Why brands must align with customer values - starting with sustainability

Sustainability is in the mainstream

Attitudes have changed dramatically since the pandemic – customers now have motivations beyond price and quality and 72% expect companies to address their broader needs and expectations. They are willing to abandon brands that don't align with their values and pay more to those that do. [1]

Undoubtedly the biggest shift in attitudes has been towards sustainability, which is now well and truly in the mainstream consciousness - today, 79% of customers claim they are changing purchase preference based on the environmental impact, social responsibility and economic inclusiveness of their purchases. [2]

This is not the prerogative of the young - as has long been assumed - there is strong evidence that concerns for sustainability apply across geographies, age groups and income distributions. This cannot be a priority just for brands serving younger demographics. [3]

Enter the cost-of-living crisis

Are these expectations being dampened by the cost-of-living crisis? Well no. In fact, it's arguably accelerating the trend, according to research from EY. It found that customers battling the cost-of-living crisis are not just seeking to make more economical choices, but more sustainable ones too - 90% said they are trying not to waste food and 55% are paying more attention to the environmental impact of what they purchase.[4]

For real-world evidence of this, take the significant increase in charity shop sales reported last week- 22% higher than pre-pandemic trading, with some retail shops trading at more than double. What could demonstrate a more powerful and symbiotic link between the search for value and sustainable choices than engaging in the circular economy in support of good causes?

Whilst we all hope this crisis will soon pass, all the evidence shows that the shift in customer attitudes will not. In fact it will continue to accelerate.

Aligning to customer values

This means brands (D2C or B2B) need to look beyond the needs and expectations of their customers from a transactional perspective to understand the bigger picture - their broader set of attitudes and values. Only then can they begin to ensure their brand experience aligns to these values - towards sustainability and others.

Brands that get this right will win, because the potential rewards are enormous. Truly customer-centric brands now typically outperform user-experience focused brands by 600% or more in terms of year-on-year growth. [2]

What’s more, aligning with customer values is a shortcut to the Holy Grail of brand marketing, because it is so effective in forging deeper, more enduring connections with customers. Almost two-thirds (64%) of consumers say buying sustainable products makes them feel happy, while 52% feel an emotional connection with brands that deliver on sustainability. [2]

This has not gone unnoticed. Recent research from Accenture found that 77% of CEOs are planning to fundamentally change the way their businesses engage and interact with customers as they seek renewed growth, improved durability and greater relevance. [5] 

As Accenture’s report put it:

“Brands today are facing intense pressure to stand for something bigger than the products and services they sell. This demand for purpose has been growing for years but has been accelerated by recent world events.”

Closing the gap? Customer-obsession.

So, how can brands close the gap between the what customers expect and the reality of the brand experiences they provide? The answer is to become customer-obsessed. For a customer-obsessed brand:

  • Everything begins and ends with the customer - they obsess about understanding ever-changing customer expectations and obsessively measure how well they meet these.
  • They invest in shaping a brand purpose that connects with customers in meaningful ways, but they don’t stop there – they deliver against that purpose with tangible action.
  • They measure the gap between the actions they are taking and customer perceptions and design experiences that communicate those actions - in compelling, authentic ways.
  • They never stand still. They are constantly working to turn change into opportunity – embedding customer and commercial validation throughout brand experience design, not just to accelerate the pace of innovation but to do so with a surefooted focus on predictable outcomes.

No time to lose

The biggest challenge for brands seeking to adapt is to do so at pace. There is no time to lose, and the days of year-long customer studies are gone. The sheer size of the gap between customer expectations and experiences, plus the existential threat that comes with getting it wrong, means that reimagined customer experiences must be delivered on vastly accelerated timescales. What’s more, they must be right first time.

The good news is that there are logical, repeatable processes that brands can employ to do just that – taking the guesswork out of experience innovation and delivering at pace. 


[1] Accenture: The Reimagined Customer - 2022

[2] Cap Gemini, How sustainability is fundamentally changing consumer perceptions - 2022

[3] LEK - Consumer Sustainability Survey 2022

[4] https://www.just-style.com/news/uk-clothing-retailers-must-offer-value-for-cash-strapped-consumers/

[5] Accenture: The Business of Experience


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