Testing Green Promotional Benefits to Drive Acquisition

September 16, 2007

Promotional benefits are a popular marketing tactic used across almost every industry to acquire new customers.   Marketers like offering such benefits as they can greatly increase acquisition rates or drive repeat purchases over time.  

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the use of promotional benefits has been extended to the green space.  Using “green” promotional benefits – that is, incentives that have environmental benefit – to drive acquisition, however, is unchartered territory as there are few benchmarks to validate their use or their effectiveness.

Nonetheless, such green benefits are increasingly being offered across a variety of product categories.  Here are just a few examples:

Autos: Volkswagen of America announced its “Carbon Neutral Project”, a campaign that offers to offset the carbon emissions for one year.  This promotional benefit is being offered on a trial basis and expires on January 2, 2008.

Banking: Several banks offer discounts on auto and home-equity loans that pay for environmentally-friendly goods. One of the most generous is the Carolina Postal Credit Union, which serves US Postal Employees and Federal Employees in North Carolina, which offers a 1% discount on auto loans when purchasing a hybrid.

Credit cards: Today, it is common for credit card companies to offer one-time bonus miles for signing up for an airline affinity card.  The latest entrant into the green card market, Metabank, puts a different spin on this promotional benefit: bonus carbon credits.  Every new applicant receives the equivalent of 10,000 lbs of CO2 offsets – the average annual CO2 emission of a car in the US – when they sign up for their green card.

Real Estate: NY-based Moss Real Estate Group offers both buyers and sellers in a completed transaction offsets for their carbon emissions for one year.

Telecommunications:  San Francisco-based wireless carrier Working Assets announced that it offers new subscriber a “carbon neutral phone” (a $55 value) to offset average CO2 emissions caused by phone use over the next year.

Green or not, promotional benefits come with clear economic trade-offs.  First, benefits can be very expensive, as not only do they reduce net revenue and increase costs, but they are likely extended to many prospects that would have converted anyway.

Second, promotional benefits tend to attract incremental customers with “lower repurchase rates and smaller lifetime values” according to Michael Lewis, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Florida. 

In fact, his study of consumer-level data from the newspaper and online grocery industries offers sobering results: “a 35% acquisition discount results in customers with about one-half the long-term value of non-promotionally acquired customers.”  (“Customer Acquisition Promotions and Customer Asset Value”, Journal of Marketing Research, May 2006).  As such, while benefits attract new customers, they may not necessarily generate economic value in doing so.

As the impact of green promotional benefits remains uncertain at this time, Marketing Green recommends a cautious approach for marketers: test the efficiency and effectiveness of this type of program with a small, targeted audience before scaling more broadly.   

Such in-market tests should seek to answer five key questions that can impact program design, target segments and types of offers:

  • What value do consumers place on green benefits, either perceived or actual?  How does this value differ by target segment and product category?
  • Who should be the recipient of this benefit – the individual consumer or society (eg, via a donation to a non-profit organization, for example)? 
  • Do green benefits expand the market or simply reward those that would already purchase a product or service?
  • Do green benefits impact average customer lifetime value positively or negatively over time?
  • Do green benefits generate brand value by positioning the company as more socially responsible?

Moreover, Marketing Green recommends that marketers should assess whether consumers understand these green promotional benefits (eg, what do carbon credits mean?) as well as their equivalent economic value (eg, how much is it worth?).  Without broad acceptance of these promotional benefits by consumers, marketers may find that they also have to invest in consumer education if they want to target anyone today but the most committed green consumers.


China and Canada: Olympic Host Nations with Different Green National Brands

September 4, 2007

Like products, companies and celebrities, nations have brands, and these brands have attributes that describe them and value that is associated with them.  Hosting the Olympic Games provides a unique opportunity for a country to both influence global perceptions about their national brand and enhance their nation’s brand value by showcasing itself before the entire world. 

With the next summer and winter games set to take place in Beijing, China (2008) and Vancouver, Canada (2010), respectively, it is hard not to make the comparison between these national brands, and especially, in terms of how each brand relates to the environment.  Any comparison, however, requires a caveat as these nations differ greatly in terms of their histories, population sizes and stages of economic development.  Nonetheless, a comparison is justified based on how these national brands are perceived globally today, as well as how these nations are working to enhance their brand images – positive or negative – going forward. 

Simon Anholt’s National Brands Index (NBI) is one way to evaluate national brands based on “how a country is seen by others” today.  NBI compiles brand attributes “across six dimensions of national assets, characteristics, and competence [including] exports, people, governance, tourism, culture and heritage and immigration and investment”.   

While the environment is considered explicitly as part of the governance category (which “considers people’s perceptions of the government’s behaviour towards the global environment”), the environment is, in fact, implicit in other category questions as well.  For example, perceptions about air quality and water-borne pollution directly affect someone’s likelihood to visit (tourism category) or live and work in a country (immigration and investment). 

In fact, it could be argued that the environment may be a bellwether indicator of how the global community perceives national brands.  An NBI report states that “even if nations themselves don’t change, people’s values can and do, affecting the way they perceive nations”.   For example, “growing ‘green’ consciousness among some sections of the world’s population, benefiting those nations…that have a good reputation for environmental responsibility”, and perhaps detract from others that are less responsible.  

In NBI’s recent survey of 38 nations, Canada is ranked 4th (behind the UK, Germany and France) while China is ranked 23rd. (The US is ranked 10th). 

It is not only this difference in ranking that is significant, but that China’s brand image is losing ground.  In fact, its brand score had the highest overall decline (-4%) of any ranked nation over the last year an a half.  Moreover, significant areas of decline include brand perceptions regarding China as a place to “live and work” (-11.4%) and to visit (-13%) – all issues that may be relate to perceptions about the environment.   (Anholt Nation Brands Index Special Report Q2 2007). 

Such brand perceptions also translates into differential national brand values.  Brand Finance estimates national Brand Values based on a 5-year forecast for gross domestic product (GDP) and incorporates “brand ratings for each nation [including] seven economic performance measures (Source: IMD), eight infrastructure and efficiency measures (Source: IMD) and six consumer perception measures (Source: NBI).” 

The chart below displays Brand Values for the top ranked nations by GDP.  Adding GDP – a measure of the output from all domestic economic activities associated with a nation – helps put Brand Value into context.

gdp-vs-brand-value_v2.gif

Brand Value from Anholt Nation Brands Index Special Report Q1 2007; GDP (nominal) from World Bank, 2006 as cited in Wikipedia   

Not surprisingly, for most nations, Brand Value is correlated with GDP, as Brand Finance’s estimate of Brand Value begins with a five-year GDP forecast.  In fact, Brand Value is measured as a multiple of GDP for 8 of the top 9 countries in terms of GDP – meaning that brand value is worth considerably more than the annual output from each nation.  (Brazil’s Brand Value was not available from the referenced Index as it is not ranked among the top 10).  In noticeable contrast, China – while the only developing nation among the top 9 nations – is the only country in which its Brand Value is a fraction of its GDP. 

All this many not be surprising, however, as China’s reputation has suffered in recent years: in its race to industrialize it has turned a blind eye from the suffering in Darfur as it contracts for oil from the Sudanese, manufactured low cost toys and pet food tainted with poisons, and spoiled much of its environment in the process.  In fact, environmental degradation is widespread and on a scale perhaps never seen before.  A recent report co-authored by the World Bank and the Government of China summaries this impact in human health and GDP:

     “The combined health and non-health cost of outdoor air and water pollution for China’s economy comes to around $US100 billion a year (or about 5.8% of the country’s GDP) [and 750,000 premature deaths annually according to the New York Times] 

     Air pollution, especially in large cities, is leading to higher incidences of lung diseases, including cancer, respiratory system problems and therefore higher levels of work and school absenteeism 

     Water pollution is also causing growing levels of cancer and diarrhea particularly in children under 5

     Water pollution is further exacerbating China’s severe water scarcity problems, bringing the overall cost of water scarcity to about 1% of GDP”  (World Bank and Government of China, “Cost of Pollution in China – Economic Estimates of Physical Damages”, 2007) 

The 2008 Olympic Games only serve to highlight this environmental degradation as air pollution in Beijing has raised concerns from global athletes who threaten to stay away if the skies do not clear during the event.  The Chinese say the air will be clear during the Olympics but initial tests that banned 1MM cars from the road had mixed results. 

Either way, the damage may already have been done to the Chinese brand in the short term.  Air quality – good or poor – will certainly be the talk of the town during the summer games and will inevitably shed more light on China’s growing environmental problem.   

But, for the Chinese and the environment, perhaps some good will come of this over time.   There is already talk of environmental reform and greater regulatory controls within the central government.  Chinese leaders, however, still need to find incentives for provincial leaders to enact them.  Moreover, if the Chinese are successful in cleaning up the air during the games, Beijing residents will certainly talk about how ‘unnaturally’ clean the air is – perhaps creating grassroots support to have better air quality after the closing ceremonies. 

The story in Vancouver – and across the rest Canada – is quite different.  Like the rest of the G8 nations, Canada did not industrialize without a price – contaminated sites, clear cut forests and mines that drain acid to the surrounding lands and waters and continue to plague the environment and compromise human health.  Moreover, Canada has its own Love Canal, a symbol of all what is wrong with unregulated industrialization and the site of human suffering that followed.        

But, it is difficult to compare the sheer scale of the problem that China now confronts.  In fact, most of Canada escaped industrialization relatively unscathed.  Many, including Paul Lavoie, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of Taxi, a premier Canadian advertising firm, think that Canadians should now use their relative greenness to their advantage. 

In a keynote address at the Canada 2020 conference last year, Lavoie argued that Canadians had an “opportunity to manage [its] natural resources to insure economic, environmental and social success.  He continued, “In this period of high demand, we have a window of opportunity to develop a national natural resources strategy aimed at maximizing economic benefits while ensuring the long-term sustainability of our resources and environment.”     

To do so, Lavoie proposed that Canada should create a new brand for the nation and Canadian businesses.  This brand – Outside thinkers – would be demonstrated by shifting from natural resource extraction to idea generation in order to capture more economic and brand value going forward.

outside-thinkers.gif

Lavoie spoke, “It’s about the relationship between nature and innovation.  Nature has been our greatest challenge, and our greatest inspiration. Its geography, climate and force have made us think outside convention to survive.”    

“Let’s look outside and see nature as our inspiration to innovate: Many Canadian products and services could be marketed with more success if they rallied around the common brand values and standards of a uniquely Canadian concept.”  

“ ‘Outside thinkers’ [offers] a clear and shared personality and promise of innovative design, quality workmanship and an orientation to sustainability across all categories. A strong central message repeated consistently will build a clear perception and expectation in the minds of consumers, trade partners and governments. This is the hallmark of a great brand.” 

Lavoie supports this brand with three pillars that represented a shift in Canadian thinking: 

A Shift from a “land of stuff” to a “land of ideas”.  Lavoie argued: “By treating our natural resources like commodities, we are selling them short when we should be selling them at a premium and getting the recognition for it.” 

A shift to innovation.  Lavoie elaborated that the Anholt NBI identified distinct attributes of Canadians: “Trustworthy, honest, gentle moral conscience, friendly, [and] tolerant.   

His response: “I don’t think this image is a complete representation of all Canadians, especially the younger, more confident, ambitious generation, many who are in this room who want to be actively involved and be a little more than happy yet passive bystanders. I believe there are two potential characteristics that are missing. I would like to set as an objective of this exercise to foster and encourage the addition of: confidence and innovation.  With confidence you can do anything.  With innovation you do the right thing!” 

A shift to sustainable solutions.  Lavoie said that Canadians should shift to more value added services (and reduce the export of raw materials) while providing what the world wants: sustainable products and services.   

So, globally, perceptions toward national brands – specifically China and Canada – vary substantially today.  Perceptions about the environment are an important part of this difference.  While the Olympics offer the opportunity to shape these perceptions in a positive way, it is unclear whether China will be able to do so given the systemic pollution that permeates life across much of China – including Beijing, the Olympic host city.   

In contrast, the Canadian national brand will likely benefit from Vancouver hosting the Olympics given that brand perceptions are already very favorable today and the relative pristine physical environment of British Columbia will only reinforce this perception when visitors arrive for the games.  Moreover, as Paul Lavoie suggests, Canada may have the opportunity to build on this perception by creating a national brand synonymous with sustainability.  Perhaps this is Canada’s ticket for overtaking the UK, Germany and France as the top national brand globally.


Aggregating Green Audiences

August 31, 2007

Online advertisers are increasingly interested in targeting audiences with green affinities and publishers are aggregating traffic in order to provide compelling ways to do so. 

August has seen a fury of acquisitions as publishers move to aggregate existing green traffic and extend their reach to other green sub-segments.  Earlier this month Gaiam  purchased both Lime, an eco site and green ad network, and Zaadz, a green social networking site.  And less than two weeks ago, Cleantech purchased InsideGreentech.com.  All of this consolidation activity follows Discovery’s acquisition of Treehugger, the leading green blogging site, at the beginning of the month.

Alternatively, online publishers are banding together to create green ad networks that provide media planners with significant reach by bundling ad sales across multiple sites and through a single point of contact.  As such, it came as little surprise this week when Adify announced the launch of its latest vertical platform supporting green ad networks.  Today, this platform supports four green ad networks including Green Ad Planet, Washington Post’s environmental blogroll, Matter Network and SustainLane Green Ad Network.   

While today no green ad network ranks among comScore’s Top 50, with 4MM unique monthly visitors, the combined traffic of the green networks supported by Adify’s platform makes it a formidable player in the space.   

Today, there are at least nine individual green ad networks available to advertisers.  Here is Marketing Green’s first Green Ad Network Ranking: 

Network

Target Audience Monthly Unique Visitors
1. Green Ad Planet LOHAS 3MM+2  
Sites: LiveScience (1.4MM), Daves Garden (1MM), Hybrid Cars (0.1MM), Blohas, Cathy’s Crawly Composters, Cleantech Blog, , Eco Sherpa, EcoStreet, Green Harmony Tours, Green Living Tips, Green Maven, GreenBin, Greenedia, Greenona, , Inveslogic, KindWeb, Naturalpath, One Shade Greener, Organic Day, Our Hudson Valley Network, RiverWired, Tea Body’s, TenBees, TerraPass, Throwplace, Zaadz
2. Lime1 Broad 2.3MM2 
Sites: Lime (1.8MM), Mongabay (0.3MM), EcoGeek, EcoSherpa, The Beauty Brains, Savvy Vegetarian, Eco-Chick
3. GreenAds Broad 2MM2
Sites: TreeHugger (1MM+), DrWeil (0.4MM), Grist Magazine (0.2MM), eMagazine (0.1MM), MetaEfficient
4. Blogads Broad <2MM2
Sites: Treehugger (1MM+), The Oil Drum (0.1MM), Inhabitat (0.1MM), EcoGeek, Life After the Oil Crash, PlanetSave, MetaEfficient, Ecorazzi, Groovy Green Blog, You Grow Girl, Garden Stew, Lighter Footstep, GetOutdoors Outdoor Blog, Jetson Green, GardenRant, Great Green Goods, About My Planet, The Good Human, Mighty Foods, green LA girl, Really Natural, Triple Pundit, Groovy Green Magazine, The Evangelist Ecologist, Green Options
GreenAdWorks LOHAS 1MM+2
Sites: Mongabay (0.3MM), Inhabitat (0.1MM), Ecorazzi (0.1MM), Earth Easy (0.1MM), Savvy Vegetarian, The Good Human, Terrapass, Alternative Consumer, Organix Authority, Celsias, Natural Path, Groovy Green, Dr. Briffa, The Healing Mind, The Sunshine Chronicles, Econscious
Washington Post’s Environmental Blogroll Broad 3
Sites: Great Green Goods, Nature Geezer
Matter Network Investment professionals 3
Sites: Matter Network, TerraPass
SustainLane Green Ad Network LOHAS 3, 4
Sites: Sustainlane.com, Sustainlane.us, The Unsustainables
NooTouch (UK) N/A 3
Sites: Ecologist Online, Hippy Shopper, New Consumer

1 Does not include other Gaia community umbrella sites including Gaiam, Conscious Enlightenment and Zaadz

2 Rough estimates based on sum of unique site traffic (from Compete) for key sites in network, assuming no more that 10% overlap of unique visitors across each site

3 Limited traffic or limited visibility into network sites to estimate

4 Does not include 24 affiliate sites with a combined reach of 35MM monthly ad impressions based on Sustainlane data

NOTE: Marketing Green contacted each network as part of the research for this article.  Marketing Green plans to update this posting as more ad networks respond to the inquiries over time.


Visualizing Green

August 16, 2007

Images are powerful marketing tools. For marketers, they provide powerful stimuli that can augment messaging and influence consumer behavior and beliefs.  Here are a few suggestions for marketers using visual images in the green space: 

Chose the right image.  Images can affect change by amplify existing or associating new attributes with a brand or marketing messages.  In the green category specifically, imagery has the potential to evoke strong emotional responses from individuals with a vested interest in or passion for the category. 

Today, consumers have preconceived notions about what colors and images are aligned with green.  Research prepared through a partnership between the Yankelovich Group and Getty Images (“Going Green”, Yankelovich Group webinar, June 27, 2007) yielded powerful insights regarding green imagery: consumers believe that the color “forest” green and images of actual forests, (followed by images of water including oceans, rivers and streams), are the most representative of the environment (based on a palate of green color and image stimuli that consumers were exposed to during research). As such, marketers should carefully consider color palate and image selection in order to align with existing consumer perceptions associated with the environment.  (Getty hosts a gallery of powerful green images on its site). 

Track how visual language is evolving.  How consumers interpret and understand “visual language” is continually evolving.  Understanding this evolution can provide marketers with valuable insights to drive successful campaigns.  Here is one example: As part of its research with Yankelovich, Getty identified “key concepts that will influence the future of visual language” in green.  The key concepts include the following:

  1. The Future 
  2. Goodness
  3. Simplicity
  4. Legacy
  5. Inheritance
  6. Purity
  7. Care
  8. Trust
  9. Sustainability
  10. Fresh & Clean

For marketers, such concepts provide relevant ways to connect consumers with green and should be considered when crafting a marketing campaign.

Moreover, green marketers should take note of emerging patterns across these concepts.  For example, four concepts – “the future”, “legacy”, “inheritance” and “sustainability” relate to what we leave for our children.   Additionally, words like “goodness”, “purity” and “fresh and clean” may perhaps evoke a sense of natural goodness.  (“Going Green,” June 27, 2007).

Pick images that allude to ideas beyond the stated message.  Unlike the written word, images “elude empirical verification”.  This enables marketers to leverage the suggestive potential of an image without being held accountable to the degree that you would be if making written or verbal “product claims or political promises”. (Schroeder, Jonathan, “Introduction to the Special Issue on Aesthetics, Images and Vision”, Marketing Theory, 2006; 6; 5)

Let visual imagery influence new product development and design.  Today, marketers typically choose images as part of the overall strategic branding or marketing campaign tactics.  However, given the strong association by consumers of certain images with green, marketers (and product managers) may want to turn this approach on its head.  Instead, companies should consider perhaps developing products that more closely “fit the image” of green already held by consumers, rather than the other way around.  To do so, product designers and green marketers should leverage this imagery to inspire new designs and shape marketing initiatives. (Schroeder, 2006).


Search Is Paramount in the Emerging Green Category

August 7, 2007

Paid search continues to grow and is now considered by most marketers to be a core component of their online marketing tool kits.  This continued growth is not surprising, however, as it is hard to beat search as a marketing channel for both its efficiency and effectiveness. 

There are several reasons for search’s continued dominance.  Search allows marketers to 1) engage consumers as they actively seek information in market, 2) connect consumers with relevant content based on self-identified interests, 3) pay only when consumers click on a sponsored link, 4) scale spend in the channel (to a point) and 5) enhance the productivity of other channels.  For example, building awareness with a 60-second spot will likely result in more searches being conducted by consumers that turn to the web to find out more information or link to the advertiser’s site. 

To green marketers, search also represents a powerful component of the overall media mix.  In fact, Marketing Green believes that search is even more critical for marketers of green products than for more established products because green is an emerging category that has high consumer interest but is difficult to navigate due to the lack of familiarity and standards.   

Moreover, green search will continue to increase as awareness and interest grows and consumers increasingly turn to the Internet for answers.  Here are few reasons why, as well as recommendations for green marketers on how to maximize the impact of the search channel: 

Consumers have a growing interest in green, but limited familiarity.  Many consumers are curious about the emerging green category but have relatively low understanding of the category or how to navigate it.  As such, consumers are more likely to research product choices before making purchase decisions and turn to online search when they do so. 

For marketers, this means establishing broad presence in paid search across both the general as well as green vertical search engines in order to intercept consumers when they actively seek category-, product- or brand-specific information. 

Consumers today conduct that vast majority of green searches through general search engines such as Google and Yahoo and will likely to continue to do so in the near term. The popularity of green vertical search engines – including Green Maven, Greener, GreenGamma, LiveGreenOrDie, GreenLinkCentral, EcoEarth, EcoSeeker and Earthle among others – is growing nonetheless based on the perception that green vertical search engines return more relevant results than general search.

greenmaven.gif

In addition, green filters are emerging that allow consumers to search with greater precision either as an overlay to existing search engines or as a way to narrow the results based on a set of business rules regarding green.  Palore is one example which enables consumers to identify green merchants when using Google’s search engine.  Below is Palore functionality loaded into Google Maps.  Note the symbols included under each listing – including the carrot which denotes that the restaurant offers organic foods.

 palore2.gif

In addition, online sites are emerging help locate products and retailers offline.  Evolvist locates products and retailers by geography.  evolvist.gif

Alternatively, Alonovo filters products and retailers based on their relative corporate social responsibility and “greenness”.

alonovo.gif

Products and brands are proliferating.  Green products are being launched every day across almost every product category.  Product “greenness” is relative, however, which results in a spectrum of products, features, benefits and trade-offs that consumers must weigh before making purchase decisions.   

As product proliferate, so too will our vocabulary that describes them.   

Marketers should, therefore, take advantage of this by greatly expanding and testing the number of keyword and keyword combinations purchased.  Moreover, these lists should align with marketing campaigns and their objectives across the purchase funnel.  For example, an awareness campaign should include both branded, category and product-specific keywords.  Marketers should refresh this list frequently as the entire category is still very much in flux.

Consumers are hungry for relevant content.  Lacking familiarity with green products, consumers turn to credible information sources to learn about products, compare features and validate choices. 

Marketers should respond by providing relevant content on landing pages that link from both paid – and natural – search. This is important for several reasons.  First, consumers are more likely to engage in the content if it is relevant to their search.   

Moreover, content that pays off corresponding keywords searched translates into a better, more relevant consumer experience.  This is important with current algorithm-based search engines, as well as with emerging community-powered and/or customized search engines such as Eurekster Swicki, Rollyo and Yahoo Search Builder.   

In a world where consumers put considerable trust in the opinions of their peers, community-powered search engines will likely become more popular as search results are informed by the collective experience of the community.

 swicki.gif

This is especially important in an emerging category such as green.  With green products emerging rapidly, relatively low consumer familiarity and few standards, consumers will likely turn to peers to help make informed purchase decisions; community-powered search engines will likely play an important role in facilitating this process in the near future.


Measuring Green Blogging Influence

August 2, 2007

Bloggers are emerging as key influencers online.  Today, many blogging sites effectively compete with traditional news sources for breaking stories and eyeballs.  Moreover, many consumers trust bloggers more that established news organizations simply because they are unaffiliated.  Green bloggers are no different.  In fact, many green bloggers have built a loyal viewership that gives mainstream news sites a run for their money

Today’s announcement that Discovery Communications was acquiring TreeHugger, the top ranked green blog, reinforces the role that blogs now play in reaching and influencing online consumers. Nonetheless, measuring this influence is an imperfect science. 

In an ideal world, influence would be measured by determining the number of people exposed and the incremental impact of that exposure on key metrics like awareness, favorability and purchase.  Surveys and panels can be used to capture self-reported data pre- and post-exposure to determine lift in key metrics.  Yet, this level of precision is impractical, too costly or, simply, not feasible to implement for most sites.  As such, proxies are required to approximate influence.

One simple proxy is site traffic – either total visits or unique visitors to a website.  Several sources track blog traffic including Compete, Technorati and the blog Truth Laid Bear.  Truth Laid Bear tracks and ranks the top 5,000 blogs based on a 45-day moving average of daily visits.  The site casts a wide net by considering corporate blogs including dozens and dozens of blogs sponsored by sports teams.  

According to this Truth Laid Bear, five green blogs are ranked in the top 500 based on daily visits as follows:

Overall Rank

Blog

Daily Visits

169

TreeHugger

70,783

321

AutoblogGreen

15,500

340

Inhabitat

12,976

341

The Oil Drum

12,861

451

WorldChanging

5,974

 

Technorati also tracks “popular” blogs but it ranks them based on the number of its members that made the blog a “favorite”, rather than using a more objective site traffic metric.  In this ranking, TreeHugger is ranked 70 based on having had 293 Technorati members made the blog one of their favorites.

Compete provides a snapshot of unique monthly visitors (“People Count”) over the past 13 month period.  If we graph the top five green blogs, we see that there has been a significant increase in unique visitors on several of the top green blogs this year, and especially on TreeHugger where traffic peak in April at almost twice its 2006 average.

    

Yet, when evaluating blog influence, site traffic metrics do not tell a complete story.  Specifically, links to the blog’s content from other sites should also be considered as a significant proxy for influence.  Not only do links provide a de facto endorsement of the content; they also provide a valuable proxy for the readership of repurposed content on other sites.

Technorati and Google provide tools to quickly determine the number of links to a site.  Technorati ranks the top 100 blogs based on unique links during the past six months. (TreeHugger is ranked #21 – the only green blog on the list).  Google provides the ability to determine links for a blog like TreeHugger simply by typing “link: www.TreeHugger.com” on the site.   

treehugger-link.gif 

Leveraging Google, Marketing Green determined links for the top five sites ranked by the Truth Laid Bear (TLB) blog as follows:

 

Overall Rank (Daily Visits)

Blog

Daily Visits (TLB)

Links (Google)

169

TreeHugger

70,783

364,000

321

AutoblogGreen

15,500

103,000

340

Inhabitat

12,976

61,800

341

The Oil Drum

12,861

23,400

451

WorldChanging

5,974

28,800

 

Yet, “link” metrics provided by Technorati and Google are still incomplete proxies for online influence.  In the case of Google, links are determined in total and do not take into consideration recency.  Moreover, neither Google nor Technorati have the ability to translate links into the actual number of incremental visitors that view the content on the linked site. 

 

Additionally, links reported only account for sites that are directly connected to the original content (one degree away).  In many cases, however, blog posts are repurposed across multiple sites, resulting in a story that links two or three or more degrees away from the original site.  This network effect greatly enhances a blog’s influence in market simply by the fact that it reaches so many more people.

 

A 2nd degree network effect is fairly easy to demonstrate.  Here is an example from Marketing Green:

 

Zero Degrees: On February 19, 2007, Marketing Green posted a blog entitled “Green Marketing Leverages Social Networking on MySpace”.

 

First Degree: On February 20, the Marketing Strategy & Innovations blog distributes Marketing Green’s social marketing posting and provides a link back to the original story.

 

Second Degree: On February 27, Marketing Vox wrote a story entitled “Cause Marketers have Headstart on Social Networks” linking to the blog posted on the Marketing Strategy and Innovations blog, but not to the original story on Marketing Green.   As such, any measurement of influence using links to Marketing Green as a proxy would not, however, account for content posted on Marketing Vox in this case.  As a result, links would underrepresent the true distribution of the content online.

Thus, measuring the influence of green blogs online is an imperfect science.  Useful proxies are available that track site traffic and links from other sites.  Green marketers should be aware that these proxies likely undercount the true impact online as they do not track content viewership on the linked sites or the number of links that are more than one degree away from the original site.

 

Nonetheless, the learning is clear for green marketers: content distribution increases influence online by increasing the number of exposed people.  Creating content in a format that can be easily distributed or repurposed can result in an increase in the number of links to the site and expand a blog’s influence online.


Repurposing the Corporate Blog to Reach Green Influentials

July 31, 2007

These days corporate marketers are launching blogs at a record pace.  According to Jupiter Research, nearly 40% of corporate marketers are planning to launch a corporate blog within the next 12 months.  Yet, consumers do not share the same enthusiasm for these blogs as corporations do: only 3% of consumers have used them to conduct product research.  This dichotomy presents a challenge for corporations as blogs are one of the lowest cost and lowest risk social marketing tactics that marketers have to engage consumers in an increasingly Web 2.0 world. (“Maximizing Blogs”, Jupiter Research, June 11, 2007) 

As such, corporations must rethink the purpose of their blog – shifting from sales support to “brand advocacy”.  By doing so, corporate blogs become a channel to engage brand enthusiasts rather than just consumers.  They also become a conduit to reach online influentials including non-corporate green bloggers and impact key brand metrics through their use and distribution of content across their own networks.  

Today, many corporate blogs have already shifted in this direction.   One example is Intel’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) blog that launched last month focused on how Intel and others are addressing CSR issues.  Authors include Dave Stangis, Intel’s pioneer and long time champion of CSR issues at the company.

intel-blog.gif

Another blog of note is authored by Jonathan Schwartz, CEO and President of Sun Microsystems.  While not dedicated to green issues, Schwartz’s blog includes several entries that are telling in how Sun thinks about green and that outline actions that the company has taken to be socially responsible and capitalize on the emerging opportunity. 

In the blog screen shot included below, Schwartz discusses “The Value of Being Green and the competitive advantage that it provides to Sun in California where utility rebates for buying its efficient servers are worth $700 to $1000 each.

sun-blog.gif

For corporations, blogs provide a low-cost, low-risk way to communicate their messages and distribute content to brand enthusiasts rather than just consumers.  Green entries – in a dedicated or more general topic blog – can provide a more in-depth understanding of a company, its point of view on green and actions that it has taken to mitigate environmental impact. 

Companies should leverage their corporate blogs to engage green brand enthusiasts while distributing content that can be easily repurposed – including sound bites, graphics and tools – for use in other green news stories or blogs in order to maximize green branding impact in market.

Postscript: Two other CSR-focused blogs that I have found include Sun and McDonalds.   


Consumer-Generated Content: An Underleveraged Opportunity for Green Retailers

June 5, 2007

Online retailers find that consumer-generated content such as product reviews and ratings have a significant influence on consumer purchasing behavior.  According to Jupiter Research, over three-quarters of online shoppers leverage consumer-generated content, while nearly half of all online shoppers find such content “useful” when making purchase decisions.  Moreover, those who do find it “useful” also spend more at, return items less frequently to, and demonstrate more loyal toward online retailers that provide the content.  (“Retail Marketing: Driving Sales through Consumer-Created Content,” August, 2006).

Yet today, few online retailers are leveraging consumer-generated content such as reviews and ratings to sell green products.  Those that do tend to be more mainstream online retailers like Amazon that have integrated green into their product lines.  Green sites such as Gaiam and Green Guide Home hold promise, but have too little consumer-generated content on the site today to impact consumer behavior on a broad scale.

There may be two reasons for the limited adoption of consumer-generated content in the green retailer space today:

 

First, green is a nascent category where there are few standards and little hands-on experience with the products by consumers.  Expert opinions may be equally (if not more) beneficial to consumer purchase decisions than the opinion of the general population, especially if those experts can bring clarity and perspective to a category where little exists.  Sites, therefore, tend to focus on expert tips, reviews or ratings (eg, The Daily Green, Yahoo Auto Green Center), or complement expert recommendations with consumer reviews, albeit limited today (eg, Alter Systems, Gaiam, Green Guide Home).

Second, many green sites today are not direct retailers, and hence are disadvantaged when it comes to soliciting consumer-generated reviews and ratings.  Indeed, most green product sites serve more as product information aggregators and filters than traditional online retailers.   

Because products are ultimately purchases on another site or at an offline retailer, such sites have fewer opportunities to solicit product reviews directly from consumers.  Such sites include: product aggregators (eg, Great Green Goods, Green Shopping, Green Guide Home) and lifestyle sites (The Green Guide, Sprig, The Daily Green).

Nonetheless, the dearth of consumer-generated content – specifically consumer reviews and rankings – is an underleveraged opportunity for green online retailers, product aggregators and lifestyle sites.  As the number of “expert consumers” who can comment on the products grows, so too should options for consumer-generated content.  Smart marketers will explore ways to solicit this content from consumers and leverage it to cultivate more loyal, higher spending customers over time.


Greening of Ad Networks

May 20, 2007

An interview with C.J. Kettler, Founder and CEO, LIME 

Green marketers are challenged to efficiently and effectively target consumers that are receptive to their message.  Green marketers are not alone in their quest: According to a Jupiter Research report regarding the European market, “targeting audiences better” is the primary challenge faced by more than two-thirds of advertisers when planning and buying online media.

Moreover, targeting green consumers presents an extra challenge for marketers, as green consumers (or simply, consumers receptive to green messages) may transcend demographic groups while demonstrating inconsistent purchase behavior within and across product categories. 

Many consumers do self-identify by searching under related terms or by landing on relevant green sites.  In order to expand advertising reach, however, marketers must find ways to either target consumers higher up in the purchase funnel in order to impact awareness or intercept those already receptive to the message lower in the funnel in order to impact consideration and purchase. 

Yet, the reality is that there is only a small, albeit growing, list of green sites where marketers can directly reach consumers today.  Of these sites, some cater to “committed greens”, while others reach those that are more “curious” – representing a larger, more mainstream audience today – than committed. 

Marketers and media planners trying to reach either the “committed” or the “curious” have a few options:  

Portals: Portals tend to provide broad access to mainstream consumers interested in general content.  Some portals have created green content areas on their portal – including Yahoo! Green, which provides users with green news, consumer tips and content related to environmental issues and activism, and MSN’s Live Earth, a microsite that will broadcast global concerts on July 7th to build awareness about climate change.

Such green content allows portals to tag visitors with cookies that identify them as having a green affinity.  By doing so, portals such as Yahoo could then target these consumers with eco-friendly messages when they visit other pages on the portal, and perhaps charge a premium to advertisers in order to do so. 

Ad Networks.  Ad networks – including traditional players such as Advertising.com, ValueClick and 24/7 Real Media (recently acquired by WPP) – bundle and sell ads across a variety of publisher sites within their network.

 

Such networks typically offer either “run of network” or more “targeted” ad serving opportunities.  Run of network typically reaches a broader audience across a wider range of sites, while a more targeted buy enables more precision in terms of who, where and when the message is delivered.  While these sites offer access to mainstream consumers, they may have limited ways to identify green consumers (ie, specific sites in the network, content on a page).

Increasingly, green networks are being created to aggregate access to green sites.  Three networks exist today:   

GreenAds offers access to sites and blogs across five socially-conscious themes including “Sustainability and Environment” and “Green Business” (B2B).  Network sites include publishers Grist Magazine and E Magazine.com, as well as blogging site TreeHugger.  Advertisers can place ads on this green network on either a CPM or Cost per Click (CPC) basis.

BlogAds offers a “network” of 50+ environmentally friendly blogs under its “Environment and Sustainability” category. Ads can be purchased on individual blogs or across the network. Unlike on more traditional ad networks, BlogAds allows advertisers to purchase ads on individual sites for a flat fee that is set by each owner.  Blogs in the network include Inhabitat, Green Options and WorldChanging (as well as blogs like TreeHugger which is also listed with GreenAds as many of these deals are not exclusive).

New entrant LIME recently launched a green ad network that currently includes six sites: Mongabay, EcoGeek, EcoSherpa, TheBeautyBrains, SavvyVegetarian and Eco-Chick.  With a mix of green blogs and content sites, LIME’s ad network provides marketers the potential to purchase ads either on a CPM or run-of-network basis.  LIME – an umbrella brand that appeals to those interested in living a balanced lifestyle – has the potential to be a formidable player in this space: LIME has plans (and the backing of Steve Case’s Revolution Living) to scale its green network significantly over time. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with C.J. Kettler, Founder and CEO of LIME.  We spoke about the growing consumer interest in a “green, healthy lifestyle”, the launch of LIME’s green ad network, and the evolution of LIME as a digital lifestyle vertical and media company.  Here is what she had to say:

 

MG: What was the impetus for LIME’s green ad network?  How did it evolve form your current offering?  Where would you like to see it go? 

CJK: From the get go, LIME was conceived as an umbrella brand.  We wanted to build a company at the intersection of Web 2.0 and media.  As an umbrella brand, we can be home to the grassroots and community that is building this green lifestyle, as well as provide content of our own and establish LIME as a brand. 

MG: Why is this the time to launch a green ad network?   

I think it is pretty clear.  We have been talking about a green, healthy lifestyle since we started this company two years ago.  People start to look at me inquisitively, tip their heads and say: “Yea, it does feel like this is happening now.”  I would say, literally, two weeks ago is when the tippng point tipped. 

MG: Well I guess I had the right timing for this conversation! 

CJK: It felt like it must have just hit.  There were nine magazines covers about being green. All of a sudden the world woke up.   

And it is okay to say “green”.  Two years ago there was a lot if trepidation in terms of what green really meant.  But now, it is very much accepted as a word that is okay to use; it has positive implications. 

It is also a lifestyle that touches on more than just global warming including the food that we eat, what we buy, how we live, what inspires us.  So, it is much more a pervasive lifestyle idea or way of life. 

MG: Do you think that this interest in green is “sustainable”? 

CJK: [Laughs] I think it will.  It is coming from a real cultural shift.  It is not just a fad.   

Most of the talking has been about ways to save electricity with compact fluorescent light bulbs.  Now, you look at people who are beginning to talk about the difference between local and organic food.  You look at people who are worried about the price of gas and its impact on their summer vacations.  Carbon offsets are now something people are talking about.  All of those cultural factors speak to this shift in lifestyle. 

MG: What is your offering to advertisers?  How are you unique in the market? 

CJK: Well, we just launched so we announced with just six sites.  And already in the next coming weeks we will have quite a few more [sites] to announce as part of the network.  Our goal is for it to be quite large and aggregate the voice and following in the market place.  What is different about our network is that we are building it from the bottom up with grassroots sites that already have a voice and a following. 

Clearly, the advertisers are looking to reach this audience because we see new products being launched in this category – whether that may be new products, product extensions or large multinationals buying more endemic companies to create brand extensions.  Kashi was bought by Kellogg, General Mills bought Cascadian Farms, and Colgate bought Tom’s of
Maine.  What we are beginning to see is that the major marketers are also recognizing [green] as a market segment that is important to them.

MG: Do you have a sense as to the demographics that you are able to target through the network and/or the purchasing power that they have? 

CJK: We do not have our own specifics yet; we rely on market-based data.  On our own site we know that we have a pretty even split 60:40 female.  The sweet spot for age is 25-39, though we sell to advertisers 25-54. 

MG: How about household income?  

CJK: We know that the audience is more affluent.  It costs more to buy organics.  It costs more to remodel your home in a more energy efficient way.  In automotives, the price differential for hybrids is worth it because people often want to make a statement. 

For the advertiser, it’s almost as much about brand alignment as it is about targeting a market segment.  Again, while that are looking to introduce new products in this overall lifestyle category, they look to do it with a brand that speak to this marketplace, in a way that is a “curated” experience, if you will. 

MG: Do you think these people are early adopters or mainstream consumers? 

CJK: I think they are somewhere in between.  I think we have seen the early adopters and that is probably who we have been speaking with in our first year of service.  And we are very clearly seeing that [LIME] is very much a mainstream brand and [green] very much a mainstream lifestyle.   

MG: How do you differentiate yourself against other ad networks like 24/7 Real Media, portals like Yahoo which can tag your affinity when you visit their green content pages, or behavioral targeting companies like Tacoda? 

CJK: I would describe it as the difference between being broad and only an inch deep versus being narrow and very deep.  When I look at a company like Tacoda, they have a wide variety of audience segments, they are aggregated segments across an entire network of sites.  What we are doing is focusing on one segment alone but going very deep with that segment. 

MG: What is your long term vision for your green ad network and how does it fit within your overall strategy for LIME? 

CJK: We think that the world is moving to this idea of more digital verticals.  When we first came onto the web, we used giant aggregators like Yahoo and AOL.  And now, we are seeing the world divvied up, to some extent through these curated communities where one can not only read text, be entertained by video, and view podcasts, but also connect with community and shop for products that are relevant to your lifestyle.   

We have really built one at LIME – as a media company and as this digital lifestyle vertical that aggregates the voice of this green living movement.  It is really a kind of a destination if you will.  Our vision statement says it all: we want to be where the new green lives.


Launching Sprig into a Rising Tide of Green Consumerism

May 2, 2007

An interview with Mark Whitaker, Editor-in-Chief of New Ventures, Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive 

Consumer spending on green products is growing: the 2007 Cone Consumer Environmental Survey cites that nearly half (47%) of all Americans purchased eco-friendly products in the past year.  Such green products included:

  • Products with recycled content (62% of consumers who purchased green)
  • Energy-efficient home improvements (56%)
  • Cleaning supplies (48%)
  • Organic or other third-party certified foods/beverages (24%)
  • Energy-efficient cars (13%)
  • Green apparel (10%)

Given the choice, American consumers say that they prefer to purchase more eco-friendly products.  Yet, there are stipulations: when while most people say they will buy green, they typically do so only when product “price, accessibility and attributes” are similar to green alternatives.  (“The Rising Power of Green Spending,” Kenan Institute Asia, December, 2006) It is not surprising then that online business models are emerging to capitalize on this growing interest in greener consumerism including:

Shopping sites: Amazon recently added a “Sustainable Living” section, joining existing sites including VivaTerra and Organic Fair Trade that sell greener products directly to consumers. 

Shopping advice sites: Online publishers – including Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive which launched Sprig last week and National Geographic which recently acquired The Green Guide – are joining existing green shopping advice sites such as Great Green Goods and Ideal Bite to inform consumers on green products and lifestyles.

 

Sprig – short for “Stylish People are Into Green” – is a compelling online shopping advice and lifestyle site offering original content and news on stylish products that happen to be green.  The site’s goal is to become the Daily Candy of green – and then some. With a robust web site that aggregates green products – 1,500 at launch and counting across the food, fashion, beauty, home and lifestyle categories – and provides exclusive editorial content, Sprig promises an engaging shopping platform for the growing audience who values green style. 

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Mark Whitaker, Editor-in-Chief of New Ventures at WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive.  We talked about the decision to launch Sprig, its growing target audience and the emerging interest in green consumerism. 

MG: What is the impetus for Sprig and what will it offer consumers?

MW: Sprig is the convergence of two things.  First, a willing appetite at the [Washington Post Company] board level to do more investing online.  Last year we generated $100MM in revenue [online] with 250 employees devoted to the channel.  That is where we expect the growth. 

Second, we were approached by an editorial business team that had been involved with Organic Style at Rodale.  [The magazine] had folded for a variety of reasons.  They came to use and said: “We think that the idea of having a publication that identifies great products that are also environmentally friendly would be a great service.  And this is the moment.” 

And if anything, it is better done online.  One, the online [channel] is more environmentally-friendly.  Two, people who are forward thinking about the environment are also more likely to be online.  And three, it offers instant delivery. 

MG: Who is your target and what are you offering? 

MW: We plan to target women as the primary consumers and decision makers about these products.   

The original concept was focused on the newsletter. You know the Daily Candy? 

 

MG: Yes. 

MW: The Daily Candy has shown that model of short daily newsletters – devoted everyday to different products that makes you feel like you are getting the latest information – works.  The newsletter is a very viral thing both in terms of the technology and with its target: women as an audience are evangelists and tell each other.  They have shown that has worked.  Let’s take that kind of model and apply it to this space. 

But, then we decided to be far more ambitious and launch a website and have it more than an archive of our newsletters.  [The website] will have video 2-3 new clips a week, ranging from consumerist profiles of companies to “how-tos” with interviews with green experts.  Green celebrities that we interview will fill out an online questionnaire that we upload with pictures that they send to us.  We will also allow them to go into our database to identify products that they like, to create sort of a celebrity wish list. 

For consumers, we will also have a template that users can use to create your own page.  They can fill out the questionnaire, upload pictures, fill out the questionnaire, pick products from the database and [create] a profile page that looks like our expert pages. 

What I think is really the killer app in this is the interactive, searchable database of green products.  We are hoping to have as many as 1,500 products at launch and then keep adding to it.  For each product, we will have a blurb about why we think it is a good product and what is an environmentally friendly product, along with the name of the product, company, price information and a link to the [product] site. 

MG: How do you leverage the data? 

MW: That is a very interesting question.  What we know we are good at is selling display advertising against quality content.  But, obviously, we have the potential to experiment with other things like more targeted advertising.   

The other thing that is interesting about this space is that more and more products are coming onto the market.  The two principle editors say that when they go out to the shows, the increase in good products has grown exponentially even compared to a year or two ago. 

MG: Do you feel that you are bringing style to the green market or green style to the mass market?

MW: I think it’s more the latter.  Until recently, there were many people that thought green style was an oxymoron.  We do not think that is true anymore; we think it is one of our core convictions behind the site.   

Some elements within the traditional green community won’t [embrace the site] because so much of it is about shopping and consumerism.  By definition, Sprig will not be for them.   

But, we think the real opportunity is with people who are becoming aware of [green] but don’t quite know what to do.  If they are in a position where the do not have to sacrifice anything – style, quality – they will be interested.   

This is not a site that will overtly push a lifestyle on you; it is going to give you options.  One of our mantras is that the world may be better off if 95 percent of the people became 5% more green than 5% of the people becoming 95% more green.   

MG: You are providing consumers with a place to find green products.  But you also may be spurring supply because you are providing a low cost channel for suppliers to test and distribute green products.  Is that not the case? 

MW: That’s right.  To say upfront that we have that effect would be presumptuous.  Some people would say that we are being “light green”.  That may be true, but the fact of the matter is that by being light green we will encourage more mainstream producers to actually start producing new products. 

One thing you will notice is that in terms of the aesthetics: [Sprig] is not about shouting green at you.  If you go to most of the existing green sites and publications, the color green almost become a cliché. 

We wanted something that felt distinctly like a brand.  We wanted a design and color palate that evoked what we were talking about without being heavy-handed and literal.  We also wanted to project out ten years and said: “What if green is universal then?’’ And calling yourself “green” does not really give you something extra.  So we are hoping people will embrace [the brand] not just because it is green but because it is cool and they like our tastes and aesthetics. 

MG: Why is this the right time to launch Sprig? 

MW: I think that we are at the front edge of the wave.  You can see the wave building, but it has not crested yet, and we are jumping on at the right moment. 

MG: You say that women are your primary target.  Tell me about their demographic makeup?  

MW: [Our target] is based on both demographics and psychographics.  It is women with a fairly wide age band.  But, elements within each age group will connect with us for slightly different reasons.  It is for younger women who want to be hip and stylistic.  They are also a generation that cares about the environment.  If there tends to be an activist movement on campus, that tends to be it.  So they are attracted to it.   

There are also enlightened baby boomers who are getting more into this.  The Laurie David [co-founder of Stop Global Warming and a producer of An Inconvenient Truth] type.  Or, in between people who have been turned on to it because they are mothers and are concerned about what is good for their kids.

MG: Are these women purchasing green products today or are you going to open up a whole new world for them? 

MW: I think it will vary.  Some people will be very knowledgeable, but given the depth of our [product] database, we will introduce them to a lot of products they didn’t know about. 

But then I think there will be some people who have literally never really thought about this.  We want [the brand] to be accessible to those who do not think of themselves as green. It is almost like it is the kind of site that they would want to shop or check out anyway.  And all of this stuff is good for the environment.  That’s cool.


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