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How COVID-19 Drove Greater Consumer Demand for Sustainable Practices – and What Brands Can Do to Respond
What is an eco-aware brand? Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were increasing expectations among consumers for brands to be more sustainable.
A 2019 study by the Sterns Center for Sustainable Business found that sustainable products are responsible for more than half the market growth for consumer packaged goods since 2013. Businesses have continued getting into the sustainability game to compete for consumer loyalty – and then the 2020 pandemic turned everything on its head.
The Link Between a Global Pandemic and Being a Sustainable, Eco-Aware Brand
There are few things that make the entire world sit up and pay attention, and a pandemic is certainly one of them. Brands played a pivotal role in helping consumers feel more comfortable in quarantine (remember the great toilet paper shortage of 2020?) and feel safe, with face masks and personal protective equipment becoming items of critical necessity and mass-demand.
Consumers saw brands respond quickly and effectively to these needs. In fact, the 2020 Edelman Brand Trust Report found that 55% of consumers felt brands were doing a better job responding to the pandemic than their own governments.
And those responses made an impact on consumer sentiment that hasn’t faded with the pandemic’s severity. In a 2022 customer loyalty study conducted by PWC, more than 50% of the respondents said they would ditch a brand after a poor online experience, and 4 out of 5 consumers said personalization was critical, with more than 50% saying the human touch was essential to their brand loyalty.
As brands stepped up to meet the moment – providing community support, enabling contact-free services, expanding product lines to produce supplies for medical personnel and consumers – we have seen that it is possible to rally around a cause and do public good quickly and in an impactful way.
But as we said, there aren’t many things that can capture the attention of the whole world, but directly adjacent to the pandemic is the climate crisis. In their pandemic response, brands demonstrated that meaningful change is possible, and consumers will be looking for the same type of response to fight global warming.
Companies without a plan to develop a more eco-aware brand strategy in 2021 and beyond will likely lose consumer loyalty.
Brands Are Expected to Respond
Because of COVID-19, consumers now have different expectations for brands. They want virtual communications. They want safe practices for product distribution and employees. They want contact-free service. And they want to feel taken care of.
The brands that do well responding to these demands will also be the brands consumers look to for placing a greater emphasis on sustainability.
Dunkin’ Donuts is a perfect example of this consumer expectation. The fast-food chain stepped up immediately after the COVID-19 outbreak, donating $1.25 million to support health and hunger relief organizations. They also communicated with customers about the safety precautions their stores would be taking in an effort to keep staff and customers healthy while continuing to serve the stuff “American runs on”.
The coffee brand also announced during the pandemic that it finalized the shift away from the environmentally-unfriendly polystyrene foam cups it has been using for years to more eco-conscious paper cups. While they have been planning the switch since 2018, the timing was impactful from a brand loyalty standpoint.
Brands that do good for their communities and the public are demonstrating that they can live up to consumers’ expectations for what companies are capable of doing when it comes to major issues like climate change.
This statement should be taken as a positive – that brands will now be held to a higher standard of continuing a pattern of good that can be felt long after the pandemic. People have been made hyper-aware of the devastation that can be wrought by a single global event, and brands stand in a prime position to help mitigate similar challenges.
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