Why companies must win the trust of aspirational consumers

Over the past two years, GlobeScan and its colleagues at BBMG have tracked the emergence of a market segment that is driving sustainability toward a tipping point. It is one where consumer motives are shifting away from obligation to do the right thing to desire to consume both differently and better. Choice frameworks are transitioning from "Or," the trade-off model, to "And," the co-benefit model. We call this important market segment the Aspirationals.

In this edition of Proof Points, we ask which brands will be relevant to tomorrow's consumer and turn to fresh research data on what sectors are most trusted, and specifically which companies are seen as most environmentally and socially responsible.

Meet the Aspirationals

Aspirationals are materialists who define themselves in part through brands and yet they believe they have a responsibility to purchase products that are good for the environment and society. Aspirational consumers represent more than one-third of consumers globally (38 percent) and are defined by their love of shopping (93 percent), desire for responsible consumption (95 percent) and their trust in brands to act in the best interest of society (50 percent). They unite style, social status and influence, and sustainability values to redefine consumption. They are also more likely than any other segment to "share" and "make" products as alternatives to buying something new.

Despite this last nuance, our latest GlobeScan Radar study across 21 countries finds that Aspirationals are generally more trusting of different types of companies. Aspirationals' trust in sectors that tend to be in the business of solving societal problems is particularly higher than it is among other consumers. Automotive (mobility), pharma (health) and mobile telephone (communications) stand out, with trust scores some 16 to 18 points higher for Aspirationals than for other market segments.

Only the tobacco industry is less trusted by Aspirationals than by others, which is not inconsistent with the pattern. The point? The vanguard of today's sustainable consumers are willing to work with, rather than against, the private sector to solve problems in ways that deliver to their values as both consumers and citizens, rather than just one or the other.

Specific brands that Aspirationals cite (without aid) as being the most socially and environmentally responsible differ from other consumer segments across 21 countries as well. For example, in China and India, Aspirationals consider brands such as Midea, Lenovo, Haier, Tata, Reliance and LIC to be the most socially responsible. In the USA, this segment cites Microsoft, Ford and Target.

Credit: GlobeScan

For now, note that almost the companies on the full list have platforms that extend their value proposition beyond mere product and service into the realm of social and environmental contribution. It seems Aspirational consumers recognize and value that.

To drive the point home, we asked consumers to tell us why they name the companies they do. Much more often than others, Aspirationals in the U.S. volunteer reasons such as having personal knowledge of the company, protecting the environment and supporting communities.

It's important that product quality is no less important to Aspirationals than it is to others. To tap this large market, companies need not only deliver exceptional products and services, but also to inspire relationships with their customers, exceed environmental expectations and engage with communities.

How Aspirationals can help your brand

Aspirationals matter because they are the first to unite materialism, sustainability and cultural influence. As the largest consumer segment globally, they are the most critical audience to reach and engage if we want to reinvigorate brand loyalty, drive sustainable behaviour change and to propagate the new business models needed to propel our economy forward.

All this creates new demands on leadership to be driven by vision and strategy and with a view to co-creating and developing shared goals with stakeholders rather than simply listening to their opinions. Give Aspirationals something to believe in and a community to belong to that enables them to amplify their voice and creativity. Give them share-worthy status and a platform for impact.

Wherever they are in the world, Aspirationals could be the best thing going for solving some of society's intractable challenges. Brands that successfully tap the power of this segment will be big winners. They should grasp the opportunity.

Top image of shopper by gpointstudio via Shutterstock.