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Closing the value-action gap of consumers : citizens

Closing the value-action gap of consumers / citizens

“Everything is connected” is a well-used expression. And we at Kantar cannot agree more: In the end, we are all people sharing the same Earth. Society is becoming increasingly aware that we have to take good care of our world, as well as of each other.

These trends can be heard through the voice of the public in many cases, for example through the activism of Greta Thunberg and the movement she inspires. Another example is the growing movements worldwide rallying against systemic racism and for greater equality.

At Kantar, we have talked about this as the emerging “Era of the Public.” Sustainability is a driving force behind this emergence. Businesses will have to respond to consumers’ demands in terms of their impact and influence on communities, the environment, inclusion, gender, and more. We could say that the health of a business depends on the health of communities, society, people, and the planet. In the rest of this article, the focus will mainly be on environmental sustainability.

So, let’s look at this era of great changes as an important disruption that can be used to bring about a major leap forward in sustainability.

The Kantar Sustainability Transformation Framework

Working on sustainability requires a systemic view of possibilities and consequences. Organizations will be challenged in many ways by some uncomfortable requirements of this imperative. Kantar has developed a Sustainable Transformation Framework to enable organizations to manage the six decisions or pivot points required to operate in a sustainable way.

Getting comfortable with sustainability requires mastering these six imperatives. They provide a systemic way for companies to forge a path through the thicket of challenges presented by sustainability, ultimately leading to stronger and more profitable business advantages. In the rest of this article, we will deep-dive mainly into the fourth pillar in the Sustainable Transformation Framework: “Consumer and citizen change.”

Consumer behavior change does not come naturally

In this “Era of the Public,” many people have expressed a great interest in sustainability, and there are lots of initiatives focused on climate change, sustainable production of goods, and inclusivity. For example, in a Kantar study conducted in May 2020, almost three-quarters of Dutch citizens stated that they are worried about climate change, and half of them feel responsible for countering climate change. On the other hand, 42 percent say they know what they can do, but find it difficult to actually take action.

People are probably sincere when they say that they value sustainability goals. Still, although there are many possibilities to “do good,” this doesn’t always show in their actual behaviors. Many people still drive gas-powered cars, purchase disposable “fast fashion,” and buy water in plastic bottles. A study Kantar conducted for the RES-region Arnhem-Nijmegen showed that the vast majority of citizens in this region find sustainable energy very important, while a much smaller percentage actually takes action on this (32 percent). And of those who valued sustainability highly, 67 percent say they buy groceries purely based on what they like, while only 33 percent keep an eye on the ecological footprint of the products they buy.  

What this means is there’s a major gap between what people feel is right (their values) and what they do (their actions). We call this the value-action gap. This gap can be caused by a number of factors – including a lack of financial resources, a lack of time, and a lack of knowledge about more sustainable alternatives. Not to mention the unconscious factors of habit: people are used to acting a certain way, and it takes real motivation and effort to change their behavior.

For brands and governments to narrow the value-action gap, there is it is important to map people’s behavioral influences in a structured way. What are the positive and negative levers of behavioral change? Which ones have the strongest influence? And which part of the audience is more or less receptive to learning about behavioral change? A challenge lies in the fact that the factors that influence behavior are very specific for every type of behavior or situation.

From there, we should then consider which interventions offer the highest potential for success. There are all sorts of techniques that can be used, often based on behavioral science. Again: what works and what does not work is very dependent on the situation. Therefore, it is highly recommended to test out ideas and concepts before they are implemented. Fail cheap! It’s better to invest in a good test then to roll out a communication campaign just to find out that you missed one important aspect. At Kantar, we do this by experimenting with large samples of consumers and citizens through our Behavior Change Lab.

Government can play a strengthening role for citizens

In some cases, the government can also play a part. For example, by persuasion: as we’ve seen in the sales of electric cars in The Netherlands, which increased dramatically when government lowered taxes for these vehicles and increased subsidies. Another way that government can push citizens into the more sustainable choice is by control measures: as when the sale of incandescent light bulbs was prohibited by the Dutch government in 2012. Finally, the design of people’s environment can also be an important behavioral “nudge”: as in the case of the Dutch government’s commitment to investing in the construction and / or modifications of express cycle routes and bicycle parking facilities, in order to get 200,000 extra commuters to cycle to work (or by bicycle combined with public transport) during this term of office.  

An important thing to keep in mind is that what works in one situation may not work in the next. There’s no holy grail in behavioral change. This keeps us sharp, and challenges us to create new and better solutions all the time. It requires deep understanding of human behavior, as well as of communication and of policy making. When these three are combined, great steps forward can be achieved!

Acceleration by standing together

In the end, to get people to adopt more environmentally sustainable behavior, a kick-start provided by government interventions is a great first step. From there, businesses offering sustainable products and services are a second prerequisite for people to behave more sustainably. And finally, the public itself needs to have a high dose of intrinsic motivation to make their sustainable behavior last. This will take time to develop, but when governments, businesses, and the public work together, chances of success are high.

Petra Kramer

Client Director Behavior Change & Healthcare, Public Division