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Consumers in Germany are discerning and expect the highest quality at the lowest price. It is difficult for brands to differentiate themselves from their competitors solely through performance. There is demand for actions based on values. Lukas Cottrell, managing partner at the Peter Schmidt Group, says, “The unchecked consumer society is a thing of yesterday.” He believes that issues such as climate change, Black Lives Matter and the coronavirus pandemic are changing the ways we see and behave. “At first glance, everything is competing for attention. At second glance, it all comes together in a cohesive overall image: it is about ethical action on a large scale.” Cottrell furthermore believes that brands are being watched closely in this context. The demands placed on them are equally exacting as those placed on government or scientific institutions. At the same time, there exists a deep-rooted mistrust.

To find out what sets a better brand apart from a good brand and what consumers desire from branding and design, the Peter Schmidt Group surveyed a total of 5,012 consumers. The study, “Better Brands 2021”, was carried out in cooperation with the Quantilope market research institute. Possibilities for empathetic branding were examined by looking at five industries (beauty care and cosmetics; snacks and sweets; fresh goods; alcoholic beverages; and insurance) and the leading brands in each of them.

Almost two thirds of Germans displayed an interest in sustainability as a matter of principle, understanding it not only ecologically but also socially. A statement against racism received the highest approval, representing the social considerations. Overall, the results make it clear that brands have catching up to do when it comes to sustainability and that they must position themselves more broadly. This does not mean coming across as boring and defensive, with 58% of respondents believing that sustainability and loud, cheerful advertising suit each other; 59% also found that colourful and brash colours were a good mix.

As for individual brands, natural-cosmetics brand Weleda is far ahead of those in all other industries in terms of sustainability. Private-label brands such as Alverde, the house brand of dm, hold their own against the manufacturers’ brands in the beauty care segment. AOK is the most sustainable insurance and Katjes scores well for ecological sustainability, particularly among female consumers. Nevertheless, the study finds that not one of the industries currently meets the high demands of consumers. For brands, that means whoever takes the lead here can position themselves as a forerunner and shape the industry’s image.

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