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New Consumer Research Highlights Sustainability Opportunities for Brands in Asia

The first-ever Asian version of the Socio-Cultural Trend Tracker shows the huge opportunity that await brands for meeting conscious consumers’ needs and desires in Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia.

The research, conducted by Sustainable Brands™ and Dr. Dangjaithawin Anantachai, Managing Director of INTAGE Thailand, surveyed 1,000 consumers in each market on topics arranged around the nine most impactful consumer behaviors identified as part of Sustainable Brands’ Brands for Good program, and local awareness of global and regional brand actions.

Numerous surveys have shown that sustainability is a winning proposition for companies and that being a socially and environmentally responsible brand is correlated with being a brand consumers trust. But until now, there hasn’t been as much research on Asian consumers, which has made it hard for those working in sustainability or marketing departments at organizations operating in Asian markets to push for action.

“This is the first time we conducted a study in these four countries, where Sustainable Brands exists. The goal was to access consumer values, attitudes and behavior around sustainability,” Anantachai said, while presenting the findings at the recent Sustainable Brands Asia-Pacific 2022 conference. “Consumers show a strong desire to be sustainable, are willing to pay, and be loyal to a brand, if they are able to help them live a more sustainable life.”

The survey shows the reasons and barriers to Asian consumers adopting more sustainable habits and behaviors. It’s meant to be a guide to meeting consumer desires, not a framework for comparing attitudes between countries. That is why even in instances in which the figures vary between the four Asian markets, and other places where similar surveys have been conducted — such as the United States — it doesn’t mean that consumers are more sustainable in any particular market. Rather, it shows that they face different challenges and live in vastly difference economic and social contexts.

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“The common reasons and barriers preventing consumers from taking further steps is that they don’t know where to start, or sometimes the problems are too big; but it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to do it,” Anantachai said.

For example, the main barrier to consumers reducing food waste (one of the nine most impactful behaviors) in Japan was cited as inconvenience; but in Malaysia, it was the perception of high costs. Meanwhile, the barrier to going circular (another impactful behavior) in South Korea was the unavailability of such products; and a barrier to expanding equity and opportunity in Thailand was that consumer don’t know where to start. Environmental issues were of higher concern in more developed Japan and South Korea, while social concerns were seen as more pressing in Malaysia and Thailand.

When it comes to social issues, one interesting finding was there was increased support or awareness of the need to support women and girls and address inequality (two more of the nine impactful behaviors) among Gen Z consumers — between the ages of 18-29 — in all four countries.

Despite these differences, broadly, sustainability was an overarching desire everywhere.

“Most consumers feel they have strong and moderate intentions to live in a way that protects the planet and its resources,” Anantachai said.

The survey also looked at the impact of COVID-19 — which, besides the public health impacts, has created economic challenges across Asia. There is evidence that the pandemic has exacerbated inequality, and made some environmental concerns — such as plastic waste — worse.

“COVID-19 and the economy are making it harder to live a simple, sustainable lifestyle,” Anantachai said. It also may be limiting consumers’ ability to make sustainable choices — according to the Asian Trend Tracker: “There is no significant increase in intention to take action over the next 12 months, perhaps due to COVID-19.”

The Brands for Good Socio-Cultural Trend Tracker surveys are aimed at empowering brand decision-makers by tracking the changing drivers and behaviors of consumers around the intersections of brands and sustainable living. In the US, this research has been used by marketers to stay ahead of a rapidly changing consumer landscape. This initial survey builds the groundwork for similar ongoing research and tracking in Asia.

But there’s no need to wait; because, according to Anantachai, there is already a wealth of data in the report that Asian brands can use to do better marketing, but also innovate in ways that meet consumer demand.

“Consumers show a strong desire to be sustainable, are willing to pay and be loyal to a brand, if they are able to help them live a more sustainable life,” she said. “Consumers are waiting for brands.”

Now, it’s time for brands operating in Asia — armed with these findings — to begin meeting those desires.

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