Q&A: Targeting the ‘Conscious Consumer’

conscious

Last week, Edelman’s second annual brandshare survey told us that a large majority of consumers (83 percent) aren’t satisfied by their “relationships” with brands. They want more in the way of information, but they feel like brands are only out to promote themselves.

This is especially true in the food/health space, where concerns about safety and nutrition occupy the minds of many.

Gibbs & Soell and rbb Public Relations recently joined forces to create New York-based Gibbs-rbb, a joint venture designed to target this very sort of “conscious consumer.” The new firm then produced a study that we discussed with managing director Jeffrey R. Graubard.

By the firm’s own estimate, the “conscious consumer” market was worth $120B in 2013. It’s growing quickly — and its members are willing to spend more money to get the kind of products they prefer.

So how do we reach them? Findings, questions and answers after the jump.

Some stats:

  • Americans are willing, on average, to spend 31 percent more on safe, sustainably produced food
  • A large majority may reconsider their loyalty to brands facing product recalls (77 percent) or issues regarding animal safety (73 percent) and labor practices (72 percent)
  • For information on these issues, they don’t just trust friends and news media. 66 percent say they also turn to both retailers and the producers themselves for information about nutrition and corporate practices

How do you define the “conscious consumer?” How much has the category grown?

In general, it’s the consumer who CARES more, SHARES more, and SPENDS more than the average.  As the availability of information proliferates across digital and social platforms, we are seeing demand for more information increase with companies responding in kind with products and communication programs specifically targeted to consumers who take an interest in the company’s ethos and their products’ attention to sourcing, nutrition and even marketing.

We believe more than 25% of the grocery market today is directly impacted…and the influence of this audience is spreading.

What is the most significant factor determining whether one falls into the category?

Awareness. Be it through word-of-mouth, social media, or even corporate-issued sustainability and/or annual reports, the Conscious Consumer makes purchasing decisions by synthesizing that information.

How did your findings differ by age group?

Each group had its hot-button topics. Boomers, for instance, were 30 percent more likely to shift their brand loyalty if a corporation took its business off-shore, while Millennials were almost twice as likely to have their buying decisions influenced by blogs and social media.

Edelman found that consumers want more “meaningful” relationships with brands. Does this mean that food companies should be more forthcoming with related news, even if it’s negative?

Undoubtedly. Consumers consistently expect a trusting relationship with brands and with the companies behind them. Food companies are increasingly being held responsible not just for the integrity of their own actions, but of those up and down the entire supply chain that ultimately impact the consumer.

Does the average food company have a plan in place to address potential crises of this nature?

The key is building transparent relationships over time. If you’ve done a good job of building trust and have a history of integrity and transparency, most consumers will cut you slack if a problem occurs. The average food company indeed has a crisis plan in place at that point to address the issue.  There is no “one size fits all” here; Gibbs-rbb recommends to clients that we perform a detailed audit of their crisis communications plans on an annual basis, and set aside an appropriate amount of time and resources to annually run crisis drills.

What is the biggest strategic takeaway from this study for firms with big food clients?

Even if they don’t yet know it, your clients need help in devising effective communications plans to address the growing Conscious Consumer audience base.  Transparency, proactivity and thoroughness will win the day.