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There are three parts to consumer fatigue in regards to sustainability: fatigue itself, consumer disconnects and combating fatigue. Fatigue can lead to consumers becoming less tolerant to a topic, less interested, or even abandonment if fatigue is coupled with distrust or fear. In the case of sustainability, consumers are choosing other priorities such as cost over sustainability itself. Consumer fatigue has been captured repeatedly in survey work by many researchers such as those below:
Consumer disconnects can only be remedied through education, however it must be targeted precisely. To market products using terms unfamiliar or confusing to consumers is to market in a foreign language. The research below represent good examples of current consumer disconnects:
Notice that the first three are disconnects around corporate behavior and the last three are health information disconnects. This is a troubled pattern as it shows disconnects in multiple directions making the re-education more complicated. Alliances between corporations and consumer interest groups, with expertise in sustainability, would be welcomed as consumers would be more likely to listen to and believe the consumer interest groups but also lend credibility to corporations in the alliance.
Consumers are more open to education during a recovery as they are ruled less by fear and more open to new information. During a recession consumers are ruled more by the day to day issues surrounding their circumstance and details essential to their survival. During a recovery consumers have less fear in their life and so become more exploratory and interested in the details around non-essential topics.
Research has already shown that with just a small amount of education, consumers' stance on a subject can be altered as seen with GMO research. GMO currently is being attacked here in the U.S., however the attacks are led by adversarial groups, not consumers. Consumers have little understanding of GMO yet are ruled by fear due to the media attention on the forces against GMO. Ironically, GMO is a sustainability solution, yet is not being positioned as such. Here are two studies which employed consumer education prior to asking the consumers their opinion of GMO products. Both studies pointed out to consumers that GMO can be used to boost nutritional attributes of crops. Here are their results:
Here are the subtle shifts in communication a company can make to better align with consumers.
Instead of: Generic "green" label statements
Try: Explain why the product has a green claim on label – educate the consumer
Instead of: Marketing how a sustainability practice helps your company
Try: Marketing how a sustainability practice helps the consumer
Instead of: Promoting how your company's sustainability efforts help the environment/community
Try: Empower consumers – give them the control over bettering their environment / community by using your products
In the end, watch for the following to take shape:
And, as always, here are some suggestions: