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India 2016 | Thought Leadership | The Conscious Consumer

Conscious consumers influence brands, across categories, to act responsibly
Indian brands need to embrace this change, not be spectators
Shaziya Khan
Vice President, Executive Planning Director
J. Walter Thompson
Unny Radhakrishnan
Chief Digital Officer, South Asia
If the rise of the conscious consumer is a small dot on your mental radar, look harder. You’ll see attitudes and behavior of conscious consumers almost everywhere. Typically, you’ll first see these influences in the small stuff: the college girl who carries her own mug to save the world, one cup at a time; the art director whose electronic signature says “Save forests, stop printing paper.” You’ll also see the influence of conscious consumers in the flashing green sign on many bank ATM screens that urges customers to opt for the ”no paper receipt” option.
And this everyday conscious consumption is just the tip of the consciousness iceberg. Our analysis reveals that there are several underlying drivers of a big change towards conscious consumption in branding and marketing choices, and this change is expected to escalate in the future. The key drivers of the shift toward conscious consumption are economic, social and technological.
Economic driver: Circular economy
In today’s linear product production systems, manufacturers typically take resources from the earth to make merchandise that eventually returns to the earth, often discarded in landfills. This process can be summarized as “Take, make, and dispose.” A circular economy, in contrast, “seeks to rebuild capital, whether this is financial, manufactured, human, social or natural,” as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation explains. Under this model, the production of goods operates like systems in nature, where the waste and decomposition of a substance becomes the nutrient for something new.
The circular economy is a concept dating back more than 30 years, so why is it getting attention and adoption now? For businesses, the key reasons are practical (depletion of key natural resources, rising commodity costs) and technological (new tools make circular principles easier to implement).
Social driver: Shifting consumer preferences
Greater urbanization will also help to enable implementation. Meanwhile, more governments are getting behind the idea, and consumers are embracing new ways of consuming.
Conscious consumers identify themselves with brands with a purpose. There is a growing willingness to spend more on products from socially responsible companies. A JWT study on business and social good showed that more than 80 percent of consumers across the age spectrum believe that brands and big corporations should take responsibility for improving the world.
And almost 90 percent believe that brands are capable of being powerful and profitable while being kind to the world at the same time. More than 65 percent of respondents said they would buy from brands sponsoring causes close to their heart. In comparison, only 30 percent expressed interest in a brand that sponsors their favorite sport.
Technological driver: Digital media groundswell
Strongly complementing this increase in consumers’ increased sense of responsibility and pride in doing what is right, is their ability to act. The democratization of technology makes this action possible.  Key technological drivers include:
  • The rise in connectivity  Three billion people, almost half of the world’s population, are now connected online, and connectivity is only improving. For instance, in India connectivity is growing at an astonishing rate of 40 percent annually.
  • The ease of creating content  Anyone with a handset and Internet connection can be a reporter, creator, or curator of audio or video content. Every minute, more than 500 hours of video content is created on YouTube. Eight billion video views appear on Facebook every day. There are 2.3 billion social media users across the world that can reach out to each other in a short span of time.
  • Rapid mobilization Platforms offering online petitions make it easy to mobilize people quickly to make their voices heard. Change.org, one of the largest online social action platforms, is now active in 196 countries.
Wake-up call for Indian brands
Corporations, governments, and other private bodies can no longer hide behind a veil of secrecy, as policies and practices are now easily accessible to public. Brands have come under scrutiny for oil spills, deforestation, ground water contamination, and other practices that seriously dent their credibility.
It might take years to build a brand in a consumer’s mind, but in this hyper-connected world, one slip from a brand or one negative tweet from a consumer can spell doom. Conversely, one timely word or act that demonstrates a brand’s commitment to the planet and its inhabitants may be remembered for a long time.
This movement to become better companies is what the future of branding in India is about.
In the arena of conscious consumption, a successful brand in India needs to be a player, not a spectator. There are broadly three “templates” to suggest as a starting point to understand this rising consumer consciousness and translate that understanding into action.