Customers Want What the Planet Needs

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INFLUENCER: Grey Consulting's Richard Giddings on why digital transformation is key to survival strategies
Customers Want What the Planet Needs

Who in their right mind would be a brand or business in 2020? Consumers are demanding more products and services than ever before; at the same time, brands and businesses that put profit before planet are being punished.

Consumer activism is already here. People are protesting with placards — and consumers are protesting with their wallets. Just last week, Sweden announced that, as a result of Flygskam or 'flight shame', it has seen a 4% drop in the number of people flying via its airports. Domestic travel was down further, at 9%.

The aviation industry was always going to be an easy enemy, as plenty of alternative travel choices exist. But the reality is that no industry is safe.


What do we want? Socially conscious, purpose-driven brands and businesses! When do we want them? Now!

Consumers want socially conscious, purpose-driven brands and mission-driven business. To earn consumers’ trust and loyalty, brands must be good for them and good for the planet.

Brands need to offer value and be the loudest voice in the room to help get their customers’ voices heard and support the causes they believe in.

In today’s hyper-connected world, they expect access to digital products, platforms and online services 24/7/365. In 2019, consumers averaged 3 hours and 40 minutes a day on mobile devices — up 35% since 2017.

Companies from every vertical are benefitting by making mobile the centre of their digital-transformation investments.

And as the next generation comes of age and brands and businesses embrace digital transformation, the importance of access to these digital products, platforms and online services will only intensify. Challenger bank growth will make cash obsolete, resulting in more electronic transactions. IoT devices, robotic workforces and autonomous transport will communicate and update over the air. Media owners and content providers are celebrating record-breaking digital audience numbers. We will expand our social networks beyond friends, family and communities into professional services, increasing our use of video calls, emails, chatbots and messaging platforms.

Hyperconnectivity is here to stay.


Exponential digital growth: the silent killer of your business and the planet?

Businesses are embracing these opportunities, investing heavily in digital transformation programmes. And rightly so: this opportunity doesn’t just represent growth - adapting to digital change is fundamental to any business survival strategy.

But if you look beyond budgets, you’ll see the will to survive comes at a much bigger cost. One that brands and businesses simply cannot afford to ignore: the cost of our planet.

Increasing the use of digital products, platforms and online services will generate more data. More data processing will require more technical infrastructure. More technical infrastructure will need more energy. More energy means more carbon. And the fossil fuel economy that powers this infrastructure is under threat from financial, ethical and consumer pressures.

This presents a significant challenge for businesses. How do they balance the balance sheet, keep consumers on-side, adhere to political pressures and neutralise their environmental impact to deliver the products, platforms and online services consumers demand before the competition do?

Today it is much easier for consumers to forget rather than forgive. There are plenty of alternative choices available to them if they wish to look elsewhere. And Generation Blockchain are armed with more tools than ever, enabling them to forensically choose where they place their loyalty.

Gen Z are coming for you — and if you’re not aligned to your consumers’ beliefs and values, you will be caught out and you will be punished.

All the signs are there. It is only a matter of time before consumers stop seeing the digital products and services that brands provide as oxygen and start seeing them as carbon.


Adapt or die: How can brands save themselves — and the planet — from extinction?

Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Brands and businesses need to face up to the reality that they, like humanity itself, are facing extinction. They then need to understand that survival is based on the ability to embrace change, seize the opportunities it creates and adapt.

“The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters” — Antonio Gramsci

To save themselves from extinction, brands and businesses need to balance four key elements:

1. The survival of the planet. Climate change threatens capitalism and how businesses can make money. No planet, no people, no profit.

2. Customers that believe in your purpose-driven, sustainable brand. Socially conscious, transparent brands and businesses that help consumers get their voices heard will survive. They will stand for something, speak up about it and facilitate the creation of like-minded communities and tribes rather than broadcasting to marketing segments that exist only to monetise.

3. Digital products and online services that offer experience value. Technology for the sake of technology creates mess. It is imperative that digital transformation aligns with brand purpose and considers all environmental impacts.

4. Profitable and sustainable business models. Customers’ demands in the digital world move fast. A ‘one size fits all’ approach won’t cut it. Developing adaptive business models that fulfil the needs of the communities that have been created will allow brands and businesses to survive.

Accepting that survival is as much about balance sheets as it is about finding this balance is a step in the right direction. Ignoring the problem is catastrophic: extinct brands, extinct businesses, extinct humans.


Sustainable digital transformation: a strategy to save your brand, business and the planet?

The possibilities a hyper-connected world presents to businesses are enormous. Verizon have estimated that by 2035, 5G will enable $12.3 trillion of global economic output and support 22 million jobs worldwide.

Brands and businesses that plan to save themselves and the planet from extinction will recognise these opportunities for what they are and embrace the potential for growth and positive change.

And the solutions are already there. Microsoft are making headway in this space with their AI For Good and AI For Earth initiatives, providing carbon-neutral technology, resources and expertise to empower brands and businesses working to solve humanitarian issues and create a more sustainable and accessible world.

Projects to date include the shared use of farmland data to help growers lower costs, improve yields and reduce the environmental cost of agriculture to feed the world. And SpaceX are exploring ways to move data centres into outer space, removing the need to power and cool infrastructure.

Technology is giving businesses permission to think and behave differently and the platforms to build on. But to be successful, businesses need to be much more eco-conscious and mindful of their impact.

Digital transformation cannot be treated as the science bit that’s bolted on. Switching to solar panels on data centre roofs is one small part of the solution.

Instead, use digital transformation initiatives to effect change by asking rule-breaking questions: how much energy do data centres need to produce? What byproducts (Surplus energy? Heat?) could be fed back into circular economies to power more environmental projects? Could we use land as growing / inland aquaculture space to feed our workforces?

This is not new news and these initiatives are already happening. Beehives have been popping up in urban areas over the past 15 years. And start-ups like Thermify are challenging the current data centre model, finding innovative ways to use the energy they consume twice.

But burying these initiatives in box-ticking CSR programmes or adding them to ‘innovation backlogs’ is not the answer. They will become a distraction. These initiatives need executive level sponsorship, purpose and to be hard-wired into an organisation’s DNA.

If brands truly consider the impact of their digital transformation strategies beyond the balance sheet, aligning their goals with their brand’s purpose, consumer needs and sustainability KPIs, they will enjoy stronger digital growth. And the transparency and socially conscious considerations will build a deeper connection with consumers.

This sustainable digital transformation mindset will put brands and businesses in a better position than their competitors. More importantly, it will arm them with everything they need to survive extinction.


Richard Giddings is managing consultant at Grey Consulting

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Grey New York, 3 months ago