According to a 2018 survey by Forrester, 68% of US consumers say that their social values shape their shopping choices.

But of course, findings like these are often based on attitudes and passive intention, as opposed to direct action. The majority of consumers will put other attributes such as value or convenience before a brand’s impact on the community. Research from Deloitte finds that price and quality are individually cited as top-three purchasing criteria by consumers anywhere between 61% and 86% of the time (depending on sector).

More recent Forrester research from 2021 suggests that just 18% of US consumers are truly values-motivated; those who “not only lay claim to being values-driven but act upon these claims.” But while this 18% might sound small, this portion of values-motivated and action-orientated consumers equates to a growing and increasingly influential market – one that brands are starting to recognise.

Let’s look at some values-driven brands and their marketing.

Aerie generates organic engagement with themes of self-empowerment on social

Many brands are now using social media platforms to engage consumers and, at the same time, showcase their values, particularly on platforms like TikTok and Snapchat, where characteristics like creativity, authenticity and self-expression, are celebrated. These platforms are also targeted towards younger consumers, who naturally tend to be more motivated by social values.

Forrester states that, while just one out of ten baby boomers can be classed as values-motivated, this rise to one in four for millennial consumers. Generation Z also identify as highly values-driven, with 51% of consumers aged 18 to 23 saying they will always research a company to make sure it aligns with their views on corporate social responsibility (CSR) before making a purchase.

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As with any type of inclusive marketing, of course, brands need to ensure that they are not being disingenuous, or using inclusive content as a trend or purely sales-driven endeavour – particularly on social. This is because younger consumers (more so than any other demographic) are becoming increasingly demanding of the truth. According to Forrester data, nearly a third of Gen Z say that they unfollow, hide, or block brands on social media at least weekly (if they feel they are disingenuous).

Lingerie brand Aerie is a good example of a values-driven company, and one that has incorporated values into all aspects of marketing since its launch. The ‘AerieReal’ campaign has consistently promoted self-empowerment in women, with its initial 2014 campaign promoting its own use of un-retouched images. Since, it has continuously fostered organic engagement, with Aerie asking its own online community to submit their personal stories in 2021. Some examples went viral, such as a post by TikToker Hannah Schlenker, helping to further generate natural affinity and engagement for the brand.

Sephora commits to helping customers feel seen 

Being ‘purpose-driven’ has become a strategic priority for many brands in recent years, particularly since the pandemic, but few are actively translating purpose into action. One way that brands fall short is by being broadly purpose-driven, without any real sense of how this purpose might align with a product, or the values and needs of its customer-base. 

Interestingly, research by Deloitte found that – while consumers do often prioritise price and quality – many also elevate a number of other areas, albeit in a more nuanced way. For example, one third of consumers aged 25 and younger value sustainability when specifically making beauty and personal care purchases. 

Ultimately, it is about aligning with what customers care about the most, which is something that Sephora strives to do with its purpose strategy. Alongside the most obvious, such as beauty advice, CMO of Sephora Americas, Deborah Yeh, told CMO Today that this means uncovering deeper needs, “such as, “Help me feel more seen and appreciated for being me. Help me feel included in the shopping experience.” That’s where we as an organisation need to think about all the systems at our disposal and our role as a retailer and member of the beauty industry to ensure that we are really serving people as people.

As a result, Sephora has undertaken extensive research into the areas in which its customers feel underserved, such as diversity. Upon discovering that three in four retail shoppers feel that marketing imagery fails to showcase diversity in various characteristics like hair texture, skin tone, and body type, Sephora committed to ensure that 15% of its social and digital content features Black-owned brands. In order to extend its commitment, the company has also backed the ’15 Percent Pledge’, ensuring that 15% of its store shelf space goes to prestige Black-owned companies.

By not only bringing attention to a prevalent issue in retail, but taking steps throughout its business to challenge it, Sephora has proven that it is truly purpose-driven. In turn, it is perhaps more likely to attract the 57% of consumers who are more loyal to brands that commit to addressing social inequities in their actions.

AllBirds invests in resale platform to drive fashion circularity 

Ethical and sustainability issues remain a key driver for almost a third of consumers, says Deloitte, with this proportion of shoppers claiming to have stopped purchasing from certain brands due to their concerns. Additionally, amongst those UK consumers who have chosen brands that have environmentally sustainable or ethical practices or values in last 12 months, 43% say they value brands that produce sustainable packaging and adopt circular practices. 

Brands are responding to the consumer demand for sustainability through recommerce, or online clothing resale, which itself is generating significant growth. According to Cowen, recommerce is expected to account for 14% of the apparel, footwear, and accessories market by 2024 – up from 7% in 2020. The pandemic has seemingly accelerated the shift to secondhand, with many buying less new clothing during lockdowns. This trend looks set to continue, too with 42% of all consumers and 53% of millennials and Gen Z saying they’ll spend more on secondhand in the next five years.

Allbirds is one brand with an existing focus on sustainability, with its aim to halve its carbon emissions by the end of 2025 being a key part of its ‘Flight Plan’ initiative. Further to this, the shoe retailer has recently announced a second-hand initiative called ReRun, which will see sneakers be resold for around two-thirds of the initial price. Customers will receive $20 for trading in their used sneakers, which will be refurbished by white-label recommerce company, Trove, before being resold online. 

AllBirds’ Head of Sustainability, Hana Kajimura, explained in a statement how the initiative aims to involve customers in furthering the company’s sustainable credentials. “By launching our trade-in program, ReRun, we will enable our customers to play an integral role in extending the life of our shoes,” he said.

Indeed, by enabling the buying and selling of second-hand trainers, AllBirds is hoping to further engage its values-driven demographic, and at the same time, attract new customers who might now be more inclined or able to shop the brand.

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