The Power of Shopper Psychology in Connecting Consumers with Sustainability

The Power of Shopper Psychology in Connecting Consumers with Sustainability

Sustainability is at the forefront of most organisations mantras, but how can you effectively market your sustainability efforts to shoppers? Here are 4 ways.

What do sustainability and shopper psychology have in common? Quite a bit, as it turns out....

In order to connect consumers with sustainable practices, retailers and brand category managers need to understand what makes people tick. By tapping into the power of shopper psychology, they can create messaging and strategies that resonate with shoppers and encourage them to make more sustainable choices.

Why is sustainability important to shoppers?

Sustainability is an increasingly important consideration for modern shoppers.

At the root of sustainability is the idea that consumers should be looking beyond marginal cost when making purchases, and consider how their choices will impact the environment and society as a whole. This shift in mindset can affect both individual choices and market trends, as companies scramble to adapt their marketing strategies to better resonate with sustainability-conscious consumers.

Of course, sustainability is not a new concept by any means, and many companies and brands have been working towards sustainability for years. But what has changed in recent years is the sheer volume of consumers who are now striving to shop sustainably and make ethical purchasing decisions, even in these financially challenging times

Thanks to growing awareness of environmental issues such as climate change and social concerns including  labour rights and human rights abuses, shoppers from all walks of life are starting to see sustainability as an integral component of conscious consumption.

recyclable paper coffee cups
Recyclable paper coffee cups become the norm

As such, companies that want to remain competitive in the marketplace need to proactively promote sustainability in their branding and marketing efforts. This involves everything from sourcing sustainable materials to investing in renewable energy sources to partnering with charitable causes.

In short, for businesses looking to survive and thrive in today's rapidly changing marketplace, sustainability must be at the forefront of their strategy moving forward. After all, as more and more shoppers prioritise sustainability, those brands that can offer sustainable options will be perceived as ever more relevant. .

The role of shopper psychology in marketing sustainability

Shopper psychology is a powerful tool to nudge human behaviours toward sustainable outcomes, but too often, retailers and brands have focused their efforts on rationally explaining their sustainability activities to consumers, expecting them to then ‘self-persuade’ and to change.

A more effective communication strategy is to shift the focus to how and why shoppers would want to change and become more sustainable consumers. This is where you need to unleash the well-proven potential of evolutionary psychology, human emotion and cognitive biases.

So, what are some of the key principles of shopper psychology that you should know about?

To connect shoppers with sustainability, we need to go downstream in the communication process. In other words, stop shouting about sustainability in the press, online and in other high-level locations, using gimmicky tactics, and start telling shoppers and consumers about honest sustainability ventures at their point of decision-making (in-store and online) - it might just be their deciding factor!

After 25 years of using shopper psychology as an agent of change for brand performance,  a new ‘toolkit’ has now been developed and is available to help you dramatically raise awareness, engagement, and shopping behaviour change regarding your sustainability initiatives.

see appeal engage buy timeline of the consumer journey
Timeline of the consumer journey

The toolkit categorises more than 1,200 proven shopper psychology insights and interventions into 4 identified methods of applying behavioural science to achieve conservation and sustainability goals:

1. See – Make sustainable activities more visible to shoppers

Make your sustainability activities more visible, by tapping into proven human evolution related fight or flight related cues. By making sustainability-related goals more visible to shoppers in-store and online, you demonstrate that the more sustainable behaviour (e.g. recycling) is the norm, building trust and encouraging consumers to follow suit.

Given the serious problem of sustainability in our society today, we need to find creative ways to promote sustainable buying habits among shoppers. One effective strategy is to increase the visibility of sustainable activities at the store level. By marketing these activities in a more visible and appealing way, we can encourage shoppers to make more sustainable choices when they are out and about. Whether it's by using eco-friendly packaging materials or recycling products that cannot be reused, sustainability efforts should be highlighted and celebrated as much as possible.

With a little creativity and some clever marketing tactics, we can help to raise awareness about sustainability and inspire people of all ages to take action toward building a greener future. So let's get out there and make sustainability visible!

By making sustainability-related goals more psychologically visible to shoppers in-store and online, you demonstrate that the more sustainable behaviour (e.g. recycling) is the norm. For example, humans are hard-wired to pay attention to images of wild animals, much more than they are to modern inventions like cars, although nowadays, vehicles kill and maim many more people than animals do. In other words, images of evolutionary threats are much more attention grabbing than pictures of modern threats, and definitely more impactful than product hero shots. Lion Bar, anyone?

[Image source]

2. Appeal – Develop emotional connections with shoppers

Connect shoppers with the sustainability messages that are relevant to them.

Developing emotional connections with your shoppers is a powerful strategy for promoting sustainable buying habits; connecting your sustainability credentials with shoppers at an emotional level is 24X more persuasive that providing just reasoned argument!

By building strong relationships with your customers, you can influence the way they think and feel about sustainability in general, and make it more likely that they will take proactive steps to reduce their environmental impact.

Through effective marketing techniques like targeted social media campaigns, engaging content on your website and in-store promotions, you can create powerful emotional connections with shoppers. By personally connecting with them through messaging that resonates on an emotional level, you can build trust and loyalty, which are both essential elements of meaningful sustainability at the individual level.

Of course, sustainability means different things to different people. So it is important to tailor your marketing strategies to appeal to specific groups or individuals within your customer base. For example, if one of your key target markets tends to prioritise convenience over sustainability when making purchasing decisions, you might highlight the ease and convenience of your products as well as their green credentials. Through this kind of strategic marketing approach, you can successfully engage your shoppers around sustainability and promote a culture of more eco-conscious consumerism.

3. Engage – Create deeper, more meaningful connections with shoppers

Another aspect of the toolkit is optimising processing fluency, or ease of (behaviour) change. These strategies involve removing friction, promoting more sustainable options in everyday shopper decisions, and simplifying what people are being asked to do. Remove friction and make your sustainability attributes easier to think about, and understand, communicating in a way that is genuine and authentic.

Whether you are a sustainability expert or a retailer looking to engage with your customers, there are many ways to encourage consumers to make more sustainable purchases.

in store sustainability display for the conscious consumer
Sustainability display in-store

At its core, sustainability is about creating meaningful connections between individuals and the world around them. This can involve anything from connecting with nature through outdoor activities, to advocating for social causes that resonate personally with an individual and helping them feel like they are part of the solution.

Great marketing plays a key role in helping people feel that kind of connection with brands and products. By focusing on creating deeper, more meaningful interactions with shoppers, retailers have the opportunity to drive sustainable purchasing behaviours among their audiences. This can be done through targeted digital marketing campaigns, interactive in-store displays, or even community outreach initiatives that partner with local non-profits and environmental organisations.

Ultimately, the key is finding new and innovative ways to connect shoppers and consumers directly with sustainability-related issues in order to build long-term trust and inspire meaningful change. By highlighting your sustainability initiatives through strategic marketing activities, you can engage shoppers in new and exciting ways. And when we succeed at doing this well, everyone wins.

4. Buy – Be the preferred brand, for more shoppers, more often

Be the sustainable brand that stands out, appeals more, is more engaging and that shoppers psychologically want to put in their trolley or basket.

In today's competitive marketplace, it can be difficult for brands to stand out and capture the attention of shoppers. But if you want to be the preferred brand among consumers, you need to focus on sustainability.

At the core of your brand lies your commitment to sustainability. Whether it's producing organic products or employing eco-friendly manufacturing practices, you have to make sustainability a key part of your brand identity. Without this foundation, you risk losing credibility with today's savvy consumers.

To really capture the attention of shoppers and become their preferred choice, you also need to leverage this commitment through marketing strategies designed to engage and inspire them. From social media campaigns to innovative packaging designs, there are countless ways that you can highlight the sustainability aspects of your brand and convince shoppers that they simply can't live without it.

Winning at shopper decision-making by highlighting sustainable practices

Shopper decision making involves habitual mental shortcuts, numerous cognitive biases and choice overload. These are just some of the barriers to change that shoppers need to overcome.

You might think about introducing 20 different sustainability related initiatives, all of which would be better for the planet, but apply little or none of the correct psychological touchpoints, and the result is that shoppers overlook you altogether.

While cognitive biases and heuristics often create barriers or hindrances to sustainability-based change, they also represent real opportunities when communicated more ‘psychologically’. For example, when you want your sustainability interventions to stand out in-store and online, use easily recognisable visual cues that shoppers have been conditioned to perceive as both familiar and easy to mentally process.

supermarket organic food display
Organic food display with social media marketing strategy

So if you want to stand out from the crowd and rise above all the other brands vying for consumer attention, think about sustainability from every angle - from product design to advertising tactics - and create a truly engaging experience for shoppers everywhere. Because when it comes down to it, sustainability is what matters most in today's crowded marketplaces: being more appealing than ever before, being more engaging than ever before, and ultimately becoming the sustainable brand that people simply want in their trolleys or baskets more often than any other option out there.

Maximising the psychological appeal of sustainability

If you would like your sustainability initiatives to be truly effective with shoppers, then you need to maximise their psychological appeal, and this means addressing the 4 different pillars of our toolkit; see, appeal, engage and buy.

Grow your brand by combining your sustainability initiatives using our 25 years of applied shopper psychology.

We’ve helped brands grow share by 6%, 14%, 23% and even 350% and having helped 62% of the top 100 brands* [The Grocer] to be more visible in-store, more appealing, more engaging and sell more as a result, we now offer the same expertise to support your sustainability initiatives.

Just think what you can do for your brand by applying shopper psychology expertise to sustainability initiatives, and what you might be missing out on if you don’t..

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About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

If you think there is value in this article then please, please share it, thank you.

Phillip Adcock

Phillip Adcock CMRS
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

Phillips Signature

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