Blaze the Green Trail

Marketing_week_jpegOriginally posted March 20, 2008
MarketingWeek

Climate change has been billed as the biggest, most urgent challenge
facing the world this century; it also presents each individual
consumer with a number of complex choices.

Research by Starcom MediaVest Group reveals the latest insights on
the dynamics of attitudinal change, explains why brands who lead
consumer behaviour will win their support and loyalty, and identifies
the moments at which people are most receptive to green and ethical
messaging.

All consumers are on a green adoption curve, albeit travelling at
different speeds. Four types of consumer were identified according to
what they do for the environment rather than how they think: the
Passionates, the Dutifuls, Followers and the Uninvolved.

Passionates, comprise 10% of the population and are highly motivated
– the only group of people who regularly campaign, blog and boycott.
They are often uncompromising in their attitudes and can be intolerant
of those with less passionate views.

Dutifuls make up 24% of adults; they are enthusiastic without being
political; they aspire to being greener and more ethical, often seeing
it as a signifier of social status.

Followers are the majority of the population at 41%. They tend to be
more green than ethical and they feel that they ought to get more
involved but are often not sure how to. They are happier to defer to
sources of authority rather than actively seek information and are
particularly in need of leadership from brands.

The Uninvolved, 25% of the population, are more apathetic than
actively anti-green, but have nevertheless formed a powerful set of
barriers to adoption.

Demographically, attitudinally and in terms of media usage and
participation, these consumer groups can significantly differ. For
example, 28% of Passionates read blogs or take part in discussion
forums compared to 9% of Dutifuls. This limits communication between
groups, but more importantly cultural factors can restrict the
trickledown of influence.

Usually we see word of mouth as more important than media as an
influencer of behaviour, but with green or ethical issues the opposite
is often true. Only one in six Followers – the majority of the
"involved" population – have regular conversations, and over two-thirds
say the media is more influential than their friends.

The crucial point is talking about being more green or ethical is
difficult for people. There can be a feeling of being overwhelmed by
the gravity and complexity of the issues, and advocates are often
dismissed as being too serious or worthy. The opinions of the
passionate and even the advice of friends tends to spark resentment as
much as a desire to change.

This means that brand communication should be weighted toward
pinpointing a target audience, rather than trying to influence the
influencers. An influential green and ethical opinion leader within
each social group just doesn’t exist.

The exaggerated influence of media on all segments can present
problems for brands. People are willing to defer to expert opinion
filtered through the media, which is seen as more of a neutral ally.
Where the media challenges brands (as with the recent Channel 4’s food
fight programming), brands must be prepared to take on the recommended
challenges. Simultaneously, building positive word of mouth can help
brands to harness their agenda and tackle negative media coverage.

To earn and protect consumer trust it is important that brands lead
by example in affecting their customers’ behaviour change. Brands are
expected to take responsibility – 67% of respondents expect brands to
take responsibility for promoting green and ethical purchasing, over
and above government action. Only a third of respondents expect brands
to be 100% green and ethical, but increasingly brands are being held
responsible for making choices on behalf of their customers. Two brand
initiatives that have done this – Sainsbury’s decision to sell only
fairtrade bananas and M&S’s Plan A campaign – were cited in the
study.

Taking a lead means particular care is required when communicating
green and ethical credentials. Irrespective of content or tone,
consumers believe that serious issues underpin green or ethical
communication, and therefore, brands should avoid communicating in
media and environments where consumers expect to enjoy their leisure
time. Instead brands should use media where consumers expect
stimulation or are seeking information.

Brands should take a lead and contribute to solutions on green
issues, share a vision and bring consumers on the journey towards it,
strike partnerships and work with other bodies for mutual benefit, and
finally arm consumers, in order to help them justify decisions to
themselves.

Not only that, but brands should always answer the "what’s in it for
me?" question from consumers – brands need to show how their customers
are also benefiting. The study also shows that they should not expect
to borrow values from ethical media – that right must be earned in the
eyes of consumers. Neither should they fake ethical grassroots as it is
easy for customers to spot manufactured buzz, and messages work better
in environments where people are in an active frame of mind.

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