Archive for the ‘Green Marketing’ Category

McKinsey just released a must read for green marketers. ‘Helping Green Products Grow‘ outlines five steps businesses need to take to sell green products successfully. Most of it is common sense. Still there were a few surprises, most notably in the area of consumers’ awareness of most concrete actions to reduce global warming:

These findings present enormous educational opportunities, not just for green marketers, but also for environmental educators, hoping to make a difference in greenhouse gas emissions. Bloggers, journalists, teachers, environmentalists need to turn up the volume on eating less beef, improving home insulation, and driving more fuel-efficient car, less often. These are all concrete actions that citizens can understand, and that also can help them save money, particularly during these hard economic times.  

Here are the five steps, with selected some highlights:

1. Educate consumers:

Because consumers are largely unaware of green products, a business that sells them must see itself first as an educator, not a sales machine. Our study shows that more than one-third of the consumers who want to help mitigate climate change don’t really know how . . .

2. Build better products:  

Consumers will not think better of green products until companies make them equal to, or better than, their conventional alternatives. It’s no surprise: most people value performance, reliability, and durability much more than ecological soundness. . . .

3. Be honest:

To rebuild public trust, companies must come clean about the true environmental impact of their products and their attempts to reduce it, and many will need to address historical concerns about specific products or operations . . .

4. Offer more:

Companies must ensure that consumers understand the financial and environmental returns on their investment in green products, for they are more willing to try new ones-especially those that cost more-when they find it easy to track the savings . . .

5. Bring products to the people:

Having decided to buy green products, many consumers encounter a last hurdle-finding them-either because manufacturers don’t keep up with demand or advertise where they can be bought, or because wholesalers and retailers don’t stock them or display them prominently. Biofuel enthusiasts, for example, must often drive out of their way to fill up . . .

I will end with my usual rant. Buying green stuff is good as long as it translates in net carbon reduction. Otherwise, we are all better off following the old conservation adage of, ‘reduce, re-use, recycle‘. 

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The new Yankelovich report on green living is out, and is confirming what we have been seeing in the marketplace. Sure, citizens are concerned about the environment, but they are not willing to pay extra for green products.

Environmentalism is developing among U.S. consumers — especially among Echo Boomers (ages16-29) and GenXers (ages 30-43), who both said they are more concerned about the environment compared to a year ago. But while interest in green issues continues to grow, consumers’ willingness to pay more for green alternatives has decreased. “There is a looming challenge for marketers of green products and services,” said Dr. David Bersoff, the EVP in charge of global knowledge and intelligence at Yankelovich and author of Going Green 2. “Consumers will be pushing for stricter governmental and institutional green policies, and they’ll be choosing brands to a greater extent based on green considerations. But at the same time, they are becoming less willing to help marketers pay for the greening of their business and products.” While concern about the environment is increasing among the population as a whole, it is still — for the most part — a minority position. Although 49% of consumers feel that our environmental problems are severe and 51% feel that these problems demand immediate corrective action, only 41% of Americans express high levels of personal concern, a meager four-point increase over last year. “It is important to note that, contrary to what might have been expected in the midst of rising unemployment unemployment, interest rates and fuel prices, increased levels of economic concern did not reduce levels of environmental concern,” said Dr. Bersoff. “In fact, somewhat surprisingly, consumers who have no financial anxiety appear to be the least attractive targets for new green products and services.”

The pressure is on marketers and policy makers to green their stuff, at no extra cost to consumers. Of course, this does not relieve citizens from their responsibility to consume less.

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When I wrote about the opportunity to align desired green behaviors with individual needs and wants, this is what I had in mind:

Different people will rank these needs and wants differently. Using myself as an example, the primary motivators for me to bike more, are fun and convenience. If I was in a lower-socio-economic group, where making ends meet was the primary issue, I would probably pick money. If I was a mother of young children, the bonding potential would work best. Etc. 

Seems like a no brainer to me! The question is how come so few green marketers and environmental communicators think along those lines? The last time I read something that made really sense to me, was in Steve Bishop’s article, “Don’t Bother With the Green Consumer“. He uses a bike example as well! 🙂 (I also refer to Steve’s article in a recent post I wrote for the Huffington Post)

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There is no disputing the importance of the social factor, in moving citizens along the greener path. One additional element to take into account, is the issue of personal relevance. How does one turn global warming solutions into personal benefits? Research shows that most direct way to interest people is through their pocketbook. Last, I would add the availability of technology to enable desired behavior changes.

Short and sweet for the bottom line, here is my secret green sauce recipe:

P (personal benefit) + S (social network) + T (enabling technology) 

Best examples of green ventures that understand the power of the PST formula, are in the area of home energy efficiencyAgilewaves, Greenbox, and Lucid Design Group show great promise.

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Some very exciting research in the field of social networks psychology, could revolutionize the way green ventures approach citizens. The latest study, by Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School, and James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, reports on the social factors in quitting smoking. It was published this morning in the New England Journal of Medicine, and is already creating ripples throughout the media, starting with the New York Times. From the study’s abstract:

The study examined the extent to which groups of widely connected people quit smoking together.

The results showed that:

  • Whole groups of people were quitting in concert 
  • Smokers were also progressively found in the periphery of the social network
  • Smoking cessation by a spouse decreased a person’s chances of smoking by 67% Smoking cessation by a sibling decreased the chances by 25% 
  • Smoking cessation by a friend decreased the chances by 36% 
  • Among persons working in small firms, smoking cessation by a coworker decreased the chances by 34% 
  • Friends with more education influenced one another more than those with less education. 
  • These effects were not seen among neighbors in the immediate geographic area.

Conclusions are :

  • Network phenomena appear to be relevant to smoking cessation. 
  • Groups of interconnected people stop smoking in concert, and smokers are increasingly marginalized socially.

These results are similar to results of a prior study from same authors on obesity. The network effect is at work not just in the halting of negative behaviors, such as smoking or unhealthy weight gain, but also in the spreading of positive life changes such as happiness. The latter will be documented in a forthcoming study by the authors on,’The Dynamic Spread of Happiness in a Large Social Network’.

The implications for climate strategies are obvious. Behavioral change conservation efforts, will work best if focused on groups, not just individuals. This is a confirmation of the research done by the ‘Nudge‘ team at University of Chicago. The smoking study also shows which clusters to focus on. Friends, as in Facebook or Twitter, coworkers as in Carbon Rally, spouses as in family systems

Thanks, Meryn, for all the links

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I kind of knew, but did not expect I would get into so much controversy with my recent post about Danone Water. Bottled water still is a hot topic in the environmental blogosphere . . . As evidenced by this fresh email exchange with Meryn Stol, a frequent contributor to the discussions in this blog:


What’s your opinion on bottled water? I’m hoping for the day it will be gone, entirely. (well unless we happen to find a limitless green energy source…)


My opinion on bottled water? I have stated it clearly in my answers to some of the comments to the Danone article. I think bottled water is used as a scapegoat for other things. I try to limit my use of it, as it is the only drink I consume, other than tea or coffee. No juices or soft drinks for me. But as a consumer, I do love a good mineral water. I can taste the difference between the different waters. I would never buy a purified water as what is sold in the US, since that is the same thing as tap water, only in a bottle. If you are going to ban bottled mineral water, then you should ban all bottled drink.

There are much bigger problems to tackle. Driving cars is on top, as are energy use in the home, eating read meat, and shopping.


Let me clarify that. I’m not into “banning” anything. I don’t see regulation as the solution to anything. It both assumes and suggests conflict of interest, which I don’t think is there. I’m hoping for the day that everyone leaves bottled water on the supermarket shelf, even it would be sitting there for free, even when people would earn money by drinking it.

You say: ” There are much bigger problems to tackle.” Have you researched that? Maybe driving cars and eating red meat do more for a typical person’s ecological footprint, but I also think they are much less obvious substitute ready. I think the difference between red meat and no red meat, or driving and no driving (substituting ONE drive for something else) is much bigger than drinking mineral water vs drinking tap water.

I think each change in different sorts of consumption could be said to have a personal cost / environmental benefit ratio. Do you know any data on this?

From your telling, I get the feeling that to you, car driving and eating red meat is much less sacred than drinking material water, but I don’t think that’s generalizable. I for instance, never drink mineral water, and have never missed it. Well-filtered tap water is lovely.

Because of the hardening economic times, we might get some data on what “indulgences” Americans would be willing to give up first.

Any more thoughts?

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All green marketers would do well to take note of Nielsen Online‘s new report just mentioned in Ad Age this morning. According to Jessica Hogue, research director at Nielsen Online, and author of the report, “Corporations can’t do everything in one feel swoop, but need to be authentic and transparent about the steps they are taking,” She also suggests brands, study Footprint Chronicles, Patagonia‘s recent interactive online campaign, that discloses the company’s both environmental good works and sins.

Nielsen Report Says Green Marketers Better Be Authentic and Transparent

It’s time brands understand that they are in a relationship with their citizen customers.

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GreenBiz reports on a recently released joint study from Yankelovich and Getty Images, the ‘MAP Report 2: Aspirational Environmentalism‘:

Firms seeking to advertise their green credentials should shun generic images associated with climate change such as polar bears and melting ice floes, according to a major new survey of green advertisements and consumer attitudes.

The study from picture agency Getty Images assessed 2,500 advertising campaigns from last year for its annual “What Makes a Picture” (MAP) report and concluded that many of the conventional images used to promote green campaigns were in danger of becoming visual clichés.

“When it comes to the visual language of the environment, we are in danger of killing it as a meaningful symbol with visual cliché,” said Lewis Blackwell, creative advisor at Getty Images. “The first lesson we must learn in order to grab any attention is to make Death to Environmentalism our mantra and kill off the clichés of ecology.”

Rebecca Swift, global creative planning director at Getty Images, warned that pictures of ice caps and polar bears in particular “will not resonate with consumers in the future.”

How to talk to people about green stuff

The report recommends that advertisers instead embrace more localized images that are relate more closely to consumers’ experience of the environment. “Whatever the product, the closer to home you can pitch the communication the better the opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of consumers to green products and behaviors,” it claims. “This is probably not good news for communicators who have been enjoying economies of scale in recent years by running global campaigns.”

It also advises advertisers to challenge consumers’ negative attitudes towards the environment head-on, arguing that campaigns should not shy away from addressing issues such as consumer indifference, concerns over greenwashing and resentment about the commercialization of a social cause.

These are important findings. At the same time, the study does not tell us anything we could not infer from previous research, and also good marketing practice. Advertisers and marketers need to empathize with their target ‘consumers’ – I use this term reluctantly, as I believe we should increasingly relate to people as citizens instead of consumers. Empathizing means acknowledging the reality of where people are:

  1. a combination of apathy, frustration, resentment, some of it that can be linked to Steven Running theory of Climate Grief
  2. cynicism and doubt bred by experiences of greenwashing
  3. guilt from being asked to make life changes that are impossible to achieve, given present solutions
  4. a thirst for information
  5. a physical reality linked to place, time, and personal experience; make it personal, make it local.

Practically, this means giving people solutions to real problems, not trying to force upon them products and messages decided by wannabe green marketers. The ‘Green‘ magic can only go so far.

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When you think about it, marketing is really simple: to offer products and services that solve people’s real problems. If it is so straight forward, then, why is it that the market place keeps getting flooded with new products without any real benefits to the consumers? I call that phenomenon, marketers’ amnesia. Nowhere is marketers’ amnesia more in display than with the so called ‘green market’ . Here to remind us once more of that important marketing premise, are some excerpts from a recent article from Steven Bishop, Sustainability Domain Lead at IDEO, in the Harvard Business Review.

It seems so logical on the face of it. A company wishing to go green should focus on the green consumer, right? Not so. Marketing to the green consumer has proved difficult, even downright dangerous, for companies large and small. Here’s why.

Established companies fear alienating their base of mainstream consumers by appealing to the green consumer, and rightly so. The majority of consumers seek to satisfy their personal needs before considering those of the planet. Green for green’s sake products often don’t meet the basic needs that most people require from their products. Take hemp clothing, for example. If green for green’s sake products could go mainstream, we’d all be wearing hemp sweaters and be happy about it.

Small, streamlined green brands that truly appeal to the environmentalist consumer can’t reach the mainstream. Those companies get stuck in a green ghetto—virtuous, but limited in scope.

The result is that most companies are stuck somewhere in the middle—and that turns out to be a very dangerous place indeed. We’ve all watched a company take a traditional product and tout its green virtues. When the approach doesn’t work all that well, they simply take out a bigger megaphone. Hence the green-washing epidemic we have today.

So while the traditional marketing answer to the question, Should we market to the green consumer? has been yes, the better answer is this: Instead of focusing on a green niche, focus on green behaviors that everyone can aspire to.

When we helped Shimano, an international manufacturer of bike parts, create a new bike platform, we didn’t focus on cycling enthusiasts—the biggest segment in this market—or on the green niche. Instead we focused on a growth strategy with a “green outcome”—more people riding bikes and enjoying it. As a result, we turned our attention to the 161 million Americans who don’t ride at all.

Our work with Shimano yielded two insights: 1) everyone fondly remembers biking as a kid; 2) highly technical sports bikes and lycra-clad salespeople in bike stores put off would-be everyday riders. So Shimano pitched a concept bike to manufacturers that was intuitive and inviting. Mechanical components were hidden, handlebars were stripped of complex controls, and pedals, were well, just pedals.

They called it the “Coasting” bike. Nothing to learn, just jump on and go, like when you were a kid. That’s what gets people riding.

So where’s the environmental story here? Well, there isn’t an explicit one. Shimano is addressing a human problem, not an environmental one. By seeking the truth about what really matters to people and creating a great experience for them, the company is appealing to a mass market increasingly aware of our impact on the planet. Coasting bikes tell the green story implicitly by inviting people to engage in new, positive behaviors—like reducing greenhouse gases by pedaling—instead of driving.

For a company that wants to go green, then, the green consumer niche is almost irrelevant. I’m reminded of HBS professor Ted Levitt‘s old marketing axiom that people who buy drills don’t need drills; they need holes. Consumers—whether they are green or mainstream—don’t simply want green products, they want solutions to their day-to-day problems that also make sense for our environment.

The bottom line: Marketing needs to define what sustainability means for their company and then decide how to express those values in their offerings. Companies should stop trying to appeal to green consumers by building green myths into the products they have and start creating something real—products that tell their environmental story for them.

Bottom line is, green marketers, beware of marketing amnesia. To help, I suggest you print a copy of Ted Levitt‘s classic article, Marketing Myopia, and that you read it again every time you think of launching a new product.

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Talk to anybody working in the business of green, and chances are, you will have heard the word more than once. Greenwashing. It’s bad, and according to a recent study by the environmental consulting firm TerraChoice, almost everyone in corporate America is guilty of it. Getting them to admit is another story. I especially loved the senior moment of the GM guy in this one interview:

TerraChoice‘s made it easy for you. It has categorized greenwashing into six major sin categories:

Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off:

‘By suggesting a product is “green” based on a single environmental attribute or an unreasonably narrow set of attributes without attention to other important, or perhaps more important, environmental issues.’

Sin of No Proof:

Any environmental claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information, or by a reliable third-party certification.’

Sin of Vagueness:

Every claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the intended consumer.’

Sin of Irrelevance:

‘Making an environmental claim that may be truthful but is unimportant and unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products.’

Sin of Lesser of Two Evils:

“Green” claims that may be true within the product category, but that risk distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole.’

Sin of Fibbing:

‘Making environmental claims that are simply false.’

And guess what? Now you get a chance to become a part of the greenwashing police and to rate ads on a new web site, Greenwashing Index.


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