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178. [BIZ BITE] Do Customers Care about Sustainability + Charitable Donations?

Recently I’ve had multiple experiences and conversations on this topic and it was becoming so prevalent, I had to record a podcast about it. 

It’s kind of like when you get a new car and all of a sudden you start seeing that car everywhere. I feel like there’s probably a name for that phenomenon though I have no idea what it is. Anyway, it’s not that all of a sudden a ton more people ran out and bought that car – it’s just because it’s top of mind for you so you start recognizing it more. 

That’s basically what happened to me and it all started with a reel on Instagram. 

The founder of a shoe brand called Bangs posted a reel of her going up to someone, I think it was at a farmer’s market, who she saw wearing her shoes. 

I had never heard of the brand but I was intrigued so I went and checked them out. The shoes aren’t my style, but I started learning more about the founder including watching a TedX talk she did share the story of how she started her business. It was a great lesson in seizing the opportunities around you – I’ll stick a link in the show notes. 

Anyway, because I had looked at this brand, and I allow Facebook to track my internet activity I saw an ad for another shoe brand called nothing new. These were super cute, if I left the house more and didn’t already have a bajillion pairs of shoes I would have bought a pair but they also have a sustainability angle to their brand overall and even use recycled leather. 

And last week, while I was finalizing the good reads around the web links for my weekly newsletter I came across an article about Adore Me. They had recently started leaning into their sustainability efforts and became a Certified B corporation… and the results they saw from those efforts were pretty unexpected. 

But what really prompted me to record this episode was a new client I am onboarding for a VIP Marketing Sprint (a new service I’m beta testing right now, I’ll let you know if it turns into an official offering) 

She sells fair-trade coffee and as I was reading through her pre-work all of her focus was on the production of the coffee, the women farmers, the fair-trade, etc. Last year I worked with a coffee client who was taking a similar approach of leaning on the single-origin, organic aspect. 

So the question is, do customers care about this stuff? 

The answer is yes. But the real question is do they care about it enough for that to be the reason WHY they purchase?

And when you ask that question… the answer is no. 

Now, before I get into the details here realize that I am making sweeping generalizations about consumers. I’m talking about the majority. Yes, there are certainly people who prioritize things like sustainability, donations to charity, organic, and things like that above all else. But they are a small subset of your customers. 

Now, if that is truly what is most important to you – then awesome. Run with it. Find those die-hards who truly care about that more than anything else. You won’t necessarily appeal to the masses that way, but that’s okay – you don’t have to. You get to build whatever business you want and niche businesses are awesome.

But if you really want to figure out how to market your products so they DO sell to more people, then I recommend you consider that messaging a nice to have, a bonus, the icing on the cake, the cherry on top. 

It’s similar to the made-in-U.S.A. messaging. Consumers as a whole say they care and want to buy American made. And yes, we should absolutely be manufacturing more things here so we’re not so reliant on the rest of the world and can be self-sufficient in moments of crisis…

But consumers as a whole, remember, we’re talking sweeping generalizations here, don’t want to pay the higher prices of goods that are made here. Again, that’s not true for everyone. My mom waited MONTHS and paid a lot for a made-in-the-US sink when she was redoing her kitchen. 

If she had no sink at all would she have bought something else in the meantime even if it wasn’t American made or would she have gone without a sink completely? What would you have done?

And here’s where my real cynical New Yorker comes out… consumers in general are selfish. 

But it’s not cynical. It’s me being real, being practical, and ultimately a marketer who wants to help you sell more product.

We buy products not because they check off all the do-good boxes but because of what it does for us. How it solves our problems, makes us feel good, makes our life better, gives us the outcome we are looking for, and how it’s going to serve us. 

Back in the day in my brick & mortar boutique, I brought in a t-shirt brand that was made of organic cotton, made sustainably, and donated to different charities, etc. Guess what? My customer didn’t really care. For them, those details weren’t enough to justify the higher-priced product and I’ll tell ya. they were dropping $200+ on a pair of jeans so money wasn’t the issue.

That shoe brand I mentioned earlier, Nothing New. Because I was curious about their products I started reading through their reviews and there was a clear pattern to what their customers had to say. First, they talked about how cute, how comfortable, how they could wear them all day, the quality, etc., etc. And then they said. and it’s nice to know that they’re a better choice for the planet. It made them feel good about their purchase, but it’s not what drove the conversion.

Adore Me started its sustainability campaign and instead of having the positive effect they expected, it actually had a negative effect. Consumers immediately started perceiving these sustainability efforts as an increase in prices which they certainly were not happy about. I don’t think I ended up sharing that in the newsletter but I’ll stick a link in the show notes if you want to check it out.

This is in sharp contrast to the messages we hear today about how people want to support businesses that have similar values and they vote with their dollars. And the thing is, that is also true. Which can make this all really confusing, right? 

Look, I believe humans are generally good. We inherently want to help and support others. But there’s a reason why they tell ya to put your oxygen mask on first, right? Ultimately, I think we’re all giant walking contradictions because the human experience is complex. 

And as a marketer and someone who wants to help you sell more stuff, it’s important we have these weird, honest, and frank conversations. 

Essentially, what I’m trying to illustrate here is that while these messages and values matter – in most cases it’s not enough to sell your product. You still need to be able to speak specifically to the outcome the customer wants from your product. And the rest becomes the bonus.

Take the Nothing New shoe brand again. If someone else sold the same shoe with the same comfort and at generally the same price, would a customer buy the sustainable one vs. the one that wasted gallons of water with every shoe they produced? Sure. But if the shoe was uncomfortable and ugly, would they buy it just because it was sustainable? No. 

If you need help identifying the true message you should be using in your marketing, make sure you check the show notes for some other episodes and resources to help you with that. 

Listen to this Episode

Important Episode Links:

Understanding & Speaking to Your Ideal Customer

How to Create Content That Converts

The eCommerce Badassery Free Resource Library

Adore Me Sustainability Efforts

Bangs Founder TedX

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Jessica Totillo Coster of eCommerce Badassery eating gelato on stairs in Rome Italy

Hey, I'm Jessica eCommerce & Email Marketing Strategist

I support scrappy female entrepreneurs with actionable steps & strategies to grow and scale the traffic, sales & profit in their eCommerce businesses. Learning from the top experts in the digital marketing & eCommerce industry I love working with female entrepreneurs and teaching the secrets of 7-figure eCommerce businesses.

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