In my last blog, I argued that publishing sustainability reports does not equal stakeholder engagement, and that reporting is instead an important preparatory step towards stakeholder engagement. In this blog, I wanted to share some good news for reporters and sustainability communicators who are keen to engage with their stakeholders. Our data shows that, despite traditionally low levels of trust in companies, there is a growing number of the general public who want to engage with companies.
Traditionally we, like everyone else, had been looking in the wrong places for groups that could positively impact sustainability. We looked toward the people who are concerned about environmental and social issues and who are behaving consistently based on their concerns to drive the change to a more sustainable world. At first glance that makes sense. However, we have learned over the years that this group remained relatively small and, more importantly, was culturally rather un-influential. As a result there has been only limited value for companies to engage with this segment of the population.
Instead we began to look at the intrinsic motivations, lifestyle attributes and desires of consumers as a means to meaningfully segment the population. The study discovered four distinct groups with specific thoughts about materialism and social/environmental values. This new segmentation is more useful to companies trying to understand stakeholder attitudes and who want to engage with those groups.
Two insights from the study are particularly pertinent when discussing reporting and stakeholder engagement.
First, we noticed a shift in consumer attitudes and behaviours. Consumers no longer accept that sustainability and sustainable products mean accepting a trade off in product performance. They want performance >AND sustainability.
And, secondly, there is a large segment of the population (38% globally) at the forefront of this change that is influential and willing, and dare I say, demanding to be engaged. We have called this group the Aspirationals. Aspirationals are unabashedly pro-consumption, optimistic and focused on style while at the same time they are very concerned about sustainability. This group is very attractive to businesses because of their size, demographic profile and their influence as well as the fact that they are more open to business messages.
But companies wanting to engage with Aspirationals need to adhere to some clear rules:
- Aspirationals do not want to be communicated to, or even just listened to. Driven by their desire to create transformational change, they are looking for a deeper collaboration, one in which they can really contribute.
- Aspirationals are image conscience and tribal. So companies who want to build a lasting relationship with them need to give them formal status and make it easy for them to share their engagement experiences with others.
If a company is willing to invest in its relations with Aspirationals, the payoff will be quite significant in terms of loyalty, advocacy and feedback. A similar logic applies to engaging with other audiences. Our new segmentation research focused on intrinsic motivations, lifestyle attributes and desires of consumers offers powerful insights to help with this.
This post was written by former GlobeScan Senior External Consultant, Peter Paul van de Wijs.