Stop Chasing the Elusive Green Consumer: Find Out What Motivates Your Core Consumer First

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Martin Morzynski, GreenBiz, examines a few of the ways that marketers and providers of green brands and ideas can stay in front of consumers and remain relevant during this time of economic crisis.

  • Market to your consumer's values, not your perception of your product or service's value.
  • Green should not necessarily be the focus of the marketing.
  • Make sure green product or service benefits the consumer at least how the consumer wants it to benefit them.


Posted Mar. 24, 2009
By Martin Morzynski, GreenBiz

As Joel Makower points out in a recent article, a number of new surveys point to consumers claiming continued support for green products, but despite great intentions (and stated preferences), most consumers today are struggling with economic realities when choosing at the shelf.

In fact, when the rubber meets the road, stated behavior doesn't
necessarily turn into purchases — more than 75 percent of those surveyed
by The Hartman Group late last year, couldn't actually name a
sustainable product when asked the question — do you really think
those people are seeking out green products?

There is no question that selling sustainable products is a challenge
— so what's a green brand owner to do? While many retailers and brand
owners struggle with defining and reaching the illusive "green
consumer," some of my recent work suggests that the answer may be much
closer to home: Energizing your core consumer with green product
benefits may be much more effective in driving sales than trying to
reach the illusive green consumer.

Marketing 101: Get to know your core consumer.
Take the
produce section as an example. With the term "organic" a part of the
American shopper's vocabulary for years, convincing your customers that
sustainable produce is a good idea shouldn't be difficult, right? The
reality is terms like "natural" and "healthy" are everywhere, driving
confusion and making differentiation a challenge. Throw in long
shopping lists, tight schedules, and crying children, and marketing
messages go from useful to useless very quickly in the eyes of a busy
mom.

It turns out that when you really get to know her, she cares about
quality and freshness above all else. She may not want to spend on
organic, or may not know what "sustainable" means in the produce
section (do you?), but there are cues she gets, regardless of how busy
she is. In working with a major North American grocery chain, we polled
thousands of shoppers and found that "locally sourced"
produce resonated more than any other sustainable term, including
"organic." We talked with the shoppers some more and found out what
local sourcing meant to them: To a number of consumer segments,
locally sourced meant quality and freshness above all else, essentially
because of implied proximity.

Pitching your green credentials may not be the answer.

These days, in almost any category you touch, "green" marketing
abounds: From "green" detergent to "green" rental cars to "green"
printer paper. Even oil companies and airlines are beginning to drum up
their green credentials, bringing clutter to the green marketplace.
Clearly, simply showcasing a green logo is rarely a differentiator
these days.

In the produce example, the answer to driving sales wasn't in focusing
the marketing message on the store's environmental credentials — and
instead on the singular message of local sourcing and freshness: By
showcasing local farmers, shifting 40 percent  of sourcing to regional
suppliers, and placing the product more prominently in the store, the
supermarket drove sales growth in the high single digits — in a
category which had been largely flat. In this case, sustainable
sourcing and reduced carbon footprint became a natural by-product —
not the core marketing message, as is often the marketer's temptation.

If you do go green, make sure the product benefit your consumer values most stays intact.
Take women's skin care as an example. For much of the category's
history, the core promise has been beautiful skin. A number of natural
brands have chosen instead to focus their communication on a range of
sustainable attributes, ranging from "organic" to "natural" to
"handmade." These might motivate the "green" consumer (who, recall, we
have a hard time defining, much less finding in numbers) but many women
want results for their skin, first and foremost.

Peel back the onion some more on what women really want (and what
they're willing to pay for), and it turns out while many appreciate the
environmental benefits of sustainable cosmetics, most are not only
unwilling to pay a premium for green — they won't buy at all
until convinced that the ultimate benefit associated with beautiful
skin is intact. As a result, the burden of proof becomes job No. 1, and
green attributes inevitably take the back seat. In surveying the
customers of a leading beauty chain, we found that regardless of being
well educated and caring for the environment, the women we spoke with
were willing to pay only a minimum premium for green, were more willing to pay up for great skin results, and more willing yet to pay up for indulgence when it comes to cosmetics. Get the sequence wrong, and the road to profits is sure to be a long one.

The triple bottom line is no longer a new concept, but getting it right
requires a delicate balance. The reality is most green products aren't
new to the world. Their buyers and the buyers' needs haven't changed all that much. The key to selling them on green products today is getting to know their needs even more intimately than marketers are used to doing.

Martin is a principal at Marakon, a consultancy pioneering
consumer-insight-based strategy development for some of the world’s
best known companies.

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