Made it to base camp (at least)

June 8, 2012 by
Filed under: The RSA, Uncategorized 


Mountain Marathon base camp

Well, I’ve at least made it to base camp for the Mountain Marathon and the weather is surprising fine.  Have just got to run the 26 miles now!

Many thanks to everyone who donated and helped me not only reach, but exceed, my target. I hope we’ll soon be able to claim our corner of the mosaic on the Great Room staircase!

 

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2 Comments on Made it to base camp (at least)

  1. Daniel on Sun, 10th Jun 2012 4:01 pm
  2. Hi,

    Good luck with the run!

    I’ve been doing some pondering on your previous few posts about your upcoming lecture and elements within your previous speech on consumers & business. I am not sure if I’m a bit late to respond to the last post – so thought I would post thoughts here. Sorry if that’s not the done thing.

    As you know consumers attitude surveys consistently report that a large majority would like to purchase more ethical/sustainable products. However the reality is that only a small fraction of the population actually purchases such products. Reported attitudes don’t follow behaviours. As such ethical consumption is still a very niche element of the market.

    There are two broad possible reasons for this. Firstly that consumers over state their desire for ethical/sustainable attributes. This is highly possible. Especially as the surveys are rarely within the context of other purchase attributes (i.e. the relative importance of sustainability vs. price, flavour etc. is not determined). The relative importance is rarely captured. Within the context of cultural theory – the individualistic trumps the egalitarian. Secondly that there a number of “barriers” that prevent consumers expressing their egalitarian desires when consuming. For the sake of this post I will consider the possibility of the second.

    An oft declared barrier is price and quality….if only these were equal then consumers would purchase based on ethical merits. This is a false conclusion. Price and quality are rarely if ever removed (even if not actually then perceived). If this was the case then commodity categories (e.g. bin liners, matches, soap) would be predominated by “ethical brands”. In addition framing key purchase criteria as barriers is false – they are not barriers if they are a consumers key purchase criteria.

    The poor distribution of ethical brands is another barrier that is frequently mentioned. I would argue that this is a possible but not permanent barrier. Possible – because if the products are not available then they simply can’t be bought. But not permanent because, if an ethical brand does well it will naturally scale to get more distribution. There are numerous examples of brands that have been on the market for many years with enough distribution but have failed to scale (e.g. recycled toilet roll brands). I therefore believe this is also a false barrier.

    It has however occurred to me that there may be a more subtle set of barriers though. Barriers associated with how consumption as a system has evolved during the last 50-60 years. I would hypothesise that the consumption system has evolved to favour individualistic needs and exclude the expression of the egalitarian. Consuming today is highly complicated task vs. what it used to be. Today there are tens of thousands of brands that one can choose from. This amount of choice makes the possibility of fully considering ones purchase impossible. Imagine how long it would take to shop if you completely evaluated and weighed up the options for each purchase you made at the supermarket. As such we know from multiple sources of research that consumers shop on autopilot – relying on their subconscious and habit to help direct them (happy to send you papers on this). In light of this system the possibility of a consumer being able to consider multiple purchase criteria is limited and the act of purchasing gets boiled down to the critical one or two key individualistic factors. Egalitarian considerations get excluded from a consumers decision set, not for lack of interest, but more for cognitive simplicity & self preservation.

    The other interesting possible barrier is the amount of knowledge now required for a consumer to fully evaluate the relative impact of a brands egalitarian benefits. Today’s supply chains and the range of issues one needs to understand are now extensive. For example knowing the relative contribution of a Fairtrade coffee vs. a Rainforest alliance coffee requires a lot of knowledge of the issue (e.g. economics of small holder farming in developing nations) and the solution (e.g. the relative benefits of the Fairtrade model of a standard floor price vs. the premium price enabling criteria of Rainforest Alliance). Contrast this to the days of old when the egalitarian considerations of your local baker stretched to whether they polluted your local environment/community and if they paid the shop staff enough.

    If my two hypothesised barriers are true – it raises some interesting questions on how the consumer system should be managed. If true it challenges the notion that simply allowing consumers to shape markets based on their purchase behaviour is really allowing them to express themselves. It could lead one to argue for peoples other civic tools of expression to influence the system instead.

    Just about publish a paper in a marketing journal on the myths of consumers & sustainability in light of science & data – happy to send you the initial draft.

  3. Salma on Sun, 10th Jun 2012 8:05 pm
  4. Have respect for anyone that can run a marathon – let alone one across mountainous terrain. Impressive stuff. Hope you made it.

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