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How to boost business growth through brands with purpose


Unilever recently published a booklet sharing the results of our groundbreaking new research into the role sustainability plays in consumer purchasing decisions, the lessons learned from putting purpose at the heart of our leading brands and how those sustainable living brands delivered 60% of our growth in 2016.

Dove deodorant cans on a shop shelf

The potential is bigger than we imagined

The aim of the Make Purpose Pay study – which looked at the purchasing behaviours of 20,000 people across the world – was to explore the difference between what people say about sustainability and what they actually buy, and therefore what barriers need to be overcome to encourage more consumers to buy more sustainable choices, more of the time.

The results show that the majority of people genuinely care about sustainability, and busts the myth that this is still a niche issue. Over half of all consumers already buy or want to buy sustainably, 33% already purchase products with sustainability in mind and a further 21% do not currently, but would like to.

“This confirmed that the potential for sales growth is even bigger than we imagined,” says Sue Garrard, Unilever’s EVP, Global Sustainable Business & Communications. “The size of the prize could be a sustainable FMCG market worth more than US$2.5 trillion.”

What stops people from buying sustainably?

The study found a strong link between engagement on sustainability and influence on buying decisions. But for the 21% of people who are on the cusp of buying sustainably, three concerns hold them back. They don’t believe what the brand says about sustainability, they believe they must make a sacrifice in product performance and they think it will cost more.

As Sue says: “That means if brands can produce products that cost the same, perform the same or better, and deliver authentically on the sustainability message, they are on to something.”

How you encourage more people to buy sustainable brands

The main drivers of sustainable purchasing are trust and social norms. Consumers need to trust the people who make the product and feel it is a purchase that is valued by the people they care about. But they don’t want to pay more or sacrifice performance. They want great products that are good value for money and sustainable. That doesn’t mean they have to be new brands. They want the brands they already know and love to be sustainable.

Sharing our research and insights

When we launched the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan in 2010, we said that if we went down the path of creating a new, sustainable business model but only a few companies joined us, we would have failed. So we have committed to helping other brands and businesses by sharing what we have learned in the hope of inspiring them to do the same.

“Make no mistake,” says Keith Weed, Unilever’s Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, “we see competitive advantage in being a first mover. But we also believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, so we want to encourage others to join us on our journey.”

Sustainable living brands grow faster

We’re seeing more and more evidence that our approach to sustainability – built around the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan – is creating real and measurable value.

Much of this evidence comes from the work we have been doing to capture the way sustainability contributes to our business success and a methodology to measure the impact of sustainable living brands on our growth. Our sustainable living brands are those that take action to make sustainable living commonplace in a way that’s relevant to their product, good for society and motivating to consumers.

Some 18 of our top 40 brands are now sustainable living brands, including our six biggest, Knorr, Dove, Dirt is Good (our laundry brands, which have different names in different markets), Lipton, Rexona and Hellmann’s. Combined, sustainable living brands grew 50% faster than the rest of the business and delivered more than 60% of our growth in 2016.

“We have a growing body of evidence in Unilever that a strongly articulated sustainable living purpose brought to life through communications can deliver a powerful emotional response and generate brand fame – the key drivers of memorability,” says Karen Hamilton, Unilever’s VP, Global Sustainable Business.

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