At Collinson, we are always intent on finding insights which can drive behavioural change and keep customers habitually coming back to a brand.
So when we conducted consumer and business research recently, we made sure to probe our participants’ response to environmentally friendly loyalty rewards amongst others. With the climate crisis, we were sure that rewards protecting the planet would be popular but were somewhat surprised at the outcome.
Only 8% of our consumer research respondents wish to see more sustainability oriented loyalty rewards within the next five years, ranking them way behind other reward options. (For context, 89% of participants wish to see more discounts and 85% more miles or points).
On one hand this tells us something about the relative appeal of green rewards but it’s necessary to dig deeper before writing them off altogether.
First of all, we must remember that while research and feedback are crucial to creating or evolving a loyalty offer which meets consumer needs, research findings cannot always be taken literally or in isolation. It’s true to say that what people say can be different from what they do and nothing beats tracking customer behaviour - often the best indicator of what will happen next.
We are creatures of habit but not always entirely accurate when asked to recall or predict our own behaviour. So don’t always believe it when consumers say a mere discount beats a meerkat for example, because consumers tend to vote for the familiar and functional: cash, savings, discounts, vouchers, coupons...you can see where they are coming from.
Nevertheless, our consumer research tells us that at present, green rewards should at most be part of your reward range and certainly not all of it. Our loyalty
landscape research amongst businesses shows that in any case, sustainability related rewards are in relatively modest use compared to rewards like points, miles and added value experiences, with the financial and retail sectors making most use of them, at 19% and 18% respectively in our sample. Perhaps this is just as well given our consumer research results.
And yet we need to take care not to miss the bigger picture. Consumers actually are increasingly eco-conscious and ethical in their choices. So if your brand does not espouse the right purpose or values, it’s less likely to be bought in the first place, let alone lead to loyal behaviour.
Look at Patagonia (the clothing brand). It is such a purpose led business that the brand alone has become the reason to remain loyal. Their environmental activism and advocacy is so authentic that they introduced ‘Worn Wear’ and introduced outdoor wear repair as opposed to replacement. Decades ago, that would have been deemed commercial suicide. Now, we understand the need to ‘make do and mend’ in a growing circular economy that sees items regularly re-vamped, re-used and re-cycled. Patagonia has built a global community of eco-activists united by the brand and its purpose. In so doing it has become the USA’s most loved brand, according to the 2023 Axios Harris
Poll 100 reputation rankings.
And consumers want more of this. In its article ‘Does purpose matter?’ KPMG reports that 80% of customers state they prefer brands which align with their values. Furthermore, 42% of Latin American customers and 30% of Millennials actually changed a purchasing decision because of an organisation's environmental or social record.
So, while consumers are not asking for green rewards in high numbers, they are actually seeking something much bigger. They are seeking brands which prove they have purpose and integrity. It is then the role of loyalty marketers to ensure any loyalty initiative is closely aligned to brand, so that brand values and assets are baked into the loyalty offer. Both should work in union, with the close connection creating true brand loyalty.