Conscious Consumption: The Wisdom of Moving Beyond Labels

For millions of years, we have had a simple evolutionary truth pounded into our human DNA: ambiguity is dangerous. For example, imagine yourself as the first primitive human to come face-to-face with a tiger. Since you have no previous knowledge of such a creature, it’s in your best interest to label it as “dangerous” and make a quick exit. Pondering deeply about its classification or entertaining unfixed notions like “could be friendly?” will probably result in your demise.

Thankfully, our species has developed a remedy to combat ambiguity: we label stuff. In fact, our entire industry is built around the notion of labeling. Isn’t that what branding is all about? Are we not the creators of conceptual labels (brand essence, tone, personality, etc.) and, of course, literal labels (logos, packaging, content, etc.)? And isn’t the reason for these labels to eliminate ambiguity, and therefore encourage trials, loyalty and advocacy?

Which brings us to conscious consumption, maybe the most label-happy marketing segment in history. Just consider the vast amount of packaging labels Conscious Consumers consider when purchasing food items:

> All-Natural

 > Naturally

 > Locally-Grown

 > Free-Range

 > Cage-Free

 > Antibiotic-Free

 > Chemical-Free

 > rBGH-Free

 > Eco-Safe

 > 100% Organic

 > Organic

 > Made with Organic Ingredients

 > Environmentally Friendly

 > Green

 > Food Alliance Certified

 > Organic USDA

 > Demeter Certified Biodynamic

 > USDA Process Verified Grass Fed

 > Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Sustainable

And that is just the short list!

So what does this mean? Ironically, the proliferation of labels seems to be amplifying ambiguity, rather than reducing it. As Nielsen points out, nutritional labels confuse 59% of global consumers.

And to muddy the waters even more, consumers are beginning to realize that many of these labels are misleading.

So, enough of the bad news, what can marketers and brands do?

Get off the label and get on the path.
Conscious consumption isn’t about plopping a label on your product and then calling it a day. It’s about getting on the same path as your consumers and embracing their values and sharing your own. In a word, it’s about authenticity.  And authenticity is all about taking action.

Seize the opportunity to create clarity. 
According to Nielsen, a high percentage of consumers are confused. As marketers, we can use this as a relationship building opportunity by creating platforms to educate. How about a “No B.S. Label” microsite designed to separate the authentic labels from the false? Or, a branded “pocket label dictionary” that moms can stash in their purse for reference? There’s no limit to the ideas or connections you can generate through consumer-centric education.

Be a rally point.
There are literally hundreds—if not thousands—of topics and issues that resonate with Conscious Consumers. Get behind one of them and make it your own. Like natural and organic food superstar Amy’s Kitchen supporting the California Right to Know Generically Engineered Food Act or Ben & Jerry’s advocating for Fair Trade. This kind of focus has a way of not just radiating outwardly, but also increasing the company culture behind the brands.

Labels will always have their place in marketing, as they should. Labels are useful tools to help brands and consumers connect.  But as marketers we must challenge ourselves to put our desire for authenticity ahead of our desire to label. Because, just like in most areas of life, it’s not about what we say, but about what we do.