When you look at the consumer market, many bought and used products are harmful to the environment, and our society in general. Very often, better alternatives are available, but only a few people switch to these products.
Take any product category. Rarely do most people choose the cheapest option available. Most consumer products and services are sold at a wide range of price points, which means there is often a lot of flexibility and room to play with. When a price fits within a reasonable range, you will have a chance.
Consumers mainly pick products based on two drivers:
How does it make me feel?
How do I think it makes other people feel?
The first driver refers to the general concept of convenience. The bottom line? People are lazy and will often choose the path of least resistance. We tend to select a product (and pay more!) if it removes even the tiniest friction or annoyance. We strive for a continuous feeling of comfort.
The second driver is all about reputation and vanity. How will other people look at me, or better, how do I think other people will look at me? Perceived signaling value is far more dominant in our consumer spending than people will like to admit. Humans want to fit in and belong to certain “tribes.” The products and services we buy are a strong indicator of not only who we are, but who we want to be associated with.
- Pre-cut fruit in a single-use plastic cup over washing and cutting fruit yourself.
- A 1-minute car ride over a 5 min bike trip.
- Buy a new appliance instead of finding or waiting for a repair.
- “That new BMW sure will look great in my driveway!”
- “Look at my shiny new smartwatch!” (Which by this time next year will be is disposed of and replaced.)
- “Look at my sixth city trip this year! #nofilter”
We buy products to craft an image.
To launch more sustainable products, we need to focus on this golden combination.
You can start with one driver and work your way up to the other one. Tesla went all-in on reputation and took a vanity-first approach to steer the buying decision away from a purely utilitarian one. Gradually, they’ve added more convenience options, from a supercharger network to auto-pilot.
Many successful products with a focus on sustainability often start with this reputation driver versus the convenience driver. Patagonia or even Dopper are both brands that understood this very well. Their brand image and story is essential for these companies to thrive.
The biggest challenge for brands that want to join the Circular Economy is linked to convenience.
Taking care of the environment often involves extra friction. When Amazon Prime begins to deliver straight to your fridge, we will need to think of brands that will do the same, but for waste management and recycling. We need companies that enter our homes, sort and take out our trash for us, services to outsource our groceries, and fully maintain all housekeeping duties.