Robert Sawatzky
Nov 4, 2020

How brands are nudging customers on sustainability issues

ASIA'S TOP 1000 BRANDS WEBINAR: Consumers may approve of brand action on sustainability, but it's up to brands to take the action, as we learn in this session featuring marketers from DBS, Foodpanda and a research lead at Nielsen.

How brands are nudging customers on sustainability issues

In this year's Asia's Top 1000 brands survey, we noticed a correlation between between Asia's high performing brands and those with high scores on sustainability. Adriana Chia, insights and analytics lead at Nielsen, reinforced these findings at Campaign's Top 1000 Brands webinar event on Tuesday, where she presented survey highlights along with other research on brands and sustainability.

"Consumers do care about sustainability," she said during the live lunchtime webinar. "It has become an expectation and is rising in importance. So sustainable brands outperform and they drive business growth. Hence, I think [brands] do need to have a discerning sustainability strategy and also support [their] efforts with marketing and communication," Chia said.

Nielsen's past research on the subject, notably The Sustainability Imperative report, revealed that 66% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable brands, with millennials and GenZs expressing even greater willingness to do so. 

Are customers pushing brands, or are brands nudging customers?

Yet when it comes to making product changes that might impact sustainability, the role of the consumer becomes a lot less clear. One would think, given consumer attitudes and perceptions on sustainability, that the issue might translate to feedback and pressure, becoming a prime motivator for brands to enact changes. But in a Campaign-led panel discussion with two brand marketers following Chia's presentation, participants agreed that simply has not been the case in their experience.

Laura Kantor, marketing and sustainability director at food delivery service Foodpanda in Singapore, says in her four years with the brand she's definitely noticed that sustainability has become top of mind for customers, yet that is not necessarily what is spurring brands to act.

"Where we decided to actually make a difference really wasn't coming from customer push at all," she said. "It was definitely internally from our own employees wanting to use an our company as a way to make a difference in the industry. A couple of key decisions two years ago included removing shark fin dishes from its platform and allowing customers to opt out of receiving plastic cutlery

On the latter move, Kantor noted "when we launched it, I did believe that everyone was going to opt out straightaway. But it did take some time." In fact, although customers "absolutely loved the initiative" and sent in screenshots and emails in support, only about 20% actually opted-out. Kantor says it took about three years and a lot of education and communication with customers and restaurant partners to completely flip behaviour around. Now 90% of customers choose not receive the extra plastic with only 10% of them opting-in. 

Over at DBS Bank—the highest-ranked financial institution in Asia on sustainability in the Top 1000 Brands survey—there has been little waiting around for customers to demand change either. For years, banks have been nudging their customers to 'go paperless', cutting out the needless documentation around monthly and annual statements. Karen Ngui, managing director and head of group strategic marketing and communications at DBS, said the time simply came when the bank had to act on its own.

"Now there are actually no options when we transition from paper statements to e-statements," Ngui said. "We just gave consumers a transition time. Now you just have to have an e-statement because that's the right thing to do."

Likewise when it came to the bank's internal operations, the bank simply decided not to work with vendors and suppliers that did not adhere to its sustainable sourcing principles, Ngui said. Similarly, the decision to finance social enterprises stems from DBS' roots as a development bank, but in its marketing and educational content, the bank has gone well beyond what many NGOs do when it comes to educating the public on issues. For example, DBS has built this advocacy about food waste into popular dramas and videos

"It's about how we conduct ourselves as an organisation," Ngui said. "There is no magic bullet, there is no silver pill, it's something that has to be done consistently. I think it requires that commitments are done over a sustained period of time, in order to change mindsets and behaviours."

Asia's Top 1000 Brands webinar series runs November 3-5 from 1-2pm SGT/HKT.  Wednesday's session will focus on brands and ecommerce; Thursday will feature an interview with the CMO of GoJek. 


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