Driving Adoption of Renewable Energy: Part II – An Energy Marketer’s Perspective

September 1, 2008

Interview with Adam Capage, Director, Utility Partnerships, 3Degrees

 

With the #1 renewable energy program in the US, the City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) must be doing something right.  In fact, despite a formidable price hurdle, CPAU has managed to sign up over 20% of Palo Alto residents for clean energy, and is not finished yet.

 

Notably, when CPAU decided to aggressively market renewable energy to its customers, it decided to reach beyond traditional utility circles to engage the right marketing partner.  For that, CPAU turned to 3Degrees to educate consumers and convert them to clean energy.

 

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Adam Capage, Director of Utility Partnerships at 3Degrees.  We spoke of the challenges that marketers face when trying to shift consumers to renewable energy, the approach that 3Degrees takes and reasons why it has been so successful.  Here are his words:

 

MG: How do you partner with utilities?

 

AC: Essentially, we partner with utilities by leveraging their brand and their customer connections [and combine it] with our knowledge of how to talk to people about why they’d want to support renewable energy. 

 

The Palo Alto partnership was [our] first utility partnership [formed] in 2003.  When we partnered with Palo Alto, they had already had a green program operating for three years and it had not yet reached 1% participation. 

 

In many ways Palo Alto had the ideal demographics for marketing this product.  And so it’s very tempting to just think “Well hey, its Palo Alto, of course they’re at 20%”.  But, the product did exist for three years [before involvement by 3Degrees] without hitting 1%.  So, it’s a combination.  Yes, demographics are key.  But, you do have to talk to [consumers] repeatedly and get the messages out there and that’s what we’ve been focusing on. 

 

Since 2003, the participation rate has basically sloped upward the whole time.  Today, we’re actually over 20% now and we haven’t seen any slowing.  We keep kind of wondering if and when it will slow, but it hasn’t. 

 

Traditional thought was that there was low hanging fruit [to acquire] and then it would get harder to acquire people over time.  Instead, it seems that you can create new low hanging fruit.  As you talk to people, you make [renewable] an accessible, appealing product to new groups.  Another possibility is just that Palo Alto has such a huge percentage of their population with [the] perfect demographics [for purchasing renewable energy] that you can get an incredibly high penetration rate.

 

MG: Do you tailor your message to particular subgroups within the city?

 

AC:  No.  The real challenge is that renewable energy requires people to pay a premium and they have absolutely nothing [tangible] to show for it.  People for a long time tried to compare this to organic food or bottled water or other premium product.  And, you just can’t do that because with bottled water people think they’re getting [a personal benefit like] cleaner water.  With organic food they might be stopping themselves from having pesticides.  [Unlike with renewable energy], it’s not just about the public good.

 

[Marketing clean energy] is like a request for people to make a private contribution to a public good.  And that’s just damn hard. 

 

I think that the best parallel is public radio and TV knowing that people understand that the programs are very likely to continue whether or not they pay up, but they do it anyway.  With renewable energy we need to put a line item on the bill that says you pay more.  It’s very hard to make people get connected to what they’ve done.  So we try but you know we can’t be in the home everyday like public radio or TV. 

 

We focus on a message that you can make a difference and there are specific environmental benefits to purchasing renewable energy.  We link [environmental benefits] to specific energy usage and [provide] examples of benefits that are local.  And then we repeatedly try to get that message out there.

 

MG: Do you focus your message on awareness or consideration for purchase?

 

AC: When we start each [partnership], it is like going back to 2003 in Palo Alto; you start from ground zero.  It’s a cluttered market and it’s hard to break through so awareness is definitely our first battle.  

 

With Palo Alto I think that awareness has come a very long way.  I don’t think they’ve done research recently, but I bet it’s pretty high  so now we’ve got messages that simply say “just do it”.

 

MG:  What is average price premium for renewable energy?

 

AC:  It varies quite a bit around the country based on the premium for clean energy, current electricity rates and the amount of energy that is consumed.

 

In California the average household uses something like 500 or 600 kilowatt hours a month, where as we have a partner, Amerin, that is based in St. Louis.  Its Missouri customers use on average 1,000 kilowatt hours a month.

 

The premium for Palo Alto [residents] that convert [to renewable energy] is going to be between $5 and $7 per month I think.  For our partnership in Amerin, it’s closer to $15 per month on average. 

 

MG:  Aren’t renewable energy prices independent of oil price shifts?

 

AC:  The programs aren’t designed that way.  A few [utility tariffs] in the country are actually designed where the renewable energy price is essentially substituted on people’s bills for their traditional fuel.  Those programs have seen great success.   Everyone understands why they’ve seen [success] as they have a whole new message to talk about: price stability because [the price of] renewables never change.

 

Most programs are designed where the renewable energy premium is on top of what they already pay.  So the thinking [by consumers] is renewable energy is more expensive.  You aren’t actually getting the electricity from [specific] wind turbines anyway.  What your dollars are doing is allowing the utility make more investments in putting renewable energy into the overall mix.

 

Hence the public good part: your electricity comes on just like everybody else’s except you pay more.

 

MG: Are you actually paying for 100% equivalent renewable energy?

 

AC:  Yes.  Not every program in the country is designed the same. But, our five partnerships are all 100% usage.

 

MG: What are the key customer insights for purchase of renewable energy?

 

AC:  A few people talk about new technology and want to support it.  A few people talk about fuel prices going through the roof and we are beholden to the Middle East, so they want to support another source. But the majority just says “I want to make a difference”.  It seems like one small step, one small opportunity for [consumers] to do that.

 

MG:  Can the success of Palo Alto be replicated across the country or is this an anomaly?

 

AC:  20% might be an anomaly but I know that, in general, these [renewable energy] programs are underperforming.  We have five like I said.  One of them just started and so it only has a couple tenths of a percent participation.  But all together our five average 7.8% participation.  The industry average is 1.8%.  You can do this better.

 

MG:  What’s the secret?

 

AC:  I think that the partnership model is a really good one.  The utility has the customer’s eyes and contacts and, in most cases, the customer’s trust.  That is certainly true in Palo Alto.

 

3Degrees brings the messaging and dedication to execution.  The single best thing we’ve found is that you collect information about what channels and messages are working well and you just execute again and again and again and again. 

 

That’s not what utilities do; they are not marketing organizations.  We do the marketing behind their brand and no one ever knows our name.  We want it that way.

 

MG:  Do you think that the social narrative has changed given Al Gore’s movie a few years ago and just the growing reality and awareness of global warming?  Has that context enabled you to move the needle further?

 

AC:  It definitely helps.  We were out in front of movie theaters when Al Gore’s movie was released.  We set up tables outside to intercept people came out of the movie.

 

MG:  When you target utility customers, what kind of marketing campaign do you implement?

 

AC:  The campaign is continuous.  Email, bill insert, direct mail, events.  We’re spending money and testing different channels all the time except TV.

 

Yard signs are also used to bring to peoples’ attention that their neighbors have done this.  We get requests [for signs] saying I want to show people that I did this.

 

MG: Were there other ways that you tapped viral marketing or activated influencers?

 

AC:  We did holiday card campaign where we sent all Palo Alto participants a card that they could send to their friends saying “I participated in Palo Alto Green and you can too”.

 

We offer wind tours where we let participants come and then, hopefully, tell other people about going to a wind farm and seeing what their money is supporting. 


Driving Adoption of Renewable Energy: Part I – A Utility’s Perspective

August 31, 2008

Interview with Tom Auzenne, Assistant Director, City of Palo Alto Utilities

 

Electrical power generation accounts for 40% of total annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the US.  Such a high concentration of GHGs is due to our reliance on highly polluting fossil fuels, especially domestic coal.  Yet, while the popular press focuses on the recent growth in renewable energy, it still provides only 2% of our total electrical needs today. 

 

Until recently, many arguments have been made for why adoption of clean energy remains slow.  Certainty, price ranks as the #1 barrier to broader adoption.  Other factors include reliability concerns and lack of education about the technologies.

 

Interestingly, Palo Alto, California has bucked this trend.  Over the course of several years, the municipal utility has partnered with 3Degrees, a utility marketing company, to encourage residents to sign up for its PaloAltoGreen program which provides 100% renewable energy from wind and solar power sources.  The results of this program have been astounding, with over 20% of all residents switching to clean energy.  Indeed, PaloAltoGreen is now ranked as the #1 green energy program nationwide based on participation.  

  

What does this mean for GHG reduction?  Well, it is quite simple: the purchase of 41.5M kWh of renewable energy translates into a reduction of 350,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

 

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak independently with both Tom Auzenne from the City of Palo Alto Utilities. We spoke about consumer interest in renewable energy, barriers for greater adoption by consumers and key reasons for this program’s success.  Here is what Tom Auzenne had to say:

MG: Who purchases renewable energy in Palo Alto?  What is the mix between residential, commercial and governmental entities?

 

TA: PaloAltoGreen (PAG) is the City of Palo Alto’s 100% renewable energy optional program open to all residential and commercial customers with an active electric service provide by the City of Palo Alto Utilities. The program has about 20% of the customers involved, with residential customers making up on average 95% of the mix and the commercial customers at 5%. Our residential sales account for roughly 60% of the program sales with commercial and governmental making up the rest. 

 

However, starting with July 2008, both the City of Palo Alto (CPA) and the Regional Water Quality Plant (RWQCP) are increasing their commitment to buy renewable energy equal to 30% of their total usage, a ten-fold leap from the previous 3% of total usage purchases.  This will increase the percentage of nonresidential customers in the program.

 

MG: Describe the demographics of your average residential customer that signs up for renewable energy?  How do they differ from the average utility customer in Palo Alto?  Across the US?

 

TA: As a general rule, the residential PAG customer is well educated, in a high income household and is environmentally progressive.  Most are thinking about their environmental impact and want to do something about it.

 

One of the primary differences from other green pricing program around the country is that PAG customers generally use less energy per month than our average customer.  PAG customers use 400-600 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month compared to the national average of about 888 kWh (according to the DOE).  This indicates that our customers may also be trying to reduce their electricity usage through energy efficiency or other measures.

 

MG: What motivates residents of Palo Alto to switch to renewable energy (e.g., attitude toward the environment, concern for their kids, financial incentives, community empowerment, etc.)?  Are their attitudes substantially different than the rest of Americas?  If so, in what ways?

 

TA: There are many motivations leading to program participation. These include being role models for the next generation, “doing the right thing” for the environment, and buying renewables as a logical next step after energy efficiency.

 

CPAU strives to communicate the environmental benefits of renewable energy to Palo Altans in as many ways as possible. Combine this near constant communication with high community awareness of the issues surrounding climate change, and you have the combination that brought PAG such success.
 
  
We also work closely with the Palo Alto Unified School District on energy and curriculum.  Many customers not participating in PAG have taken a more direct approach, and have installed their own photovoltaic (PV) systems rather than buy renewable energy from the market. Between January 2007 and March 2008, 92 PV systems were installed in Palo Alto, representing 250 kW of generation.

 

MG: What, if any, is the premium charged for purchasing renewable energy (vs. non-renewable) today?  What factors do you attribute to a customer’s willingness to pay such a premium (e.g., level of affluence, attitude regarding the environment, etc)?  Do you think renewable energy will be adopted by a majority of customers without eliminating the premium altogether?

 

TA: Residential and small commercial customers can enroll in PAG for 100% of their monthly electric usage at a premium of 1.5 cents/kWh. Large commercial and industrial customers can buy renewable energy in blocks of 1,000 kWh for $15 per block. This allows them to support renewable energy at a level that makes business sense.

 

One of the nice things about PAG is that the price doesn’t fluctuate. CPAU hasn’t changed the price for 100% renewable energy in five years and has no plans to do so. The demographics of Palo Alto are also great for marketing renewable energy, as our customers tend to be interested in the environment and can have a level of disposable income that allows a lower barrier to participation.  

 

MG: A 20% adoption rate for renewable energy is impressive.  Can this success be replicated across the country?  If so, what will it take to do so?  If not, what are the obstacles (e.g., low awareness, lack of urgency, difficult process to switch, price premium, etc.)?   

 

TA: With the continuous support of our local elected officials on the City Council, the staff of the City government, the employees of the Utilities Department, and, of course, our great customers, nearly everyone is behind this program. This type of support is vital to the success of a green pricing program in Palo Alto and elsewhere in the country.

 

Other factors that need to be in-place, or created, include customer awareness of the environment, a history of energy efficiency, an active partnership with the schools and students, and a willingness to lead.

 

It should be noted that not all the program participants have vast disposable incomes. Participants are both young and old, in the prime of their earning years or on fixed incomes, have children or are childless. All share, however, the same vision of, and desire for, a sustainable future.

 

MG: What are your primary marketing objectives in the residential and commercial markets?  Do you find the need to spend significant time building awareness of either the category or the technology?

 

TA: CPAU has found that targeted messaging, repetition, clear information about the product and a call to action (“closing the sale”) bring results. If the job is done correctly, then customers are aware.

 

For those customers that have more questions, we have many ways for them to find answers to any question that they might have.

 

MG: Is there any skepticism on the part of consumers regarding the (reduced) impact that renewable energy has on the environment? 

 

TA: There are always skeptics, but we focus on educating consumers on the positive aspects of the renewable energy we provide.  With the melting of the North Pole ice and the retreating of the Swiss glaciers, featured on the Evening News, skepticism has been reduced or eliminated.

 

MG: Please describe how you partner with 3Degrees in terms of your marketing efforts.  What are the core components of these marketing efforts?  What made them so successful?

 

TA: 3Degrees specializes in marketing renewable energy. They have partnerships with utilities in California and around the country. They are able draw on their experience and accumulated data to provide targeted marketing and program management support.

 

CPAU brings its knowledge, reputation and trust of the community to this partnership to help sharpen the marketing even more. With their experience and our community awareness, we have created one of the most effective, and successfully marketed, green power programs in the country.


Getting Smart About Green Targeting

July 26, 2008

An Interview with Amy Hebard, Chief Research Officer and Founder, earthsense

 

Marketing green can be a challenge for even the most seasoned professional.  There are many reasons for this of course: consumer beliefs are still evolving; demand is not well established; and even where it is, purchase behavior tends to be inconsistent (e.g., the same consumer buys the hybrid and the SUV).

 

For green marketers to be successful, they must effectively and efficiently target their audience when and where consumers are most receptive to green messaging.  For marketers, this is no easy task. 

 

While green content sites or periodicals may seem like a natural fit, advertisers must remember that consumers come in all shades of green.  As such, focused periodicals may only reach “deep greens” which today represent only a fraction of the total population that express some level of interest in green.  Instead, marketers must target their audience in more mainstream channels.

 

Today, companies like earthsense are emerging to empower marketers to do just that. 

 

At its core, earthsense is a market research company focused on green consumers.  What differentiates earthsense, however, is the depth and breadth of it dataset regarding consumer attitudes, behaviors and demographics.  This dataset is based on both proprietary research as well as partner data sources.  For marketers, mining this dataset has the potential to uncover rich consumer insights that can help shape messaging, as well as guide marketing and media investments in a more targeted way.

 

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Amy Hebard, Chief Research Officer and Founder of earthsense.  We spoke about earthsense’s unique data set, consumer insights derived from the database and opportunities to leverage the data to more effectively target consumers, particularity via retail channels.  Here is what she had to say:

 

MG: Earthsense fields one of the largest surveys in the green space.  What makes your data unique?

 

AH: Targeting and finding the “green” consumer – whether we’re talking about “super greens” willing to pay a premium, mass market “greens” who want to be eco-friendly without an added charge, or “non-greens” who wouldn’t buy “green” products even if they cost less than standard prices – is an enormous challenge for many marketers today.  

 

When we started earthsense, we knew that we needed to take a fresh look at the resources available to us to solve this problem.  We decided to combine best-in-practice techniques of market research, database marketing and advanced geo-spatial analysis to provide new insights in this space.

 

First, our Eco-Insights survey is the largest by far in the US: we survey 60,000 US adults each year.  This gives us unprecedented capabilities to slice and dice our data for almost any demographic group of interest (e.g., high income earners, newlyweds, parents, baby boomers, college students, expectant moms, etc). 

 

Second, and even more important, is our ability to append almost any kind of data, because we have geocoded each record.  While personal information remains anonymous to us, we supplement each record with additional data to complete our profiles.  This includes neighborhood level demographics and “exographic” data (i.e., data about the community in which they live).  This includes air quality in the community, data regarding traffic congestion, and nearness to a Wal-Mart or other major chains, for example.

 

In short, we believe there are a multitude of factors that shape consumers’ desires and ability to go green.  And we think the answers can be found by fusing data from various sources to find patterns that are not easy to detect using the data available through the other providers.

 

MG: What types of data categories do you capture? 

 

AH: In addition to the extensive demographics and exographics just mentioned, the survey covers several key modules:

 

Product Category Coverage:  The backbone of Eco-Insights is our product category coverage. For each of more than 70 different categories in our most recent wave, we know how consumers define “green”, what categories they’ve bought recently, their primary reason or motivation for doing so and main deterrent when they do not. 

 

Corporate Ratings:  Another important module is the Earthsense Corporate Ratings.  Between Fall 2007 and Spring 2008, we covered over 700 companies familiar to consumers from many of the largest Fortune 500 companies like Exxon Mobil, HP, and P&G to small but growing companies like Earthbound Farm, Eden Foods, and Stonyfield Farm.  In addition, we include 73 supermarket market chains – nearly every major one in the US – and over 77 restaurants, including 39 Quick Service Restaurants such as Starbucks and Pizza Hut and their competitors.

 

We know which chains people shop in (primary and secondary).  We also know how they perceive these companies including the extent they believe that the company is following sustainable business practices and the impact of the company’s products on the environment. We ask similar questions around their electrical utility.

 

Attitudes & Behaviors:  A third key module covers environmental attitudes and behaviors.  We ask:  ‘Are consumers concerned about the quality of our environment five years from now?’;  ‘Do they believe individuals can make a difference?’; and ‘Do they think “greenwashing” is a problem?’.

 

And for behaviors, in addition to their green purchasing we mentioned earlier, we want to understand how consumers act based on the three R’s [reduce, reduce and recycle].

 

MG: How frequently do you plan to refresh the data?  When is the next survey set for release?

 

With the rapid change in the “green” marketplace, we know that much is changing – and fast.  For that reason, we refresh the data twice a year, collecting 30,000 responses each spring and an additional 30,000 each fall.  Our Spring 2008 data collection ended the first week in June, and we’ll be releasing data to our clients in August. 

 

MG: You’ve indicated that a key concept behind how you designed your Eco-Insights survey is that the results be “actionable.”  What do you have in place to make that happen? 

 

AH: Several things.  As of right now, companies can use our data and services for:

 

Brand / Marketing Strategy.  E.g., Build a deep profile of the eco-friendly/health consumer or understand how consumers define green within specific categories.

 

Product Development.  E.g., Understand attitudes that drive their purchase motivations and barriers by category or identify consumer-based related categories for portfolio expansion of a brand.

 

Category Management / Sales.  E.g., Prioritize retail customers/prospects based on the category opportunity for products, and alignment of product and retailer customers.  Support retail-level sales pitches and category management efforts with consumer-based attitudinal insights [in addition to transactional data].  Utilize data at a store trading area level to maximize ROI for in-store programs, promotion, distribution and merchandising initiatives

 

Marketing.  E.g., Maximize ROI of marketing efforts with clear profiles of how to reach the target consumer.  From online and offline media habit profiles, to scoring a geographical area’s propensity based on desired criteria, the data can assist efforts ranging from media planning to database marketing

 

Consumer Insights. E.g., Allow clients to get more from their consumer insights research budgets as we can use the responses from the Eco-Insights survey as a highly sophisticated screener to re-contact respondents for proprietary custom studies

 

Corporate Social Responsibility. E.g., Rate eco-friendliness of both the company and its products including ‘Likelihood to Recommend’ and ‘Likelihood to Invest’.

 

MG: How can CPGs and retailers use the data to target consumers interested in green products?  How granular can you go?  For example, can you target at the zip code level? How about by product or product category? 

 

At a retail level, these data are extremely actionable.  We capture consumers’ primary and secondary shopping chains which allow us to know what product categories people buy and where they are most likely to shop (and we can do cross-outlet analysis). 

 

We have also asked if they were a customer of other retail chains (e.g., Home Depot, Lowes, Macy’s, Best Buy).  So although we don’t have as specific information for these other outlets we can do, at minimum, analysis by these outlets.  The link between category and outlet profile is very unique and actionable.

 

As for granularity, earthsense has partnered with Pitney Bowes MapInfo to project market potential at very low levels of geography including census block groups, tracts, and trade areas, and yes, ZIP Codes.  Using the PSYTE Segmentation system, retailers can purchase mailing lists based on households living in specific neighborhood types with the highest proclivity to go green.  It’s a soup-to -nuts solution.

 

Earthsense provides category level data, not brand-specific observations.  One of the biggest benefits earthsense subscribers have is the ability to drill down further into the data using our Reconnect Service.  So, say you are a manufacturer of frozen foods.  You can learn quite a lot about consumers who buy this category from our main Eco-Insights survey. 

 

But if you wanted to learn more about the types of frozen foods consumers buy and which brands they favor, you can create a customized survey whose results are appended back to the syndicated survey.  This will give you the freedom to concentrate on just the details you need.

 

MG: Do you have attitudinal and psychographic data that can inform messaging by geography?

 

In addition to partnering with Pitney Bowes MapInfo, we have also formed a relationship with Mediamark Research & Intelligence (MRI).  We’re working this summer to link our databases so that subscribers of both surveys will have unprecedented detail on consumers.  And since MRI is PSYTE-encoded, all of these data are geographically actionable!

 

MG: How do local influencers (exographics) impact attitudes on green?  Do you think these influencers impact attitudes toward green or conversely, attitudes toward exographic considerations?

 

Good question!  There’s a lot of data to sift through and a lot to learn.  While we are not looking for or trying to document causal relationships, we are finding patterns where several factors coexist.  A marketer’s job is to maximize return on investment.  And, we help accomplish that goal by pinpointing those areas where the patterns are the strongest.  

 

Clearly, a person could wish to buy only organic food, ride a bicycle to work, and recycle everything  But, factors such as the proximity to a store or farmer’s market with a good selection, the distance to a workplace, weather conditions and local waste management facilities can prevent or discourage even the most ardent “green” consumer.

 

With an economy that is sputtering, gas prices that are soaring, and issues surrounding safety in our food supply – consumers are weighing multiple factors before they put their put their money down on even the basics.  Earthsense helps manufacturers and marketers by taking a common sense approach to understanding the motivations and barriers that directly affect the purchase of products – particularly those with environmental, health or wellness features.


Driving Engagement and Viral Impact in the Green Space: Part II – Original Content

July 11, 2008

While creating and sharing user-generated content is an effective way to facilitate consumer engagement and viral marketing, it is not the only approach that marketers can take.  Professionally produced original content is another proven way.  Increasingly, agencies or production studios create and seed content on behalf of their clients for consumers to view and share online.

 

One such shop is Free Range Studios which has produced several original videos that have generated significant buzz and viral impact in the green space.  Calling its approach “socially conscious viral entertainment”, Free Range tries to “distill a complicated message into a fun or moving short story” while engaging its viewers by allowing them “to write the end of that story by taking action or donating.”  Stories are distributed not only through paid advertisement but via video sharing sites such as You Tube and, more specifically, RiverWired, emPivot and LivePaths in the green space.  They are also distributed offline at concerts and events.

 

Recent Free Range videos with eco-themes including Grocery Store Wars, a Star Wars spoof about a “small band of organic vegetable puppets” including Cuke Skywalker, Ham Solo, Chewbroccoli and Obi Wan Cannoli that do battle against Darth Tader and the Dark Side of the Farm.  

 

Most recently, Free Range released The Story of Stuff, a 20-minute video that explains the environmental impact regarding the “stuff” we consume.  The video has been a huge hit, recording more than 3 million viewers on The Story of Stuff microsite alone. Moreover, the video has received acclaim by winning the SXSW Interactive Award for its contribution as an educational resource.

 

Marketers should recognize that there are certain trade-offs made in producing their own original content themselves versus encouraging users to generate it for them.  For example, with original content, upfront costs are likely to be significant higher.  Yet, for getting a complex message across to consumers, original content may be a marketer’s best option to hit a home run.


Managing Environmental Risk by Looking through the Rear-view Mirror

June 1, 2008

A recent survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit identified both the top influencers of – and benefits derived from – corporate environmental risk management (CERM) programs.  Two things are curious about these survey results.  First, customers and investors rank relatively low in influence (fourth and seventh, respectively) despite the fact that “better corporate reputation” among these groups ranks as the primary benefit for launching CERM in the first place. 

 

Second, “regulators” and “government” exert significant influence – second only to “executive management” – on companies to initiate CERM programs; in terms of benefits, however, “improved relations with regulators” ranks only eighth.

 

Risk Manager Responses from Recent Survey by                    The Economist Intelligence Unit

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The high level influence of regulators and government suggests that corporations consider regulatory compliance as the primary measure of CERM success.  This focus is understandable given the stiff fines imposed for non-compliance.

 

Moreover, it also suggests that corporations believe that regulatory compliance is the way to improve its reputation with customers and investors.  Yet, while compliance is arguably important with customers and investors, it is simply the place to start.

 

When it comes to customer and investor groups, focusing solely on regulatory compliance is like driving a car by looking through the rear-view mirror.  Quite simply, regulations do not necessarily reflect current consumer and investor expectations regarding corporate actions toward the environment; instead, they reflect those held in the past when the regulations were passed.

 

This is an important distinction because consumer and investor expectations regarding corporate environmental responsibility continuously evolve.  As such, it is likely that current expectations have far surpassed current regulations in place today.  Take climate change, for example.  There is a growing consensus that carbon must be regulated, yet no binding limits yet exist in the US.  

 

There are other cases where customers or investors actively challenge management’s environmental policies.  For example, led by members of the Rockefeller family, ExxonMobil shareholders have made it clear that they believe that when it comes to climate change, compliance with existing regulations is not enough for this oil giant.

 

As such, corporations that primarily focus on regulatory compliance are likely falling short when it comes to improving their reputation with consumers and investors.  Instead, management should try to better understand current customer and investor expectations toward the environment, and how these sentiments evolve with time.  This will require corporations to take action that go beyond current regulatory mandates.  It will also require recognition that customers and investors hold greater “influence” on CERM decisions than what is commonly realized today.


Reframing Global Warming Across the Political Spectrum

May 5, 2008

These days, green marketers are challenged to efficiently reach consumers and effectively impact their attitudes and behaviors.  There are many reasons for this of course: consumer attitudes are still evolving, familiarity with green products is just emerging and purchase behavior is inconsistent within and across categories.  As such, marketers tend to look for targetable demographic groups or behaviors that have a higher propensity for green. 

 

In this political year, it is interesting to examine whether political ideology, and more specifically, party identification as a Democrat or Republican is an indicator of interest in green. 

 

Today, there is a common perception that Democrats are more pro-environment than Republicans.  Indeed, on issues like global warming, it is not hard to see why.  According to a recent Porter Novelli/George Mason University consumer survey, Democrats consider global warming a “serious problem” nearly 2:1 over Republicans.  Additionally, only half as many Republicans as Democrats feel that by taking action they can impact global warming.

 

           Beliefs Regarding Global Warming by Political Affiliation

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Yet, this perception may not necessarily reflect behavior.  In fact, when it comes to taking action, Republicans act more similar to Democrats than their views on the environment may suggest.  In fact, Democrats perform, on average, only one more green action  (from a list of 14 that includes using less energy, recycling, buying energy-efficient appliances, and buying organic food) than Republicans. 

 

For marketers, this observation may provide an opportunity.  Republicans may be as receptive to green as Democrats if marketers can reframe the underlying environmental issue and the messaging that is communicated to them.  Attitudinal research based on political party affiliation may provide clues to how this may be done.  Here are a few examples that marketers may want to consider:

 

Reinforce local benefits:  At the recent conference, Professors David Konisky, Jeff Milyo and Lilliard Richardson at the University of Missouri presented research that examines how attitudes toward government involvement change based on the type (ie, pollution, resource preservation, global warming) and geographic scale (ie, local, national, global) of the environmental issue.

Based on their research, Konisky et. al., determined that “party identification and political ideology are the strongest predictors of environmental attitudes”.  More specifically, “Republicans are much less likely to support further government efforts to address environmental issues.” 

Interestingly, Republicans were much more apt to favor governmental intervention if the issue affected people locally, or even nationally, rather than globally.  In speaking with Professor Konisky last week, he expressed his belief that “people tend to want the government to address proximate problems.”  One way to increase interest is by “reframing the climate change issue as one of local impacts [to] generate more concern for this issue relative to other issues.” 

While Konisky et. al., focused on attitudes toward governmental action, marketers should test the hypothesis that sentiment will carry over to campaigns that build awareness regarding climate change as well as influence purchase behavior.

 

Position as a leader:  A recent national survey conducted on behalf of the Civil Society Institute and its Results for America project (CSI/RFA) indicates that Republicans are more apt to favor action on global warming if the US is positioned “to lead – not follow – other nations” on both climate policy and clean tech.  In fact, while only 45% of Republicans (vs. 86% of Democrats) agree that we need “national leadership on global warming,” two-thirds of Republicans want American to take the lead on policy and technology development.

 

As such, marketers have an opportunity to test a leadership message when communicating with consumers regarding green.  Such a message may resonate well with consumers, and especially in categories in which a company is in a leadership position today (eg, General Electric, Toyota) or in which no clear established leader exists globally (eg, renewable energy, electric cars).  One recent example is Tesla, the California-based automotive up-start that established itself arguably as the leading electric car company with its weekend launch of a car that can go 225 miles without recharging and 0 to 60 in 4 seconds.

 

Focus on measurable impact:  Across the political spectrum, the “number of ‘green’ actions” is not strongly correlated with political party affiliation, but rather level of concern about climate change.  According to the CRI/RIA survey, those that believe that both global warming is dangerous and that action to mitigate it is efficacious perform more than 40% more green actions than those who do not – regardless of political persuasion. 

 

Marketers should consider a duel message to clarify not only the impact of global warming as well as the effectiveness of measures to mitigate it.

 

One example, laundry detergent, was mentioned by Joel Makower in his presentation at the Green and Good conference late last year.  Many brands focus on the environmental impact of the formula itself, advertising that a consumer can reduce his/her footprint by using a formula with a less burdensome manufacturing process and chemical makeup. 

 

Yet, as Makower pointed out, most of the impact from washing clothing is not from the manufacturing or distribution of the detergent but the heating of the water (according to GreenYour, this ranges from 85-90% of the total energy required for the washing).  As such, Tide and other brands that offer a cold water formula have an opportunity to message not only how well their products clean clothes but that they greatly reduce the carbon footprint from washing simply by not heating the water.


1
Konisky, David, Jeff Milyo, and Lilliard Richardson, “Environmental Policy Attitudes, Political Trust, and Geographic Scale,” abstract presented at the Western Political Science Association annual meeting, March 20-22, 2008.


Making What’s Inconvenient Matter

May 1, 2008

An Interview with Matt Williams, EVP/Partner at The Martin Agency and Planning Director for the “We Can Solve It” Campaign


While many consider the release of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth to be a turning point regarding consumer awareness about climate change, consumer surveys indicate that much work is still left to be done.


In fact, six months after the movie’s release, an
ACNielsen online consumer survey found that North Americans were the least aware of and concerned about global warming of all respondents from the 46 markets surveyed.

Moreover, North Americans were only half as likely as South Americans (Argentina, Brazil and Chile) – those surveyed that were most aware and concerned – to believe that climate change was “a direct result of human actions”.

This month, however, there is reason to hope. Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection is back with an ambitious 3-year, $300MM campaign to raise awareness of – and to influence behavior regarding – global warming.


Recently, Marketing Green spent some time with Matt Williams, EVP/Partner at The Martin Agency. Today, The Martin Agency serves as the lead agency for the Alliance and is in charge of the campaign’s brand strategy, among other roles.


Willams serves as the Planning Director on this campaign. As such, his role is to uncover insights that will motivate consumer changes in attitudes and behaviors. In many ways this is a daunting challenge for a marketer, given the enormity of the task at hand as well as its importance to the overall effort to solve global warming. Here are his words:


MG: In launching this campaign, what was the Alliance’s primary objective.


MW: The Alliance’s WE campaign is designed to bring public opinion past the tipping point, and compel our elected leaders to take action on climate change. We only have a short window to act, and what we need is a massive, sustained effort to mobilize millions of people – that’s what this effort is all about.


MG: Describe some of challenges that you faced in tackling an issue as daunting as climate change.


MW: Climate change is a huge challenge, and the vast majority of people realize the urgency and enormity of the threat. But, human nature being what it is, a challenge this large can be almost paralyzing.

We had to break through the assumption that the climate crisis is too big for a regular person to tackle. We had to tell people that, yes, this is an urgent challenge, but like other massive challenges, if we put our differences aside and band together to solve it, we can do it. Adding elements of optimism and solvability to the urgency of solving the climate crisis was the key challenge of the campaign.

MG: Is it realistic to expect a marketing campaign to have a significant impact on attitudes and behaviors regarding climate change?

 

MW: The advertising is just one piece of the Alliance’s 3-year effort – and it’s a multimillion dollar, national ad campaign, stretching from coast to coast in every type of media.

 


The Alliance has also launched a program of online engagement and activation, providing opportunities for citizens get and stay involved; and is partnering with organizations that will work across the political spectrum to reach people in their day-to-day lives.


As these efforts work together and build momentum over the life of the campaign, we expect to mobilize millions of people for solutions to climate change.

MG: What is your campaign idea? What were some of the consumer insights from which it was derived?

 

MW: We know consumers are frustrated with partisan bickering. We know the vast majority of Americans accept the reality of the climate crisis and want to engage in solving it, but they don’t know how to get involved.

And we know that consumers view the climate crisis as too large and urgent a challenge to be held hostage by political gridlock. The campaign idea is that we have to set aside our differences and come together to solve the climate crisis. If we don’t come together, the problem won’t be solved—it’s too big.


But if we come together, we can speak with a unified voice to demand solutions. The campaign and the WE idea are designed to create a motivating sense of energy and optimism and to invite everyone to participate in solving climate change.


MG: What are the key elements of the campaign? Overall, how are inpidual tactics integrated across channels? Conversely, inpidually, how were each tactic tailored for each channel?


MW: In terms of the ads themselves, we’re combining television – because of its reach to the broad audience we’re trying to speak to – with print, in issue-specific publications aimed at key groups, and online ads that can be carefully targeted as well.


Every ad, in mass media or online, drives traffic to http://www.wecansolveit.org, the Alliance website. At the site, consumers can find a wide variety of information about the climate crisis and ways to get involved—from petitions to government leaders to local events. They’ll also have the chance to join the Alliance by giving us their e-mail address. So this is more than ad campaign—it’s an integrated effort to engage consumers, and turn that engagement into real action.

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MG: How will you drive viral marketing? What is the role for social media? How do you build grassroots support for action?

MW: The online and grassroots components of the campaign will provide opportunities for inpiduals to get and stay involved in ways that make sense for them. Our cutting-edge online organizing and activation, built around the website, will give people a spectrum of activities to keep them engaged on the issue, from taking action in their personal lives to working in their schools and communities to joining calls for government action on all levels.

 


We’re also using the “network effect” – getting the word out through ready-to-use content (like embeddable videos) and social media that enable communities and inpiduals to engage on the issue, spread the word and become local champions.

 


The Alliance has created partnerships with local and national groups to get the word out on the grassroots level, so consumers not only see the WE brand in media outlets and online, they feel it through other groups and activities that are important in their lives.

 


We’re also looking at ways for consumers to use elements of our campaign to create their own WE content, to help build viral momentum and actively involve consumers in creating the WE brand with us.

MG: How involved has Al Gore been in the planning of this campaign?

 

MW: Vice President Gore has been an integral part of the WE Campaign’s development from start to finish. The Alliance and the We campaign are built on the idea that the climate crisis is urgent and solvable, and VP Gore’s goal is to ensure that we get the word out as effectively as possible.

MG: How did you incorporate innovative approaches in this campaign? What are they and how did they impact the consumer experience in a novel way?

 

MW: The entire campaign is rooted in a brand idea that will unify every effort, in mass media, online and grassroots. The idea of bringing Unlikely Alliances like Newt Gingrich/Nancy Pelosi and Pat Robertson/Al Sharpton together is an attention-getting way to make our point about coming together to solve the crisis.
That theme will continue in the future and in other parts of the campaign, and has great potential for interesting and involving messages in every medium.

We’ll also use the couch from the TV, print and online ads as an icon for coming together.


The creation of the WE mark gives us a symbol that people everywhere can use to display their commitment to solutions. WE can become part of people’s lives beyond the campaign.


Also, our focus on Influencers as a media target is designed to communicate our message to people who start conversations. When millions of Influencers engage their network members and policymakers in a discussion about solutions to the climate crisis, the conversation will take on even greater momentum.


It’s an amazing privilege for us to be involved with the Alliance in helping address this incredibly important challenge.


Action by Governors Highlights Shifting Sentiment on Green

April 24, 2008

Last week, I had the opportunity to witness a milestone being reached in the effort to fight global warming:  officials from 18 states – representing a majority of the US population – signed an agreement at Yale University that committed their states to action on global warming. 

While some states like California and New Jersey have already put formal carbon reduction targets into place, this agreement clearly reflects growing national support for action.

 

Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey Signing the Governor’s Declaration

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Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas Addressing the Conference

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Marketers should take careful note.  Shifting political winds are more than a sign that legislation is on the horizon; they also may reflect a change in consumer sentiment that is fueling them. 

 

For marketers, three themes emerged that they should consider:

 

The time is running short for companies to be first movers on green.  Conference participants expressed their belief that action on global warming was all but inevitable with a new administration – regardless of party affiliation.   As such, the window of opportunity is closing for brands to be an early mover on green.  Once Congress mandates change, it will take more effort for a company to convince consumers of their green authenticity than if they did so now on their own volition.  (See also Marketing Green’s “Waning Opportunity to be Early Mover on Green”).

 

Consumer perceptions of green are evolving.  The image of environmentalists as tree huggers is fading.  In fact, Governor Schwarzenegger claimed that being an environmentalist today is “hip, cutting edge, self-confident, sexy”.  What more could companies want when it comes marketing green?

 

Governor Schwarzenegger at the Conference

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Brands must adapt to changing consumer sentiment on green.  As consumer attitudes on green evolve, companies must also reposition their brands to maintain relevance with consumers.  Marketers should note that at least two factors will help accelerate this shift in consumer sentiment.

First, Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection is launching a 3-year, $300MM campaign to propel consumers to take action on climate change. 

Second, consumers may use their purchasing power to influence corporate behavior on green.  While Americans are voracious consumers, they do not like to do so at the expense of others.   For example, the vast majority of Americans are firm believers in child labor and worker safety laws.  

Today, headlines focus on food shortages and the civil unrest that it has caused in many poor nations.  Corporations that are perceived to be perpetuating food shortages through their activities (eg, competing with local farmers for water rights, promoting the use of biofuels that divert cropland away from food production) may feel the wrath of consumers that use their purchases to express their opinions. (See also Marketing Green’s “Green May Be Ho Hum for the Holidays But It’s Here to Stay”).

 

For marketers, such undercurrents are important to monitor closely.  Consumer sentiment is shifting and will inevitably reach a tipping point.  Smart companies will take action ahead of time to avoid ending up on the wrong side of the line.

 


Green Religiosity

March 16, 2008

Last week, the green movement received endorsements from some very high places. Religious leaders that represent the two largest Christian denominations in the US – more than 66 million Catholics and 16 million Southern Baptists – declared that environmental protection has religious significance.   

For Southern Baptists, “any damage we do to this world is an offense against God Himself”; for Catholics, “environmental pollution” is considered a “sin”.  While not the first religious groups to endorse action to protect the environment, they were significant given their political, economic and social clout within the US and globally. 

Notably, the Southern Baptist Declaration calls for action on climate change despite an ongoing debate within the community as to its cause.  The Declaration states that “even in the absence of perfect knowledge or unanimity, we have to make informed decisions about the future…Humans must be proactive and take responsibility for our contributions to climate change—however great or small.”  

Green marketers should consider this turn of events.  To be clear, Marketing Green does not advocate exploitation of religious beliefs for commercial gain.  Nonetheless, marketers should recognize that such significant shifts in church doctrine will likely impact consumer attitudes towards the environment, and perhaps, consumer behavior longer-term.  As such, these are trends that green marketers need to understand.   

In fact, such a connection between religious attitude and behavior was explored in a seminal paper published by Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen more than 30 years ago.  In this work, Fishbein and Ajzen established that while religious attitude could not be correlated with any single behavior, it was highly correlated with multiple behaviors over time.  (“Attitudes Towards Objects as Predictors of Single and Multiple Behavioral Criteria,” Psychological Review, Vol 81, No. 1 p. 59-74, 1974) 

Said another way: “general attitudes toward religion poorly predicted specific behaviors, but strongly predicted aggregated behaviors over time (e.g., church attendance over one year vs. on a particular Sunday).” (Professor Eric Weiser, Curry College, MA, 2007).   

This observation may have particular implications for the environment.  First, attitudes toward green will likely evolve as the faithful absorb amended church doctrine.  Second, behavior change is likely to follow over time as more people put their beliefs into practice.  

As such, marketers may find a growing audience that is more receptive to green messaging as well as one more willing to modify its behaviors to align with its underlying religious beliefs.  Green marketers should consider expanding their reach to include those that believe that environmental protection is a religious obligation, or even more broadly, to include those who at a minimum subscribe to a denomination that does.  

Moreover, as attitudes regarding religion and the environment evolve, green marketers have an opening to impact behavior by providing greener product alternatives to an increasingly receptive audience.


Green Content Syndication: Part I – “Deconstructing” Websites

January 20, 2008

Traditionally, publishers have viewed websites as content destinations, challenging marketers to drive traffic to specific websites in order to engage consumers with relevant content.   

Today, the model has changed.  Increasingly, publishers are uncoupling online content from its host site; marketers are learning to syndicate this content online or encouraging others to do so virally.  Jupiter Research has defined this trend as “website deconstruction”. 

Moreover, emerging and established content platforms, including news aggregators, video sharing and social bookmarking sites, enable content to exist on its own in the online world and allow users to have greater control over its distribution.  

Today, a two-step process has emerged for marketers to facilitate content distribution:

Active distribution: Publishers need to first distribute content to multiple users via RSS feeds to readers, widgets, personalized home pages, news aggregators and even mobile devices. A broad list of readers and aggregators can be found here

                          Downloadable and Customizable Widget 

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Publishers can also syndicate content to users by seeding bloggers or by distributing assets to third-party websites through platforms such as Blogburst, Voxant and Magnify.  Each one has a different distribution mechanism.  Blogburst facilitates distribution of blog content through 200 established news channels such as Reuters and FoxNews, for example. 

    Marketing Green Blog Posting on FoxBusiness.com via BlogBurst

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Voxant, in contrast,  syndicates news from mainstream sources to third-party websites; Magnify distributes video.  Magnify provides a widget that can be easily customized (based on content preferences) and downloaded onto third-party sites.  Publishers can make their content available for distribution simply by creating a channel on Magnify to do so.  Currently, Magnify offers 119 channels of content relating to “Nature and Environment”.

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Passive or viral distribution: In addition to actively pushing content out to a variety of sources, marketers need to ensure they position their content to be further distributed by consumers.  Today, users increasingly share and recommend content to their peers.  By doing so, individuals not only share content with other users, but they empower these users to make recommendations to friends and contacts in their networks.  For marketers, such a network effect can have an exponential impact in driving reach; it also costs marketers virtually nothing to achieve.   

 

Examples of users facilitating passive content distribution include sending viral emails, posting video content on YouTube and veoh, bookmarking an article on Digg and del.cio.us or linking to personal pages within MySpace. 

 

While all general interest sites host content related to the environment, there are many websites that focus exclusively on the green space.  Examples include video sharing sites ecolive.tv, emPivot, Green.tv, GreenEnergyTV, RiverWired and URTH.tv; bookmarking sites ecoblogs, Hugg and hunuh; and a multitude of social networking sites including Care2 and Zaadz (See also Marketing Green’s “Green Marketing on Social Networks” and “Sharing Green Videos Online” postings).

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In a conversation with Marketing Green earlier this week, Shmuel Benhamou, a founder of the recently launched ecolive.tv, makes the case for green vertical sites: “Videos are one of the most efficient and interesting ways to spread the ‘green’ message throughout the world.  Yet, today, it is very hard to find good green videos on YouTube and others user generated content sites.  Ecolive.tv wants to promote green videos to a targeted audience.”

Notably, syndication blurs the lines between publisher and user, as everyone has the chance to distribute content.  Moreover, it also blurs the distinction between content, either professionally or user-generated, and advertising.  Increasingly, content serves as advertising and advertising is enjoyed as content. 

One great example of advertising distributed as content in the green space is a commercial for a European wind energy company, Epuron, syndicated on YouTube.

Marketers: Think differently about your digital strategy.  Uncouple content from specific websites and distribute directly to users or through intermediary sites.  Encourage consumers to share content with their peers and across social networks.  If done right, syndication can act as a digital channel accelerator by driving reach and generating impact far beyond the cost required to facilitate it.  It is a must for most marketers today.  You scarcely can afford not to.


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