Sustainability & Purpose: PAVE the Path to Purchase

Purposeful Purchase Journeys, the new research from Kantar & IPG Mediabrands, shows how brands can drive both shopper behavior change and sales uplift through effective sustainability marketing.
22 April 2024
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Key Account Director, Kantar

jonathan hall

Head of the Sustainable Transformation Practice, Kantar


Head of Sustainability and Purpose, EMEA, IPG Mediabrands

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The 2020s are a make-or-break decade for climate action, and marketing has a critical part to play. In a world of greenwashing and greenhushing, the need for nuanced understanding of how, when, and why to promote a brand’s sustainability credentials has never been greater. And yet, a recent Kantar-WFA survey found just 10% of marketers claimed their companies are “well advanced” on the sustainability journey. 
This presents a missed opportunity. Kantar’s Global Issues Barometer 2022 found that 64% of consumers believe that businesses have a responsibility to solve climate and environmental issues and are looking to brands for leadership on sustainability. 
Additionally, the same study found that 67% of shoppers want to buy environmentally sustainable products, but believe brands need to make the “greener” choice also the “easier” choice from an availability or cost point of view. 
Clearly there is an opportunity for sustainability to be a driver of both short-term sales and long-term brand equity as well an important tool to support future business success.
Purposeful Purchase Journeys, a study conducted by Kantar in partnership with IPG Mediabrands , demonstrates that brands can be both purposeful and profitable by leveraging sustainability throughout the path-to-purchase. 
By analyzing consumer purchase decisions across five key verticals – meat-free food, home electronics, finance, beauty and sportswear – the study found that sustainability concerns are drivers for both brand affinity and purchase consideration among consumers, to varying degrees depending on the audience and category. 
The findings are based on online surveys undertaken with more than 5,000 UK shoppers, aged 18 and over. The large sample size allowed us to identify different behavioral patterns at brand level and within demographic groups, and to quantify the role that sustainability plays in each of the five categories.

Sustainability is fundamental

What we found was that sustainability is no longer a “nice to have” or an “add-on”, it needs to be a fundamental strategy within holistic communications planning. It needs to be part of everyone’s job. Consumers across generations and backgrounds are already demanding more from brands - and this is only set to intensify in the coming years. 
The challenge for marketers now is to create the business case for sustainability and turn that into a clear communications framework that goes beyond a mission statement on your company’s website. 
Our analysis drew out five clear areas where brands can make a real difference, driving more purposeful purchase decisions in their category, while also staying laser-focused on both short- and long-term and growth. 

1. Sustainability as strategy

Many brands often fail to make a credible connection between a brand’s purpose and their actual products and actions across all specialisms within the marketing value chain. We found that sustainability needs to be brought to life by brands, making it relevant and tangible to shoppers. We developed the PAVE Framework (Product, Actions, Value, Ethics) to help brands make this connection in a structured and hands-on fashion. 

2. More Purpose = More Sales

Consider sustainability as a driver for sales, and where possible, highlight the short- and long-term financial benefits of a sustainable purchase. It is not just the brand’s responsibility, in fact, it is in the brand’s own interest to be more involved in customers’ purchase decision-making process by providing more proof points. In time, customers will be able to identify the long-term benefits of a greener choice and further increase purchase intent.

3. The generational “dilemma”: purposeful growth across generations

We see a fundamental shift in values among younger generations with a direct effect on purchasing decisions, with Young Millennials or Gen Z buyers driven more by values and sustainability than Baby Boomers, and this shift is consistent in all categories. Younger generations tend to think more holistically: fair working conditions, DEI or social responsibility are values that weigh stronger in their purchasing decisions. This will affect media planning – as demographics aren’t dead. This is not a reason for the complete adoption of campaign targeting based only on demographics; instead, we suggest activating brand purpose holistically to increase impact across all generations, testing creative variations for different age cohorts and planning media activations in a way that yields exposure and impacts across generations.

4. Walk the Walk & Talk the Talk

Many businesses communicate their “Brand Purpose” in a Mission Statement – the brand’s ability to summarize its purpose succinctly; their elevator pitch. A mission statement is an opportunity to turn purpose into action, and thus bring it from a rather unclear, generic level to an actionable plan. Combined with a framework, such as PAVE, brands can authentically show actions that ladder up to their purpose, while reducing negative greenwashing accusations. However, this will only work if shoppers can easily find a brand’s mission statement. Investing in findability and exposure is a significant step by which brands can turn their purpose into purposeful growth. From a planning perspective, this means taking a holistic approach across all media touchpoints, with the right mix of “push” and “pull” mechanisms and content.

5. Media planning: Integrating sustainability across touchpoints

Media planning centers around the reach and relevance of a particular touchpoint to a particular audience. Therefore as a first step, brands need to identify the touchpoints where current and future customers are most likely to research an upcoming purchase. To improve planning efforts and media recommendations, we now consider a “sustainability match” criteria: the extent to which shoppers expect to find information on sustainability across different media touchpoints. Campaigns that take this additional criteria into consideration will be more impactful, with a greater marketing ROI for their sustainability communications. It is well-established that Owned Media (primarily can drive both engagement, sales, and loyalty for advertisers. However, our research indicates that all core marketing channels should also be assessed through a sustainability lens, and that specific tactics should be employed for channels that over-index both for pre-purchase research and for close association with with sustainability information (primarily Search & Online Video).

Get the message right

Our research focused on brand strategy, shopper attitudes, and media touchpoints, but it is absolutely critical to get the creative message right too. This is particularly true when it comes to sustainability and purpose-related claims in the context of tightening regulations. Consumers will start to see more of this type of messaging and will become more discerning as a result. Testing marketing content with consumers to ensure your messages are landing is an ever-important step in creating campaigns that resonate.
If marketers are to reap the benefits of leading on sustainability, it’s time to stop greenhushing and start developing an honest, open conversation about what your brand plans to do and when. It is better to be honest and outline efforts that make sense and are credible - and adhere to them - rather than to be too bold, abstract or unclear, which may lead to accusations of greenwashing. 
For more information, and to download all the insights from the whitepaper in full, please visit this link.
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