke cans, causing some customers to grab the wrong beverage if they were in a hurry. Others argued that the drink tasted different in the white cans than in the original. Yet others paused for a moment when they thought that shops had run out of original Coke, later saying that the white cans were too unconventional and detracted from the brand’s signature red. Coke soon abandoned the idea and returned to its usual red cans.
Ultimately, it takes sheer willpower for businesses to enforce new consumer trends. On top of being in-the-know about their consumers’ habits, businesses must also source for more sustainable methods of production, striking a balance that allows them to go green and still make a profit. Then, they have to market their eco-friendly products in such a way that their existing consumer base sticks around. Going sustainable is a complicated task that depends heavily on a dynamic market and the intricacies of human interpretation. Is it any wonder that more businesses do not jump into environmental conservation?
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