How to truly leverage sustainability as a competitive advantage

In the realm of sustainability marketing, a critical and often frustrating phenomenon exists: the say-do gap.

This gap, representing the disconnect between consumer declarations and their actual purchasing behavior, poses a significant challenge for marketers aiming to capitalize on the growing interest in sustainability.

While consumers increasingly claim to prefer eco-friendly and sustainable products, their actions at the checkout often tell a different story. But is this the full picture?

Read on to understand what’s really going on with the say-do gap and how to truly leverage sustainability as a competitive advantage.

The first problem of the say-do gap: The value proposition

Misinterpretation of consumer intentions

When faced with the say-do gap, brands might mistakenly believe that consumers are unwilling to act on their sustainable intentions. This misinterpretation often stems from a poorly presented value proposition. This is because sustainability is frequently introduced as a compromise rather than an integrated benefit.

If the value proposition requires consumers to pay more, sacrifice quality, endure inconvenience, or accept fewer choices, their actual purchasing behavior may not reflect their initial motivation for sustainability.

Debunking the say-do gap myth in sustainability

Enhancing the value proposition through integration

Research by SKIM across various industries indicates that when sustainability is seamlessly integrated into products and services, it can enhance the fundamental attributes of the value proposition. This integration can add new functional, emotional, and social benefits, making the product more attractive in the short term and building brand equity over the long term.

A well-executed sustainability strategy allows for an enhanced product appeal and deeper consumer connection, which are critical for competitive advantage.

The second problem of the say-do gap: Measuring behavior

Flaws in traditional measurement approaches

The traditional approach to measuring consumer behavior often involves surveys with stated responses, which can be flawed in the context of sustainability. These surveys usually fail to capture the complex reality of consumer decision-making, as they do not account for the necessary trade-offs and the full spectrum of the competitive value proposition.

For example, brands may ask their customers whether they would like to buy more sustainably products and services – “yes”; whether they like a new sustainable innovation – “oooh yes”; whether they would be willing to pay a premium – “sure, why not”. The intention is clear but the abstract way in which these questions are asked without the appropriate context, trade-offs, and with a limited view of the complete value proposition in a competitive context, makes it far too easy for respondents to agree (in line with their sincere intentions). This can lead to social desirability bias, acquiescence bias, anchoring bias and halo effects that skew the data towards overly optimistic projections.

Recommendations for more accurate measurement

Instead of relying solely on stated preferences, brands can adopt a more nuanced approach to measuring consumer behavior. This includes utilizing behavioral data and predictive modeling to gain a realistic understanding of how consumers will react to sustainable products in real-world scenarios. By aligning measurement strategies with actual consumer behavior, companies can more accurately forecast the success of sustainable innovations.

The evidence against the say-do myth

Recent empirical studies challenge the prevailing notion that consumers do not act on their sustainability intentions. For example, research by McKinsey & Company and NielsenIQ shows that sustainability-marketed products often enjoy higher repeat purchase rates, indicating that successful integration of sustainability can lead to increased consumer loyalty. Additionally, studies from the Journal of Marketing Research and NYU Stern School of Business highlight that clear and honest sustainability claims and the superior performance of sustainable products significantly influence consumer purchasing behavior.

What can brands do differently?

Strategic integration and testing

Consumer insight professionals and marketers can bridge the say-do gap by better aligning product offerings with consumer expectations for sustainability.

This involves evaluating business objectives, optimizing product innovation through consumer testing, and leveraging behavioral data for predictive models. By understanding and integrating consumer expectations into the business strategy, companies can enhance the appeal and efficacy of their sustainable offerings.

Transparent and effective communication

To avoid greenwashing, it is crucial to communicate the genuine sustainability benefits of products clearly and effectively. Highlighting how these benefits do not compromise quality or value is essential for maintaining consumer trust and loyalty.

Closing the say-do gap

Closing the say-do gap requires a strategic approach that incorporates a thorough understanding of consumer behavior, effective measurement techniques, and honest communication. By addressing these aspects, brands can turn the say-do gap from a marketing challenge into a driver of innovation and growth in the realm of sustainability.

Learn more about SKIM’s capabilities in sustainability research & insights or reach out to us for a consultation with a SKIM expert.