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.