Wine producers hoping to build commercial success around sustainability and environmentally friendly products should take some cues from the latest thinking in behavioural economics, according to Wine Intelligence CEO Lulie Halstead
We all know that issues surrounding sustainability and the environment are increasingly important to society, and to our everyday behaviour and attitudes. With this need, we now face the challenge of communicating what is in fact a very complex and nuanced topic in succinct and accessible ways. As numerous psychological studies have shown, human beings are an extremely lazy species, especially when it comes to decision making. We rely heavily on what Daniel Kahneman, amongst others, calls System I, a short-cut (also known in marketing-speak as ‘heuristic’) seeking part of the brain which attempts to save us energy by choosing familiar and habitual routes. In contrast, more deliberate and conscious decisions rely upon System II to weigh up the pros and cons of different choices. As we are inundated with small decisions throughout our daily lives, it seems reasonable that the short-cut / heuristic System I becomes the default, saving us time and energy for those big and complex decisions.
However, as Kahneman and other researchers in this area such as Malcolm Gladwell and Steven Levitt have shown, the trade-off for heuristic System I behaviour can be a surprising lack of rationality in certain decisions arising from easier and faster solutions, with decidedly mixed results. This translates into all areas of life, including consumerism. For example, sustainably produced wine ranks second on the opportunity index in our Global SOLA: Opportunities in sustainable, organic & lower alcohol wine 2019 report. This type of wine benefits from high consumer affinity but has relatively low awareness when compared with other top-ranking wine categories. Clearly, this demonstrates how sustainability can be said to resonate emotionally with consumers, but may presently rely more on a person’s System II than System I – many may not be aware of its existence, but those who are believe it is an important concept. This low awareness may partly stem from the trade as well, where a lack of an agreed-upon definition of sustainable wine and certification can lead to confusion about what this type of wine really is. This means that this concept may not be communicated in the most efficient way to raise awareness.
In a recent speech at the US Sustainable Winegrowing Summit in Sonoma, CA, I expanded on this idea to discuss five ways we might learn from our inherent laziness and other psychological research to improve the future of communication of sustainability in the wine industry.
- ‘Today, not tomorrow’
When we ask consumers to think about sustainability, often we are asking to think about future benefits in years to come. This involves asking consumers to dig into their System II to really think about how this may benefit them. This can be most effectively changed towards System I by using what Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein describe as a ‘nudge’ – using small steps that help overcome habitual behaviour that we have as human beings. This has been seen with reusable coffee cups, where small incentives have slowly begun changing people’s attitudes towards unrecyclable plastic-coated disposable paper cups.
- ‘Positive, not negative’
This point is all about ‘gain framing’. It is important to position sustainability as a positive choice, not a negative one – instead focusing on all the things we can gain from being sustainable. We know from research in the health industry that messages framed as what ‘you can do’ are much more effective than those posed as what ‘you can’t do’.
- ‘People like you’
If we are going to talk about sustainability, we must reference what makes sense to us socially and culturally; ie how we can all take part in the sustainable effort. An effective example of this comes from the hotel sector, where messaging to join your fellow guests in saving the environment by reusing towels has seen much success. This is because the message makes you feel part of a larger group effort.
- ‘Feel not fact’
Research suggests we don’t like being talked to in facts. What we respond to is feeling, such as feeling that this is the right thing to do. This can be seen in the rise in interest around ethical and sustainable practices as it is connected with a feeling that we are getting something good for us as well as having a positive impact elsewhere.
- ‘Blink not blah-blah-blah’
Here, I mean quick messaging (working that System I part of the brain), often through symbols and signs, coming back to the earlier point of streamlined communication of sustainable practices. As too much information about sustainability can get caught up in an individual’s System II, it is important to present this information in the most succinct way possible. This will allow for quick recognition by consumers, raising awareness and helping to nudge towards seeking to purchase increasingly sustainable products.
If these five steps are taken towards sustainability, it may be possible to raise awareness of sustainable wines in addition to all other alternative wine types discussed in our Global SOLA: sustainable, organic and lower alcohol wines 2019 report. For more information on these wines and the opportunities they present in 15 key global wine markets, please see the global report here.
In addition, the Wine Intelligence individual market SOLA reports for Sweden, Canada, Australia, the US and the UK are now available.