In a changing world, consumer behavior is shifting quickly. Marketers, trying to get ahead of these shifts, sift through data, segment populations by age, region and any other relevant trait, analyze shopping behavior and worry about what millennials might do next. Pollsters have been looking in particular at whether millennials consider sustainability factors when making purchases.

We are used to thinking about the sustainable shopper as a 'yes' or a 'no.' Is someone a planet-conscious consumer or is she a material girl? Do people shop on price, or might they pay extra as a statement for human rights?

A new study by consultancies BBMG and GlobeScan has found there are four consumer categories around sustainability retail decisions: the die-hard 'yes' sustainability- conscious shoppers, whom they call 'Advocates,' the 'no' shoppers (there are two categories here, the 'Practicals,' who prioritize price and quality of a product and look at sustainability last, and the 'Indifferents'), and a fourth category: the 'Aspirationals.'

The consultants interviewed over 22,000 consumers in 22 international markets over a four-year period, at times actually going into their closets to enhance the depth of the survey.

The Aspirationals, they found, are the largest group, at 39% of the global public. Although they are most likely to be millennials, Aspirationals can be any age; 11% of them are seniors and 20% are baby boomers. According to the study, "Aspirationals are defined by their love of shopping, desire for responsible consumption and their trust in brands to act in the best interest of society.... they are the first to unite materialism, sustainability values and cultural influence...." Aspirationals are particularly prevalent in emerging markets such as India, China and South Korea, but are also common here in the US.

BBMG and GlobeScan then identified five aspirations that characterize this consumer category:

1. Abundance without waste: more experiences, fewer resources. Aspirationals aren't focused so much on ownership as on experience, so they are happy to zip around in a Zipcar, stay in an Airbnb rather than a hotel, and rent a party dress. They have fun being creative about solutions that avoid waste. They enjoy their shopping, AND they care about the planet.

2. Truly as you are: welcoming imperfection as honest and beautiful. Aspirationals are looking for brands willing to be truthful about what is in their products and where they came from. They want to be honest themselves, and be appreciated for who they are and not the makeup they wear. They want brands they can trust, brands that are open, caring, willing to engage them in courageous conversations, and have values they identify with. And they have no patience at all for dishonesty or "greenwashing."

3. Get closer: connecting with the people behind the brand promise. The marketplace is shifting from selling products to engaging with peers. Aspirationals want products that are homegrown and locally sourced; they want to share recipes and read peer reviews. They'd like to feel they know the artisan that did the handiwork, and they like brands that tell stories about people. With PayPal, Square and Venmo, commerce is peer to peer. "Brands will win by celebrating our common humanity and unleashing the power of people to help each other live better," reads the BBMG/GlobeScan report.

4. All of it: experiencing freedom beyond binaries and finish lines. Aspirationals are redefining things like success, gender, and workplace. Why should brands be limiting about our freedom? The new Barbie ad campaign is promoting new thinking for girls fantasizing about what they want to be when they grow up. We should fight for the freedom to express anything that is authentically us. Work can be fun. Gender and sexuality are choices.

5. Do some good: agency and impact in the everyday. Aspirationals want to partner with brands that are clothing poor children, using their purchasing power to end modern day slavery, and offering education to stamp out poverty. They want to do good themselves, and the brands they trust can be their proxy. They are informed change-makers who want to participate in solving the world's toughest problems. They choose brands that are making an impact. 

The report concludes on a note of optimism: "At the end of the day, we believe that the greatest opportunity of our time is to leverage the power and scale of business to serve humanity, and harness the best of our humanity to reimagine the way we do business. A new generation of Aspirationals is leading the way."

Published on: Nov 19, 2015
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