Marketers have historically faced an uphill battle when it comes to marketing eco-friendly goods. Simply put, it is difficult to influence consumer purchase behavior without first impacting attitudes and values. These values, however, take a concerted effort over a long period of time to change.
As a result, corporate marketers tend to stay clear of awareness and education communications, preferring to target consumers lower in the purchase funnel who are already predisposed to green messaging. The reason for this is self-evident: when it comes to green, acquisition campaigns have higher and more immediate financial returns than awareness campaigns.
Yet, for marketers, the opportunity exists to influence environmentally friendly behavior without necessarily shifting attitudes. This effect has been subject of academic investigation including a study conducted by Professors John Thøgersen and Folke Ölander of the Aarhus School of Business (Denmark) examining the relationship between “value priorities” and “environmentally-friendly consumer behavior.”
As part of this study, Thøgersen and Ölander examined the impact of recycling on the values and behaviors of Danish consumers over the course of one year. (“Human Values and the Emergence of a Sustainable Consumption Pattern: A Panel Study,” Journal of Economic Psychology, 2002). The results of such investigation reveal several key findings that green marketers should consider:
First, the study reconfirmed that values drive behavior (while the converse relationship was not found to be statistically significant). While not surprising, this result confirms that marketers face an uphill battle if they are to influence environmentally friendly behavior without first addressing values.
Second, the study found that values are very stable and are difficult to impact in the “short and medium term.” Finally, behavior change, the authors concluded, is hindered not only by values but by “behavioural inertia, created by forces [such as established habits] that are independent of – or at least not related in a simple way to – values”.
Yet significantly for marketers, the study also suggests that for those that already hold environmentally friendly values, environmentally friendly behavior can evolve over time if consumers are provided the opportunity to engage in this behavior. Thøgersen and Ölander concluded that “when new opportunities for environmentally-friendly behaviour are offered, consumers holding ‘environmentally-friendly values’ adjust their behaviour to be more consistent with their values.” This finding implies that consumers who hold green values will demonstrate greener behavior if presented with relevant products or services.
For marketers, the findings of this study help to uncover several opportunities to consider:
Cultivate “greener than average” behavior: Half the products sold in the market are simply greener than the other half. As such, marketers of “greener than average” products should make this a source of differentiation to attract consumers receptive to green messaging or cross-sell/up-sell existing customers to even “greener” products.
For example, Honda is currently running a campaign to build awareness about how fuel efficient its cars fleet is. With an average fuel economy of 30.1 MPG, Honda claims to sell “greener” products (inclusive of both hybrid and conventional engines) that are more than 20% more fuel efficient than the US average over the past 10 years.
While such positioning can build awareness for its automobiles’ fuel economy, Honda can also leverage this campaign to build loyalty and even drive resale with its existing consumer base. To do so, Honda must reinforce and cultivate “greener” behavior through congratulatory messaging at the time of purchase (ie, through “You made the right choice for you and the environment” messaging), as well as through results-based messaging throughout the customer lifecycle (ie, through “By driving a Honda, you have prevented 1000 lbs of CO2 from being released into our environment this year over an average vehicle. Collectively, we are making a difference” messaging). When it comes to resell, Honda should then try to up-sell a customer to an even greener vehicle or model.
Target nascent green value holders: Marketers should seize opportunities to speak with broader audiences who may not hold strong green values, but may be developing a greater affinity for environmental causes. These individuals may be more receptive to the green message when it is contextually relevant.
The upcoming Live Earth concert may be one such opportunity. Planned for 07/07/07, Live Earth will reach an estimated 2 billion people globally. Sponsorship of this concert provides marketers with the opportunity to build brand awareness, educate consumers and even drive acquisition.
Take advantage of government regulation that mandates behavior change: As more governments grapple with how to reduce carbon emissions, governments will take action in order to accelerate change in consumer behavior. One intriguing example is fluorescent light bulbs, often cited as low hanging fruit in the effort to slow global warming.
For example, the adoption of fluorescent light bulbs by consumers has been slow for a variety of reasons: unconventional shape (though companies have started to change this), harsh ‘industrial’ light emitted, and high initial price (though bulbs last longer and save significant money on electricity bills over time).
Despite these hurdles, several retailers have taken on the challenge. For example, Home Depot sold 60MM fluorescent light bulbs last year while Wal-Mart intends to sell 100MM this year. However, without significant change in consumer attitudes (combined perhaps with aggressive marketing tactics or financial incentives), these goals may fall short.
Recently, however, legislatures have stepped up to fill the green behavior void – with legislation passed (EU, Australia) or up for consideration (California and Canada) to effectively phase out incandescent bulbs (by making efficiency standards higher than what can be currently achieved by current technology). In effect, regulation would force consumers to switch en masse to more efficient light bulbs – and do so without first influencing consumer attitudes.