Being a PEST: from convenience to conscience marketing

Plastic packages background

So what is conscience marketing? Marketing, as a discipline, follows a very logical and structured process.  If you have ever studied marketing at any level, you will be familiar with the 7 P’s, a SWOT Analysis and positioning matrices.  However, one area, which always seems to draw a blank expression when asked about is a PEST analysis.

A PEST analysis, or what has more recently become known as PESTLE, is a tool we use to take a look at all the external factor that could influence and impact the business which are outside of the company’s control.  So, to explain, the P stands for Political, E is economical, S is social and T is Technological.  The latter-day extensions include Legal (which we usually simplify by including within Political) and Environmental (which we include within Social).

When we work with clients, we always undertake a PEST analysis and quite often clients find it hard to know how social trends can affect their business.  So, we wanted to flag up a clear social movement that we have noticed which could impact on many businesses over the next few months, and certainly the next 3 years – the move from convenience to conscience marketing.

The Era where “Convenience is King”

If we roll the clock back 20 years to 1999, the social marketing trends were all moving towards convenience.  Marketers were looking at ways to make their products and services appeal to a cash rich, time poor generation.  More single parent families and a growing number of women balancing careers with family, meant that a greater percentage of the population were working longer hours, or under more time pressure to get more done quicker.

What this meant is that consumers started buying food and drinks that were consumable “on the go”.  Drive thru restaurants and coffee shops were popping up everywhere, supermarkets were introducing ready meals in vast quantities, that were ready in minutes.  We were so focused on convenience that supermarkets even started packaging up sliced carrots or grated cheese because the Great British Public didn’t have enough time to grab a knife and slice a carrot! Times were tough!

British Consumers starting to buy with their conscience

Fast forward to 2019 and all of this heightened social demand for convenience is dropping.  Britain is finally gaining a conscience. Where we used to drive an extra few miles to get all of our shopping from one giant Superstore or Retail Park, we are now aware that we need to support our local shops – or they will all just disappear.

Various healthy salad in plastic packages for diet lunch, top view. Clean organic  food concept

Our awareness of the destruction we are causing to the planet is much higher than it has ever been.  The recent BBC 1 series featuring Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Anita Rani has single handedly demonstrated the massive impact that we, as consumers, can have on our environment if we reduce the amount of single use plastics.  It has created a social wave of support with high profile supporters such as David Attenborough and Joanna Lumley supporting the #OurPlasticFeedback campaign.   Why do supermarkets think we want to buy fruit and veg wrapped in plastic? It is not us, the consumer, who are demanding it?

Brands getting it wrong, and right!

Michael Gove has vowed to ensure that the brands responsible for packaging their products are 100% liable to cover the costs of recycling the packaging within the next 3 years (whereas historically it has been local councils having to foot this bill).  This may help the issue as companies then have a motivation towards reducing their packaging.

So, what does all this mean from a marketing perspective.  Well, brands such as Tesco, McDonalds and Johnson & Johnson took a bit of a brand hammering on TV with the way they responded to the issue.  McDonalds in particular got security to frogmarch two young girls away off the premises (the issue with them is their instant trash Happy Meal toys).  Whilst Waitrose, on the other hand, were shown to be embracing this social move by offering a range of refillable products within a number of stores.

It doesn’t just end here though.  This culture of conscience marketing is spreading into other areas.

Starbucks are selling re-usable coffee cups for £1 in store (they will even wash them for you).  This is a step in the right direction, but where they could still improve is the messaging via their staff in-store.  Although these coffee cups are available, customers are coming into store and not event noticing them.

Meal ingredients delivery services such as Gousto and Hello Fresh will deliver all of the ingredients you need for a number of meals for that week.  This actually dramatically reduces food wastage (another issue).  Subscription brands such as this are on the up.

The future for brand marketing

Overpackaging is now a serious issue and brands that can evidence that they are looking to create socially responsible solutions to minimising packaging, and specifically single use plastics, are going to come out of this revolution with a much stronger brand reputation.

The good news is that the younger generation are now much more environmentally aware, so if a social culture of recycling, refilling and minimising packaging waste becomes the norm, the companies will be forced to adapt.

Convenience brands may well start to see a decline, whilst conscience marketing brands only have an upwards trajectory. Corporate Social Responsibility is become massively important, and social media campaigns will ensure that companies are going to be held accountable for their actions, or it will hit them where it hurts.

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Ian is the founder of Opportunity Marketing marketing, with over 18 years of experience in successfully setting up marketing departments, creating marketing strategies and implementing these strategies across a wide number of SME companies in both the B2B and B2C sectors through a variety of channels.
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