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.

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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.


Driving Engagement and Viral Marketing Impact in Green: Part I – User-Generated Content

July 8, 2008

Tapping social media to engage consumers as well as facilitate viral marketing has the potential to generate significant results for marketers.  Not only can this drive greater brand impact but it can significantly increase reach to a receptive audience at little, if any, incremental cost. 

 

Today, more and more marketers are trying to launch campaigns that have the twin goals of increasing consumer engagement and viral marketing impact.  For many marketers, it often appears that achieving these goals is more a matter of art.  Yet, platforms such as Brickfish are emerging that are rapidly turning such an approach into a science. 

 

Brickfish is an online marketing platform that rewards participants for engaging with brands.  The idea is quite simple: participants come to the Brickfish site and choose which campaign they would like to participate in.  They have an opportunity not only to create content but to review and vote on existing content as well as to share with others through email and IM and across multitudes of social media sites.  Behaviors are rewarded directly or through a chance to win prizes for “most popular” or “most viral” entries. 

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Several eco-friendly brands have launched campaigns using the Brickfish platform including Origins, North Face and Honest Foods. 

 

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What is interesting is the transparency by which Brickfish reports campaign results.  While most agencies are beholden to their clients for their results that they generate, it is rare that such results are shared openly outside of corporate marketing circles.   In the case of Brickfish, visitors can track total activities conducted on the site including user-generated content entries, reviews, votes and views.  Moreover, visitors can rank content by user preference as well as viral reach. 

 

Impressively, Brickfish provides users with a visualization of each viral campaign enabling marketers to understand how content is shared between users from one application to another.

 

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Green marketers should consider such a platform.  Not only is this a efficient way to engage consumers (clients pay on a cost-per-engagement basis), but the results provided by Brickfish are impressive, as the company claims that their “viral marketing approach…has proven to be 5 to 10 times more effective than traditional online marketing methods such as display ads or search optimization.”

 

Moreover, campaigns for green products should naturally align with this type of marketing as it empowers users to engage with and share brands that also represent a cause.   As such, consumers’ association with a product is actually an expression of themselves in terms of what they believe and how they live their lives (or at least how they like to be perceived).  As a result, green products are ripe for viral marketing campaigns.

 

Marketers seeking an edge should seek out new ways to reach and engage consumers.  Brickfish provides a compelling approach for green marketers and the results to back it up.


Environmental Marketing Guideline Challenges

July 3, 2008

Recently, the Canadian Standards Association updated its guide for making environmental claims.  While not legally binding, such standards provide guidelines for industry and advertisers when it comes to making environmental claims.  The intent is to protect consumers from false advertising claims regarding the environment.

 

In many ways, this document foreshadows likely changes from a similar review of US guidelines underway by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  Arguably, the current FTC guidelines are long overdue for a refresh given the dramatic evolution in the green space that has occurred since they were last reviewed a decade ago.  As such, it is widely expected that the FTC will expand its jurisdiction to include terms that have only recently been added to the vernacular including “renewable energy”, “sustainable” and “carbon offset”.   While such clarity will be welcome in marketing circles, it may fall short given the complexity of today’s environmental issues.

 

First established in 1992 by the FTC, the Guides for the use of Environmental Marketing Claims provide an “administrative interpretation” of what constitutes a fair environmental claim: transparent and accurate disclosures that clearly delineate benefits between a product and its packaging as well as across different products.

 

It is hard to overstate the importance of such guidelines.  For consumers, guidelines ensure that they have the necessary information to make informed purchase decisions.  For advertisers, guidelines enable companies to feel confident that the environmental claims they are making will not open them up to scrutiny, or worst, accusations of greenwashing. 

 

In clarifying these guidelines, however, the FTC faces three major challenges today:

 

First, regardless of what guidelines the FTC puts into place, it is increasingly difficult for consumers to substantiate corporate environmental claims.  This is especially true for carbon offsets or renewable energy certificates (RECs) that consumers (as well as corporations) rely on to reduce their carbon footprint.  Indeed, for such financial instruments to have substantive impact, they must abide by the “additionality” principle: they must lead to environmental improvements that would not have occurred but for the consumer’s investment in an offset or REC.  Assessing true adherence to this principle is out of reach for consumers as it requires sophisticated financial understanding and time.

 

Second, it is difficult for consumers to discern from current guidelines what the likely secondary environmental impacts are from a particular product.  Take biofuels, for example.  Crops themselves can be grown sustainably and disclosures can be made accordingly.  Yet, arguably, diverting cropland for fuel production reduces the amount of food produced, contributing to (though not necessarily the primary cause of) rising prices for food staples globally.  Moreover, land used to raise biocrops may create added pressure to deforest lands elsewhere in order to grow food crops or raise cattle for human consumption.  In either instance, it is difficult to claim that the fuel was grown in a truly sustainable manner.

 

Third, as the FTC’s guide is only an administrative ruling, the FTC does not have the legal authority to enforce them.  Instead, the FTC can take only “corrective action” against those who violate them which limits their punch in market.  Jay Kilby explores this issue more in-depth on his blog, WeBuyItGreen.

  

Nonetheless, Marketing Green welcomes upcoming revisions of the FTC guidelines for making environmental claims.  Despite their limitations, FTC guidelines provide an essential guide for green marketers as well as empower consumers with information to make informed purchase decisions.  While gaps remain, consumer advocacy groups will likely step in to police environmental claims.  Given the strong interest in green, it is likely that advocacy groups will hold advertisers accountable for their claims in court or in the court of public opinion.


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