The Blog

Dragons and Hashtags: A Cultural Phenomenon

MayBlog

When A Game of Thrones—the first book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series—was published in 1996, names like Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, the Red Keep and The Wall were confined to those first 694 pages. More than 20 years later, those stories have erupted beyond any number of pages, through eight seasons of appointment-viewing television into a cultural phenomenon which may not ever be matched.

So, it comes as no surprise that in today’s digital world where conversations are happening online, brands have not been shy about entering into the #GameofThrones conversation during the final six-episode race to the Iron Throne.

Bud Light got the ball rolling with its crossover Super Bowl ad in which Bud Light’s Bud Knight was unhorsed by Game of Thrones’ the Mountain and subsequently killed in an extremely “Game of Thrones” fashion. Shake Shack for the past month has offered special menu items, the Dracarys Burger and Dragonglass Shake, paying homage to #FortheThrone. Johnnie Walker released a special White Walker Scotch. And in the lead up to the premiere, the Minnesota Timberwolves became the Direwolves on social media, creating cross-branding content and merchandise.

But what happens when the cultural phenomenon surrounding a work of art becomes bigger than the art itself? On the same weekend that Avengers: Endgame broke domestic and international box office records, nearly 18 million viewers tuned into the climactic third episode of Thrones’ final season and show-related hashtags trended up and down Twitter and round and round again. When so many brands enter the fold, trying to grab a slice of the pie, is the overall effect diminished? Or does it allow creatives the opportunity to use the cultural event to produce something unique for their brand?

We may never see another television show like Game of Thrones again, but our culture craves transcendent events—an opportunity to be a part of something that extends far beyond our couches, online communities or hashtag. As millions sit down to watch on Sunday night, brands will be looking for a way to say goodbye and take one last bite of pie. They’ll also be looking for the next one—and that’s a good thing. Brands would be wise to let creatives be creative. Game of Thrones has shown us that culture drives the conversation and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a small part of it.

Beyond the Binary: Trending Toward Genderless

A Young Business Girl Uses Megaphone

He/him. She/her. They/them. Singular pronouns. The way we talk about gender is fundamentally changing, with the concept of fluidity and non-binary gender identifiers becoming commonplace. It should come as no surprise that as public conversations surrounding matters affecting the transgender community are growing, so too is the conversation around the idea of a gender spectrum.

It reflects a larger change in how gender is depicted and discussed. A commitment to inclusivity, driven by Millennials and Gen-Z, has deeply impacted the political and cultural landscapes. Activists have helped bring attention to the discrimination they face, as with access to bathrooms that align with their gender. Television programs and films are more frequently including transgender characters, in turn opening up roles for transgender actors.

Similarly, visibility of non-cisgender identities is impacting how brands are communicating with audiences. Last year, Coca-Cola made headlines with its “Wonder of Us” Super Bowl commercial, in which it included the gender-neutral “them” pronoun along with “him” and “her.” It was a small moment, but represents how brands are addressing changing gender norms.

This shift is not exclusively because of changing attitudes toward gender politics, either. According to a recent study, 74 percent of women said they prefer gender-neutral messages, rather than those geared specifically toward women.[1] It’s happening across age groups, too—especially in the toy aisle. Barbie, long known for outdated and unrealistic gender norms, has started showing boys playing with Barbies in its commercials. Stores have heeded the call as well, with Target re-labeling the toy aisle simply “Kids” rather than “Boys” and “Girls.” While toy packaging still seems intended to overtly appeal to one gender over the other through color, it’s a step toward granting children the space to explore what they like, rather than telling them what they should like, based on gender.

Beyond inclusive messaging, product categories that once existed in gender-specific buckets have been embraced by people for whom they were not initially intended, prompting savvy brands to create actively ungendered versions of said products. Consider Fluide, a company that offers “makeup for everyone.” Its social media feeds are filled with people across the gender spectrum wearing bold lipsticks, nail polishes and eye shadows. Similarly, Zara created a clothing line called “Ungendered” with unisex items like jeans, sweatshirts and shorts. While communicating an inclusive image is a start for brands, actively creating gender-neutral products is a snapshot of the potential for a gender-fluid future.

As this cultural shift continues to grow, it’s important to be aware of the sensitive nature of the conversation. People with non-binary gender identities are fighting just to be recognized, so when handled with care, expanding a brand’s conversation to include them can be a way to show support. For brands inclined to address social changes happening in society, respect is always the best path forward.

[1] https://www.odwyerpr.com/story/public/6894/2016-05-12/study-women-prefer-gender-neutral-marketing-messages.html

Silver is the New Blonde

A Young Business Girl Uses Megaphone

For decades, Americans were told to preserve their youth, because to age was to become irrelevant. Once a person grew out of the coveted 18–49 demographic, they were relegated to a space to be considered only when absolutely necessary. In fact, in a 2005 survey, nearly two-thirds of companies indicated that they had no plans to target consumers over the age of 50 in their product development, marketing or advertising.[1] But a lot has changed since then. The entire process of aging is being redefined by healthier lifestyles and longer lifespans. Aging adults are active participants in culture, refusing to sit on the sidelines. More than ever, brands have no choice but to consider mature consumers not just as a niche audience, but as a core part of their strategy.

At its core, the decision to appeal to an older crowd stems from undeniable numbers. The segment is already large—nearly one billion people over the age of 60—and it’s growing. By the middle of the 21st century, this age group will outnumber those under 15.[2] Add the fact that people over 50 currently comprise 35% of the U.S. population but contribute 43% of the national gross domestic product.[3] Is it becoming clear that brands are selling themselves short by not considering this segment?

In 2019, inclusivity is the name of the game, particularly for brands that are focused on appearance, like fashion and beauty, representing a major reversal for industries that previously framed aging as a negative. To that point, more people over 50 have been featured in high-profile advertisements in recent years. Helen Mirren starred in a L’Oreal commercial. Joan Didion fronted a Céline ad campaign. Instagram-influencer/grandma Lyn Slater became the face of clothing brand Mango.

As with all messaging, connecting with the 50-plus crowd requires a carefully considered sincerity and authenticity, showing this segment that brands consider them people and understand their needs. Slater told W Magazine, “I would rather pressure MAC Cosmetics to think of me as a consumer, than help promote a separate over-50 makeup brand.” This cuts to the heart of the silver revolution: shifting away from a mindset where older age groups are excluded, to one where they aren’t just included, but celebrated. Brands would do well to reject ageism—or any other deterrent of inclusivity—and embrace this segment. We could take a cue from L’Oreal, which did it with panache when they deemed “Silver Chic” the hair color of 2019.

[1] https://www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-2014/advertising-to-baby-boomers.html

[2] https://msb.georgetown.edu/newsroom/news/rise-of-silver-economy

[3] https://www.aarp.org/research/topics/economics/info-2015/longevity-economy-economic-growth-new-opportunities.html

Keeping Up in the On-Demand Economy

Man Writing I Want It Now

Public transit running on delay? Request an Uber or Lyft for immediate transportation. A party gone dry? Tap a button and have alcohol rush-delivered. Forget a necessary ingredient at the grocery store? Order it through Postmates and get it in time for the next step of your recipe.

By catering to the needs of consumers in what feels like an instant, the on-demand economy has shortened consumer attention spans, rendering the need for patience in the marketplace nearly obsolete. Perhaps the most visible example is Amazon Prime Now, which offers 2-hour delivery on over 25,000 products spanning 25 product categories, from household essentials to electronics to pet supplies. The service eliminates the need to leave the room, without sacrificing immediacy or efficiency.

Traditional retailers can’t compete with the convenience and speed of immediate delivery, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for them to succeed. Since brands likely can’t be faster or more convenient than top performers in the space, they should compete where their on-demand counterparts can’t—by creating that which can’t be replicated digitally. This is an opportunity to give consumers a compelling reason to come to them, something that offsets the “inconvenience” of in-person shopping.

Innovative grocers have taken this to heart. With delivery services like Peapod and Instacart eating into profits, they have started to expand shoppers’ expectations of what a grocery trip can entail. Rather than just purchasing food for the week ahead, consumers can now grab a drink, test out new foods and be entertained. Providing samples for customers may not be a novel approach, but Trader Joe’s makes them an integral element of the shopping experience—checkout lines frequently snake through the maze of store aisles, and shoppers know to expect a sample station along the way. Not just the chance to try something new, it’s also a way to lessen the burden of waiting in line. Whole Foods takes it a step farther, with stores now including restaurants and bars within. The bar at a Brooklyn location hosts weekly trivia nights, reflecting an attempt to create a community for shoppers.

These experiences can be complimentary or require purchase, so long as they demonstrate concern and appreciation for consumers. Cosmetics store Sephora allows shoppers to try on any product prior to purchase. Home goods retailer Sur La Table offers cooking classes that not only provide the chance to test out their cookware, but also impart new recipes and skills. The opportunity to take a product for a test drive is something that online retailers can’t provide as easily. It’s the “touch and feel” effect, and it’s lost when a purchase is made fully online.

At its heart, creating an experience is just a way to provide excellent customer service. Consumers are willing to slow down when it feels worth it, and by putting their interests at the forefront, savvy brands are able to connect with them in a meaningful way. Carving out their own niche will help traditional retailers succeed in the evolving on-demand culture, building loyalty and affinity in the landscape in which they operate.

Predicting Picks: Personalization 2.0

Personalization 2.0

From tampons to toilet paper, from streaming services to fast-casual restaurants, consumers are presented with a breadth of options so large that they can make purchase decisions based not only on what product fits their needs, but on what best aligns with their belief system. It’s a reflection of a culture that champions the individual—and the idea that there’s a specific product for every personality. Perhaps the most inherent offshoot of this idea is hyper-personalization, which is by no means a recent trend, but certainly a persistent one. From supplement regimens tailored to specific health goals to hair care products formulated from an individual’s response to a series of questions, brands are keen on serving the illusion of bespoke offerings.

But where personalization was initially presented as a feature to help consumers differentiate themselves from others, it has evolved to become more of a service—the curation of options that an individual is likely to value. It’s not about serving a personalized product so much as a tailored experience. Brands are now using suggestions as a way to relieve choice paralysis—the phenomenon in which a person feels overwhelmed by the number of options available to them—and consumers are receptive to it.

It’s the next phase of personalized marketing—and it goes a few steps further than addressing a person by name in promotional emails. According to a Salesforce study, more than 63% of Millennials are willing to share their data with companies in exchange for offers and discounts specific to them.1 By analyzing user data, brands aren’t just predicting behavior but shaping it. Fashion retailer Topshop offers an online style quiz in which users answer questions about their wardrobe and, in exchange for providing their contact and demographic information, are presented with items that fit their style. Nordstrom offers a similar digital function, called Your Look, in which the more information a user provides, the more specific the recommendations will be. The result of which is, ideally, less time spent wading through the sea of options.

It’s the same idea as the “Top Picks for You” section on streaming platforms like Netflix. With millions of hours of content to choose from, the section predicts what a user will enjoy based on past behavior. The idea is to empower the viewer to make a decision that will satisfy his or her wants by providing curated options. Netflix took it a step further recently with a new movie, Bandersnatch, that allows the viewer to decide what happens to the main character, like a choose-your-own-adventure for the digital age. Based on the viewer’s choices, the movie ultimately leads to one of five main endings. The concept offers the illusion of control, but in reality, Netflix is merely facilitating the decision-making process for viewers, the same way they do with their viewing recommendations.

An overload of choices isn’t just prevalent in the entertainment and consumer goods spheres: thanks to the advent of dating apps, options for romantic relationships can seem similarly endless. One new app, Juliet, aims to change that by providing users with one match at a time. At the end of a predetermined time span (generally less than one week), each user will respond to a series of questions about their experience interacting with their match, and the app’s artificial intelligence will select someone who is a closer match for the next day. By lessening the impact of choice on the user’s end, Juliet aims to make app-based dating feel more intentional and personal.

There is a fine line to tread in this sphere. While consumers crave assistance in finding the best options, there is still a prevalent fear that tech companies mine too much information—many a science fiction film is based on the fear of machines making decisions for humans. Brands must ensure that the personalized options they are providing do not invade the privacy of consumers. Otherwise, the positive associations from the relief of choice paralysis may begin to feel like an assault on free will.

1 https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2016/12/consumers-want-more-personalized-marketing.html

Ditching the Digital

Ditching the Digital

As cultural anthropologists, TTC studies emerging behavioral patterns and their social implications, setting aside several days annually to exclusively focus on one trend. Recently, we wrote about the growing omnipresence of the digital detox, in which people purposely separate from electronic devices. Finding vast implications for our personal and professional lives, we departed for a dude ranch in the mountains of Mexico to observe how it might impact us.

Our weekend detox demanded the conscious uncoupling of human and device, and by extension, of human and social, professional and familial circles. The toughest part of that, for some of us, was simply giving ourselves permission to do so.

“The challenge was in allowing myself to be unavailable,” said Pamela Thomas, president of The Thomas Collective. “The advantages to being present and disconnected are clear, but can become hindrances if you don’t give yourself the space to be unreachable.” The concept behind the digital detox relies on an individual’s recognition that a purposeful break is even necessary, given their increased reliance on their devices.

For most of us, a digital detox was easier said than done. Smart phones are so much more than telephones. One of the most frequently used capabilities is the camera, which has allowed the world to document their lives on social media.

“I’m a photography lover, so I did use my phone on airplane mode to take photos,” admitted Deanna Brigandi, account coordinator. “But that made me think, ‘Who am I taking these photos for?’ Do I take photos to look back on later in life, or do I take them knowing I will eventually post them to social media? I think it’s a little bit of both.”

Brigandi’s quandary was shared by all on the trip. Does the focus on documenting an experience take away from the experience itself? The compulsion to take a photo seems to be in part driven by the desire to preserve a moment, as Brigandi mentioned. But studies actually show that when people take photos, their memories of those moments will fade more than those who did not.1 So then, by refraining from taking photos, we are actually making stronger memories.

Nearly everyone in the group articulated a level of discomfort when first separating from their devices, but some eventually found that taking a step away from their social orbits wasn’t necessarily a negative.

“It was a challenge to break out of the routines associated with my device, but once I actually did it, I was surprised by how much easier it was to be out of contact with people than I expected,” said Doug Burger, senior account coordinator. Smart phones have led us to assume a default setting of interconnection, but once that option is no longer available, we’re reminded that constant contact simply isn’t necessary.

Our takeaway in the brief time we spent away? A deeper understanding of how strong our relationships had become to our devices. Self-insight is always the first step in breaking a habit, and the next is deciding to change. But we live in a world that expects immediate responses, and demands—in both work and play—availability and participation. Until we are ready to limit professional and social participation, the digital detox will just be a reminder of that.

1 https://qz.com/1295131/research-shows-taking-photos-decreases-the-ability-to-remember-lived-experience

What’s in a Word?

What's in a Word

Language is powerful.

Not only is it the medium through which we express thoughts, but it can also foreshadow cultural shifts. The words people choose and the order in which they use them reflect the cultural moment, providing insight into their desires and motivators. It would be foolish to assume that successful brands don’t have a finger to the pulse of how their audience communicates. But an equally important question to ask is: Why are they communicating that way? Why are certain words used and others avoided? The “why” of language can predict future behavior and is a valuable tool for those looking to gain a greater understanding of a segment of the population.

Considering language is akin to analyzing choice. People choose to use words that are culturally and topically appropriate, and avoid those that are not. An obvious example is profanity. Since it does not adhere to the norms of most public interactions, it is common to avoid using profanity in situations where it may be considered culturally or socially unacceptable. But language is constantly evolving, so words considered appropriate today could be taboo tomorrow.

Take “anti-aging.” Once a term used to describe an entire genre of skincare products, it is now thought to perpetuate ageist thinking. Beauty brand Neutrogena proudly aligned itself with this change by declaring, “We’re not anti-aging, we’re anti-wrinkles.” Allure magazine banned the word from its pages. In its place are descriptors like “age perfect” and “renewal.” Neither the products nor the conversation have changed—just the positioning.

Like subtle changes in language, the dialogue surrounding a brand’s category or products can shift with culture. Take Kleenex’s need to rebrand their “man-sized” tissues as “extra large” due to complaints of sexism. Weight Watchers, whose very name had become problematic, changed its name to simply “WW” to better align with the cultural shift towards body positivity. Rebranding is drastic, but changing the language consumers use to refer to a brand has the power to change how they think, feel and (optimally) act.

As always, brands should proceed with authenticity when adjusting their usage of language. Trends come and go, especially in regards to how people speak, and brands should be thoughtful in their communication, not impulsive. Slang words and phrases seemingly become ubiquitous overnight, but that doesn’t mean brands should start advertising how “lit” their products are. In fact, 69% of consumers consider brand use of slang language annoying.[1]

It’s impossible to overstate the power of language. The way people speak informs how they think and act. Brands must continue to adhere to the old adage “think before you speak.” But to ensure the most culturally intelligent communications strategy, perhaps the counsel is to listen before you act.

[1] https://sproutsocial.com/insights/data/q2-2017/

Empowering the Fempreneur

A Young Business Girl Uses Megaphone

Once upon a time, the descriptor “bossy” was akin to slander for many women, but those days are long gone. This is the era of the fempreneuer. The girl boss. The boss lady. In the last two decades, there has been a 114 percent increase in the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. alone.[1] And it’s not just one generation: Women of all ages are forging their own paths in the business world, from Baby Boomers to Millennials. While motivations differ on a granular level, business-minded women are pursuing their own paths for two overarching reasons: necessity and autonomy.

“Necessity entrepreneurship” is the driving force for many women starting their own businesses, according to the National Women’s Business Council.[2] It’s the idea that, for any number of reasons, women are not seeing the positions they want in the labor force, so they’re creating opportunities for themselves. Factors such as income inequality, the glass ceiling and lack of flexibility in dealing with work and family care are potent enough for the fempreneuer to carve out her own career.

Another motivator? Autonomy. Women are starting businesses to achieve the lifestyle they want. More than ever, these #dontquityourdaydream-ers are turning their passions into their careers, with side hustles becoming full-fledged businesses. The digital sphere, and especially social media, have provided ample opportunity to capitalize on niche interests. Personal trainer–turned fitness magnate Kayla Itsines began her career as a personal trainer at a gym. Rather than limit her client base to members of the gym, Itsines took her workouts to Instagram. Her tips and transformation stories racked up a following of over 10 million people, creating a fitness empire that includes best-selling books, stadium tours and an app that topped the fitness charts in 2016.[3]

These female entrepreneurs live in a world where their start-ups receive half the funding of their male counterparts, while producing over twice the revenue.[4] This structure has created new ways to build a business, such as seeking funding from female-managed investment firms, like Golden Seeds, which focus on women-led businesses. Social media has also proven to be a potent tool for women that saw it not only as a way to showcase their offerings, but a platform to build their personal brand.

The increase of female-owned businesses has resulted in another realm of growth: an industry that aims to help women succeed in the entrepreneurial space. In many cases, it’s the result of a “women-helping-other-women” ethos. Those who have succeeded in their business endeavors seek to impart knowledge to women looking to launch their own brand. Create & Cultivate, founded by Jaclyn Johnson, an under-30 female entrepreneurial success story, is a series of conferences that connect like-minded women and provide workshops and networking sessions related to starting a business. Girlboss, founded by Sophia Amoruso, a woman who also found success in the entrepreneurial space at an early age, is a multifaceted platform that provides women with career and financial resources, in addition to hosting events that bring would-be fempreneurs together.

All indicators signal that this female entrepreneurial movement will not slow down. We believe that women will continue to innovate and create new opportunities for themselves. This enterprising attitude is something that brands should consider: Women are ambitious, smart and unwilling to settle. To succeed with this segment, it is crucial to demonstrate an understanding of its motivations, and support the trails women are blazing.

[1] https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/number-of-women-owned-businesses-growing-2-5-times-faster-than-national-average-1007300927
[2] https://s3.amazonaws.com/nwbc-prod.sba.fun/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/09084854/NWBC-Report_Necessity-as-a-Driver-of-Women%E2%80%99s-Entrepreneurship-Her-Stories.pdf
[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2017/04/10/forbes-top-influencers-inside-the-rise-of-kayla-itsines-the-internets-workout-queen/#79cfe098673f
[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/annapowers/2018/07/31/women-founded-start-ups-receive-less-funding-but-produce-double-the-revenue-a-study-finds/#66568ae964e4

Desperate for a Digital Detox

Digital Detox

The latest smartphone model used to be the pinnacle of luxury, but now, time away from that device has usurped it as the commodity people most crave.

What happened?

The technology that helped simplify lives, fortify connections and spread access to information has in some cases eliminated human connection. Smartphones carry the guise of allowing a user to multitask, but this digital convenience can lead to real-world accidents—think texting while driving.

Add to the equation that the world seems to be on fire—literally and figuratively. A constant stream of headlines regarding natural disasters, political division and socioeconomic instability is delivered straight to phones, serving as a perpetual reminder of the chaos of the surrounding world.

There’s a greater reliance than ever on technology, with one study finding that consumers spend an average of five hours a day on their phones, a tally that nears 11 weeks annually.[1] That’s why cell phone addiction—and its potential side effects—is becoming more of a concern. Research suggests that addiction to technology is associated with anxiety, sleep deprivation, and other physical and mental ailments,[2] contributing to the growing trend of digital detoxes in which an individual purposefully disconnects with their mobile devices.

With 47% of consumers admitting to limiting their use of mobile devices,[3] it’s no surprise that the travel industry offers entire vacations around the concept of going tech-free through digital detox packages. From sailing trips to detox safaris, operators aim to provide a level of immersion that keeps you present. The Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel incentivizes the surrender of devices upon check in with vouchers for kayaking, books, cards and board games. It’s the realization of the idea that time wasted on devices could be better spent engaging in experiences—a literal exchange of one for the other.

A more affordable way to detox is simply to try spending time away from one’s phone. That’s the rationale behind National Day of Unplugging, a project that encourages a 24-hour break from mobile devices. It’s a way to be more mindful, or more aware, of what one is doing, to temper the relationship between human and device. Mindfulness is a natural partner of digital detoxes, since it requires a consumer to consciously devote thought to something done automatically, like checking a phone for notifications.

That said, it’s not necessary to ditch the device altogether to escape the digital drudge. It may seem counterintuitive to rely on a device to help disconnect from it, but there are smartphone apps that exist to help users simultaneously unplug and practice self-care. The meditation app Headspace serves as a primer on mindfulness, with guided meditations that can assist a person in becoming more conscious of digital behavior. Mute, an app that tracks the amount of time spent on a device each day, asks users to account for their phone usage, sending alerts when a certain level of usage is reached. The logic behind these apps is that awareness can contribute to a healthier relationship with devices.

Any brand can support the disconnecting trend by considering ways to enable non-digital behavior. The point isn’t to do away with technology, but to be more mindful of how it affects day-to-day life. It’s a reminder that while technology supports our lives in many ways, the reverse is not true—our lives do not exist to support technology.

[1] http://flurrymobile.tumblr.com/post/157921590345/us-consumers-time-spent-on-mobile-crosses-5
[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-mentality/201802/could-you-be-addicted-technology
[3] https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/global-mobile-consumer-survey-us-edition.html

Green is the New Black

Green Is the New Black

It was the announcement heard round the coffee-drinking world.

This summer, Starbucks committed to eliminating single-use straws by 2020. Over the past few years, businesses have been shifting toward waste reduction—like eliminating plastic straws and other nonessential items—which is the result of careful cultural listening. Consumers have been making lifestyle changes to reduce their environmental footprint for years, and they are demanding that the products they purchase follow suit: 91% of global consumers expect brands to address social and environmental issues.[1]

If there was ever a time for brands to start an ongoing conversation with consumers about their values, it’s now.

The food industry is uniquely situated to quickly adapt to this shift, given the consumable nature of its products. Consider Sweetgreen, the fast-casual salad chain that places sustainability at the center of its ethos. Every utensil, bowl, lid and leftover bit of salad that comes from the store is compostable. In fact, everything purchased inside of a Sweetgreen is either recyclable or compostable, so that nothing ends in a landfill. The commitment to sustainability is part of how the restaurant developed a cult-like following that has driven a 50% increase in new stores in the last two years. Continual efforts, like the recently introduced new bowl meant to cut back on food and water waste, lets customers know that sustainability isn’t just a trend, but part of Sweetgreen’s fabric.

As with any type of purpose-driven strategy, self-serving efforts are easy to spot. For years, hotels have encouraged guests to reuse linens to “save the earth” to reduce their use of water and chemicals. But the reality is clear to savvy guests: fewer washes means a lower laundering cost. That doesn’t mean the hospitality industry doesn’t sincerely value water conservation, it just means that hotels can benefit from transparency in their approach to sustainability.

Take Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which offers a “Make a Green Choice” program, in which guests are rewarded with loyalty points or a food and beverage voucher when making sustainable choices. This reflects a conversation between brand and consumer, one that benefits both and diminishes the lopsided benefit to the brand. With 79% of travelers placing an importance on properties with environmentally minded practices,[2] it is clear that conservation is not just a niche concern, but a broadly accepted demand.

For decades, the directive has been “more.” Shop more. Buy more. But what happens when a company urges customers to consume less—even if that includes its own product? Outdoor gear retailer Patagonia shocked Black Friday shoppers a few years ago when it ran an ad that urged, “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” It asked consumers to “buy less and reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else,” and included a list of initiatives Patagonia was taking to support a culture of reduced consumption. This campaign was more than just a bold move to endear the brand to the environmentally conscious—it put potential customers in the hot seat as well, asking them to consider the impact of their actions.

The differentiating point between this waste reduction trend and environmentally motivated brand tactics of the past is that it is in many ways a two-way street, requiring a conversation between brand and consumer to truly succeed. Reducing one’s environmental footprint requires adopting habits that may be at first unfamiliar and uncomfortable for both parties. It’s a new frontier that not all brands are willing to explore, but as with so many trends, early adopters are likely to be rewarded for seeing the bigger picture sooner.

[1] http://www.conecomm.com/research-blog/2015-cone-communications-ebiquity-global-csr-study
[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/28/business/hotels-embrace-sustainability-to-lure-guests-and-cut-costs.html