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Where Consumption Meets Sustainability: How 'Generation World' Makes Purchase Decisions

Generation World may be attracted to brands such as Oliberté, a socially conscious lifestyle brand supporting workers' rights in sub-Saharan Africa — its shoes are made in Ethiopia, in the world's first Fair Trade-certified footwear manufacturing factory | Image credit: Oliberté (Spring 2014)

Last month my colleague, Trish Wheaton, made a case for why the Sustainability conversation needs to shift from the typical “eco-babble” — high-minded and preachy — into something more relatable and consumer-driven. She describes “a new global vanguard of consumers with co-existing values and traits [who] care about the planet and ... love to shop” as the new group around which to shape the sustainability narrative.

Who are these consumers? I took a deeper dive to define their values, and discover what marketers and sustainability officers can do to better connect with them.

Who is “Generation World?”

Generation World™ makes up close to 29 percent1 of the population, and is a global group, equally likely to be found in Brazil, the US or China. They are highly connected, age-defying, border-agnostic individuals who love to consume just as much as they love the Earth and their fellow man, too.

Because Gen W loves to shop, they’re every marketer’s dream. But Gen W is also high maintenance: They hold brands to a much higher standard than others, making it more difficult to uniquely capture their attention and drive them to consider, try and ultimately love a brand.

How can brands connect with Gen W’s values and ambitions?

We find that regardless of where Generation World-ers come from, they value similar things. Helpfulness, duty, environmentalism, meaning in life and creativity are guiding principles, while power, status and self-indulgence are not; in these values they stand out significantly vs. their non-Gen World peers.

Guiding Principles

Gen Wers are also:

  • Ridiculously connected: they are more than twice as likely2 as the general population to say “social networking websites are an important way I stay in contact with people” and that “the first thing I do when I have news to share with others is update my social networking profile.”
  • Trendy: They say “friends would describe me as into the latest technology” and “like keeping up-to-date with current styles and I am fashion conscious (50 percent and 31 percent more likely to agree than the general population)

    Relationship-driven: They are not “willing to sacrifice time with family in order to get ahead,” and convinced that “how I spend my time is more important than how much money I make.” (101 percent and 39 percent more likely to agree than the general population)

  • Adventurous: They “enjoy getting involved in new and unusual situations” (27 percent more likely to agree than the general population)

Although Gen W may not be willing to admit their self-indulgence, they are more than happy to makes purchases for themselves when, similar to BBMG’s Aspirationals demographic, their decisions lineup with a greater purpose and have an impact on the world around them. They are thus:

  • Discerning: they “like buying from companies that have a purpose that makes a difference in the world” and “willing to pay more for organic products” (27 percent and 47 percent more likely to agree than the general population)
  • Shoppers: they “love to shop” and disagree that “these days, I shop less often than I used to” (29 percent and 22 percent more likely to agree than the general population)

What are Gen Wers looking for in the brands they love and buy?

We know the characteristics that marketers can incorporate into their brand message to resonate more deeply with Generation World. What values can these same marketers reflect to create kinship with this group, and what rallying cries should tactical strategies be built around?

An analysis of 3,500 brands using BAV’s BrandAsset Valuator database on consumer perceptions points out what all successful brands need: a trustworthy and reliable category leader that provides value, is simple and straightforward, and communicates with customers in an authentic, down-to-earth way will win with the general audience.

While to succeed with Gen W brands still need to meet all the criteria above, when this same analysis is repeated with them, the story shifts in an interesting way, with significant implications for how marketers should be communicating with this very valuable group.

Gen W cares significantly more about brands being forward-Looking (BAV attributes Innovative, Progressive, Intelligent and Visionary); they also will choose brands that are more Full of Life (Friendly, Social, Fun). These attributes are on average 26 percent2 more important for driving brand preference among this audience.

What does it all mean?

Generation World’s propensity for both shopping and global citizenship is great news for responsible brands, as a narrative centered on sustainability not only gives brands credit on a lot of the attributes that Gen Wers are looking for (especially in being Forward Looking), but also checks the values box, helping Gen W live out their guiding principles of helpfulness, environmentalism and meaning.

This is an incentive for marketers and sustainability officers to work together to craft messaging around their brand, and to prove out a brand’s value both as a global citizen and as a cool thing to buy.

Trish said it so well a few weeks ago: companies need to start appealing to people as consumers first, citizens second by keeping in mind the reasons people buy things. Generation World™ buys to express their unique values — and through that can help make Sustainability a table-stake in the world of consumption.

1 Stats in this section based on a custom study conducted by BAV Consulting in U.S., Brazil, China

2 BAV Consulting’s BrandAsset® Valuator, General Population vs. Generation World, 2013-2014 First Half


Anna Blender is brand strategist at BAV Consulting, a Young & Rubicam company part of the INSPIRE partnership (@yrgINSPIRE). She helps companies formulate purpose-driven, insights-inspired strategies to create deeper and more meaningful connections with their customers.… [Read more about Anna Blender]




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