Posts Tagged ‘green consumer’

Green demographics are hard to come by. Most of the green consumer research deals with lifestyles’ segmentation, and is not very reliable, nor actionable from a marketer or green strategist’s point of view. I found three surveys with demographic information worth looking at. All were conducted in March-April 2008, and deal with attitudes and self-reported behaviors.

First, is a Pew Survey of Americans’ attitudes towards global warming:

These results make sense, and reinforce the widespread notion of green citizens as part of the more progressive crowd of Democrat, younger, more educated folks, who live in big cities on either coast.

Second, is a Burst Media Survey of U.S. adult Internet users, asking about extent of green behavior in daily lifestyle – as published in eMarketer report:

Although the survey seems to confirm Pew findings, indicating a skew towards younger demographics, one needs to take into consideration the following two caveats: first is the fact that behaviors are self-reported, and second, as pointed out in the eMarketer writeup, ‘the vast majority of respondents across all age groups put themselves in the “somewhat” category—leaving open the possibility that different perceptions among respondents of “somewhat” and “completely” could color the survey findings’.

Third, is a poll by Harris Interactive, amongst U.S. adult Internet users, that goes deeper into specific ‘environmentally conscious activities’ – also in eMarketer report:

The Harris Poll results are further supported by an AARP/Focalyst survey, cited in eMarketer report, that 70% baby boomers use their purchasing power to buy environmentally safe brands.

Why such an apparent discrepancy between the first two surveys and the Harris Poll? Could it be that the older folks are more likely to walk the green talk, and to take actions that do matter? Or was it the way the questions were phrased? It may be that not otherwise environmentally inclined people will engage in green-like behaviors that do save them money – energy efficiency related activities -, or are perceived as better for their personal health – buying organic products -. What do you think?

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EcoMoms have made it to the front page of the New York Times. This is an impressive group of green moms, 9,000 altogether, and growing strong. A group that is representative of a very active subculture in Northern California where I live. These women are on a mission and nobody can resist them, not even their husbands or children. They fill Whole Foods‘ parking lot with their Priuses, and are not shy about voicing their newly found green convictions all over the blogosphere, as in here, and here, and here.

Reading the article, one would be tempted to think that all is well on the mommy’s front, environmentally speaking. Until reality steps in. This morning, a friendly visit to my four year old neighbor’s house turned into an anthropological tour of American consumerism at its worst. Little Rachel wanted me to blow bubbles with her, and took me to her backyard. There, sitting in the middle of her parents’ picnic table, a big plastic thing dared me with its massive plastic construction. The Iplay Outdoor Bubble Machine from Target, ‘has a large capacity bubble mix tank for high volume bubble production’ and has a five star ‘guest rating’. It can be yours for $24.99.

Are EcoMoms Taking Over?

The Iplay Outdoor Bubble Machine, unfortunately, is more representative of the reality of American moms today, than the EcoMom Alliance.

I only need to look at myself to understand why. As a mom, I have found it incredibly hard to resist the temptation of materialism, and I have documented my struggles often in this blog, as in here, and here, and here, and here. This being said, women do represent a positive force for the climate fight, as supported by all the latest research.

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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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Market researchers are all trying to classify consumers’ attitudes into various shades of green. And using different words to describe similar categories of green consumers. Where the Green Gauge Report sees consumers split between, True Blue Greens, Green Back Greens, Sprouts, Grousers, and Apathetics, the folks at PSB research propose instead a different segmentation in their Green Brands 2.0 Study:

  • Bright Greens (34%), instead of True Blue Greens (30%)

The most skeptical and the most convinced that things are going in the wrong direction (a “bunker” mentality). Therefore they are the most likely to demand “green” steps on the part of companies – and at the same time the most likely to complain about these companies not taking green far enough.
These are, in the language of a political campaign, the key “swing” voters. They are younger and energized – the most likely to be speaking out, writing letters to the paper, etc., about global warming and government and corporate environmental responsibility. Because they feel things are going so badly, they raise the bar enormously high. Their touchstone is pure green, not shades of green. They look to Greenpeace and other environmental NGO’s for in-depth information about all green issues, including consumer products.
At the same time, however, the bright greens still need to buy groceries, household products, appliances, and cars. Within categories where there are greener choices, they will help anoint the best of breed. They are both your Opinion Leaders in the category and your most severe critics.

  • Green Motivated (10%), instead of Green Back Greens (10%)

They want green, but are optimistic about the way things are going. They are likely to accept corporate “green” programs at face value and as a step in the right direction.

  • Green Hypocrites (26%), instead of Sprouts (26%)

They like to talk about green, but don’t want to go out of their way – not even slightly out of their way for it. Slap a green smiley face on it and they’re on board.

  • Green Ignorants (19%) and Dull Greens (11%), instead of Grousers (15%), and Apathetics (18%)

They are simply unengaged in the issue. Green isn’t particularly motivating, but it’s not a negative either.

Personally, I find this second classification more relevant to how I think as a consumer. More straightforward, and easier to grasp.

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