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BBMG’s New Consumer is Bringing Sustainability to the Mainstream

March 24, 2011 - A new group of US consumers is poised to help sustainable brands enter the mainstream, while forcing large brands to accelerate their pathways to sustainability, according to new study released this week by brand innovation firm BBMG.

Brand innovation firm BBMG says a new demographic of shoppers, who unite pragmatism and purpose with an unmatched level of brand participation, currently represent 30% of the US.

The study, “Unleashed: How New Consumers Will Revolutionize Brands and Scale Sustainability” draws on three years of research and states that 2011 will be the “dawn of a new economy with unlimited opportunities for innovative, values-driven, authentic brands.”

"For brands to take sustainability to scale, they can no longer rely on the dark green consumer. Instead, they need to engage New Consumers, who are just as concerned about the environment but also realistic about factors like price, performance, convenience, health and safety," said Raphael Bemporad, BBMG's Chief Strategy Officer.

BBMG's previous research focused on Conscious Consumers: individuals whose deep-rooted environmental and social values drive purchasing decisions. But major economic and societal changes have forced all consumers to make compromises. Meanwhile, mainstream shoppers have become more concerned with environmental values, more educated and outspoken about personal values like health and safety, and more protective of their time and money. These shifts led to BBMG's current examination of New Consumers: shoppers who are classified as "values aspirationals" because they are as interested in sustainability as their dark-green brethren, but who are also "practical purchasers" because they're forced to make practical trade-offs every day.

More than 70 million people across the United States are considered New Consumers; and are less defined by demographics than by shared values. Early adopters and "box turners" increasingly concerned with products' impact on the planet and its people, these savvy shoppers are twice as likely to try new things, share their opinions online and reward (or punish) brands based on corporate practices. Even during the recession, 25% are willing to pay more for sustainable alternatives. At the same time, they're re-evaluating purchasing priorities, often opting for DIY projects and choosing to enjoy experiences instead of new commodities.

BBMG's study was informed by more than 2,650 conversations in The Collective, the firm's consumer community. Unlike an online panel, The Collective is a private social network, the first to broker dedicated, real-time conversations between New Consumers, sustainable brands and related organizations. BBMG screens each member, and invites them to participate through a variety of activities, including digital diaries, brand innovation challenges, home audits and shopping-basket exercises.

The result is a co-created, interactive report that includes videos and photo journals from representative New Consumers, insights from some of the world's most powerful and forward-thinking brands and lessons from companies that failed to successfully engage New Consumers.

New Consumers, in particular, see themselves as active participants who are helping shape brands' practices, BBMG says. They turn to the Internet, social networks, NGO certifications and third-party “trustmarks” to verify purchases. Their belief systems are driving several trends, including the explosion of the "access economy" and continued interest in YDI (you-do-it) goods and DIY projects. And many are moving from gateway purchases such as organic, local foods to major purchases like energy-saving appliances, fair-trade apparel and socially and environmentally responsible travel.

New Consumers are skeptical--less than 4% turn to company advertising to verify product claims--but once they find an authentically "good" product, they become fiercely loyal; and that loyalty will be instrumental in bringing green brands to the mainstream. They're constantly on the hunt for innovative brands that will resolve their buyer's remorse and deliver what BBMG terms the Triple Value Proposition: uniting practical benefits like cost savings, durability and style; social and environmental benefits; and tribal benefits that connect them to a community of like-minded, like-hearted individuals.

According to the report, New Consumers seek genuine, ongoing conversations with brands that let them share their ideals, passions and creativity. And as they step into the empowering role of co-creator, they expect companies to involve them in shaping how their brands live in the world.

BBMG's study makes the case for embedding a deeper sense of social and environmental purpose into every business decision; and, for wiring consumers' values and ideas into each business model. Finally, the study highlights five key insights that will help brands reach, engage and unleash the power of the New Consumer:

·         Deliver Total Value: New Consumers Want It All

·         Paint a Bigger Picture: New Consumers Are Asking "What's In It For We?"

·         Be Their Champion: New Consumers Are Taking Control

·         Make More Out of Less: New Consumers Want Simplicity, Meaningful Experiences

·         Invite Them In: Participation Is the New Consumption

"Consumers are now driving business, instead of the other way around, which means the disciplines of branding and innovation are converging like never before," said Bemporad. "Tomorrow's most successful brands will recognize this, and will establish very clear pathways that allow them to constantly listen, engage and drive innovation--and, ultimately, change the world."

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