As I was researching the last article on consumer trends for 2019, I sensed another theme that no one stated outright, but seemed to be in the middle (or maybe the muddle) of all the forecasts: there is an emerging group of mindful and deliberate consumers, who are demanding more from businesses than their typical products and services.
Integrity, social and environmental responsibility, are now expected from every company, and all of their executives. Transgressions are no longer judged in context of time or industry. Unfortunate comments, even those long passed, are damaging personal and brand reputations. Clothing manufacturers are being lobbied to reduce waste. People who can afford groceries are eating out of dumpsters to demonstrate the nourishing food that is tossed out regularly.
More consumers are becoming activists to drive positive change, bringing attention to causes and to businesses they see as harmful to humanity. They are also driving major brands to use their influence to advocate for issues in the social and political realm.
A few daring CEOs have taken up the challenge, but the dichotomy in results is a lesson in risk. While there was an immediate backlash for Nike, who featured Colin Kaepernick in an ad campaign, supporters quickly countered, making it a big win for the sports brand.
For Dick’s Sporting Goods, who stopped selling assault weapons at its Field & Stream banner stores after the Parkland shootings, and lobbied for more federal gun control, it hurt rather badly. But, they haven’t backtracked and could turn things around long-term, betting that the anti-gun sports enthusiasts will prop up sales on new product offerings for more civilized activities.
Both decisions were a big leap from sharing profits with a charitable cause, which has been the more traditional approach to attracting socially conscious consumers. It will be interesting to see who else enters this politically-charged arena, and how they fare. The lessons for everyone though, are make sure your company is doing its part to be ethical, socially and environmentally responsible; and, know your customers.