A sea change is happening at our national cash registers. Customers are moving past their practice of rewarding a company for doing good. Now they are demanding real change that they personally experience. It is the authenticity of their experiences regarding COVID-19, global warming, systemic racism, and a national obesity crisis that now drives consumer decisions on what stores, websites, restaurants, hotel rooms, and airlines they use.
This sea change is happening in real time and faster than most businesses comprehend. The speed of change is being driven by COVID-19 fears and a consensus rejection of racism.
America is a coronavirus resurgence away from a radical re-engineering in consumer shopping behaviors. Our economy hangs in the balance as pent up consumer demands confront the reality that this pandemic kills people and that social distancing will have to remain in place for the foreseeable future. What happens in the next days and weeks will be hugely telling.
In confronting racism, a consensus of consumers are moving past social justice advertising and corporate speak. The anti-racism movement is demanding a positive experience with a diverse workforce (including diverse senior management) and equal treatment/courtesy for customers, work associates and suppliers.
Global warming and our national obesity crisis are driving the scale of change. The going green business challenge is that consumers, most especially millennials and GenZers, are no longer satisfied with incremental green actions. They are demanding solutions. And very importantly, they want these solutions to cost less and be available now.
Like global warming, our national obesity crisis is pushing consumers to demand sea changes in what we eat and how it is produced. Consumers still want the convenience offered by fast food service but not at the cost of being unhealthy. The consumer engagement with plant based hamburgers is a first step toward the public adopting the authenticity of a plant based food system. The food industry’s strategic question is whether fast food restaurants can move on from cheap food and cheap labor by delivering healthy foods and living wages.
The ability to change in lock step with the speed and scale being demanded by consumers is now the ultimate competitive advantage. Disruptive change is moving past the disruptive technologies that made Amazon and Apple the world’s first trillion-dollar companies. The real opportunity, even for disruptive technology companies, is in being able to change a business culture to align with consumer expectations on social justice, human health, and environmental protection.
The following business metrics will determine if your business will delight consumers with changes that enable their expectations:
Diversity. Values messaging and “minority” engagement programs are no longer enough. Workforce diversity (most especially at senior management levels) and success at engaging a diverse base of consumers and suppliers are the authentic business metrics that consumers will be using in deciding what to buy and from whom.
COVID-19. Advertising health practices that are then exposed through social media posts as not being enforced will lose customers and your business’ authenticity. Until our country achieves mass inoculation the path to returning customers to your business is based on ensuring full compliance of health protecting practices by customers and work associates. My favorite Mexican restaurant succinctly stated this through a sign posted at their front door that read, “No mask, no service!”
Obesity. Mass promotion of sodas and other sugar intense products (real sugar or artificial) is the 21st century’s cigarette in terms of national health damage. This reality will be unavoidable when half of Americans are obese by 2030. The business opportunity, as identified by the double-digit sales growth achieved by Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, is in selling healthy food that tastes great and is affordable.
Global Warming. The world has again set a new record for CO2 atmospheric concentration even with the reduced emissions delivered by the coronavirus shutdown. Early adopter consumers have begun embracing the renewable energy/battery technology revolution that delivers zero emissions. The business strategy for winning millennial customers is to be cool with a purpose. For GenZ customers it is to demonstrate purposefulness. Going green is no longer just about cutting costs. Going green is the very foundation for winning customers through demonstrating authenticity and purpose.
How will your business know if you are winning today’s sea change in consumer expectations? You will know when your business begins experiencing exponential revenue growth driven by what millennials and GenZers are posting on Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter.