Getting Smart About Green Targeting

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.

59 thoughts on “Getting Smart About Green Targeting

  1. Pingback: Targetting ‘Green’ with Earthsense « Net Impact New York Professional Chapter Weblog

  2. I had the opportunity to work with Mark Hardy on a consulting engagement where he presented this data. I can say from this first hand experience that earthsense is awesome for developing green(er) products and CSR strategies.

  3. Not only is it important for marketers to get smart about going green, it’s important for marketers to find a way to communicate clearly the impact of customers’ choices.

    I’ve worked in the printing industry for years. I see customers select recycled papers and environmentally-conscious printers and then print their brochure with heavy ink coverage and metallic inks. They don’t seem to recognize that going green needs to be a whole package. Education and communication are key.

  4. Your last paragraph says it all about marketing green products in this era of economic uncertainty.

    …consumers are weighing multiple factors before they put their put their money down on even the basics…

    A greater understanding of what motivates the green consumer and where the tipping point is for different segments is key to developing effective programs and products as the green market matures.

  5. Your article was dead-on when it mentioned ” that consumers come in all shades of green”.
    When I started my company,, my first thought was to promote the website only in green-friendly magazines and websites. I have been pleasantly surprised at the number of customers I have picked up from companies that I would not have originally targeted, but which wanted to promote their image and brand as green with their selection of eco-friendly promotional products.

  6. Pingback: Getting Smart About Green Targeting

  7. Everyone is so sensitive to “green” and their marketing right now (with good reason).

    So much product is wasted with marketing and if people just thought for a minute they can be greener.

  8. can u send me few other sites that do biz consulting (target market surveys) in energy industry… that is similar to Earth sense site…

  9. Great blog. From a US green marketer’s perspective, the UK is really pushing authentic marketing forward.

    For all of you marketers “across the pond” – you may be interested in checking out Sustainable Brands International in Miami coming up next month – a good way to learn from top green brands – from the US and around the world: Tesco, Interface, Wal-Mart, EBay, Marks & Spencer, etc. Looking forward to meeting some of you.


  10. I went to Sustainable Brands in California, and it was terrific. I’d highly recommend it. Wanted to also comment on the level of commitment from a variety of green consumers. Realize there are so many considerations for consumers these days, that even though green awareness is at an all time high, it is still only one of the many considerations in purchasing. The problem of trust is a tough one, which is why third-party certifiers are helpful, such as the Marine Stewardship Council. These symbols become recognizeable and trustworthy bastions of good green marketing. I encourage people to buy things that are third party certified, as it really helps to tear down the ever-prevalent greenwashing that is so unfortunately ubiquitous.

    Scott Cooney, Author, Build a Green Small Business (McGraw-Hill)

  11. I just wish that this “green” movement would do one, in my opinion, really sensible thing. Instead of being so focused about “global warming” and such, just focus on the benefits. If you’re selling a “green” car, instead of hyping all the “save the earth” features, how about really impressing the prospective customer with a gasoline car that gets 150 miles per gallon? Or an electric that can charge in a few hours and has a range of 200 miles or more at 55mph?

    Frankly, I’m not interested in “green”, I’m sick to death of hearing about “green”. Instead, if a manufacturer wanst to impress me they can show me I can save money by using their product.

    The thing will still be eviromentally friendly Etc. Etc. but I’m more interested in something that will last longer, go farther, do more Etc. for the same or less money than the current stuff.

  12. I am placing this comment because I have read a lot of articles online and yours was one of the best and most informative I have read in a while. Thank you! Hardaway Press 7 Surefire Ways To Increase Your Traffic Starting Yesterday Internet. Business. Profit. To fully integrate all of these words into a successful merging you will need another word. Traffic. Every article you will find about making your site or company successful would always include the importance of generating traffic. So, we all know that in the core of it all, traffic is the most essential thing to a successful internet based business company. Aside from ensuring that you have a great product to sell, and you have your company’s internal organization well taken core of, it would be time to get to the nitty gritty of things, generating traffic. If you already have a site and you want think that you’re not getting the traffic that you’re supposed to be getting, then its time to reconsider. If you are contending in these very competitive business, you should always be a step ahead of your competition, increasing your traffic flow should have been done starting yesterday. Timing is essential, that’s an old adage known to everyone. But with generating traffic, you should always be on your toes and be a day ahead of everyone. Never think of today and tomorrow as a starting point for making your site traffic laden, it should always have been yesterday. To help you out in generating more traffic for your site, here are some seven surefire ways to increase your traffic starting from yesterday. 1) Invest in good advertising with search engines Google’s Adwords and Yahoo’s Overture provide great advertising schemes that are very truly popular and assures great traffic. Although with this surefire way to increase your traffic would cost some money. While some would shy away from spending money to increase traffic, it is imperative in this case to do so because Adwords and Overture is the top surefire way to increase your traffic. You could see for yourself the success this search engine advertising methods have reaped rewards for so many companies. Lots of site feature these advertising system and many have signed on to reap the benefits. Do not be left behind. Every penny is worth it with using Google and Yahoo’s advertising. 2) Exchange or Trade Links with other sites With exchanging links with other sites, both of you will benefit from the efforts both of you do to enhance your sites traffic. When one site features another sites link, they could provide one another with the traffic one site generates. The efforts are doubly beneficial because it would seem like both of you are working to generate more traffic. The more links traded with more sites the more traffic could be expected. 3) Use Viral Marketing Viral marketing allows you to spread the word about your company and product without any costs or if ever low costs only. This is a marketing method that can be quite sneaky; you can attach your company’s name, product or link to a certain media such as a funny video, entertaining game, an interesting article or a gossip or buzz. With this method, people get infected with the creativity and entertainment of the medium that they will pass it on to many people. 4) Search and use proper keywords or keyword phrases for your sites content Search engines look for certain keywords that they would show in their results page. In doing so, having the right keyword and keyword phrase is a high requirement in ranking in high in search engine results. You could write your own content or you could hire someone to do it for you. 5) Write Articles that can lead traffic to your site Submit articles to sites that would contain the same subject that your site deals in. If you sell car parts write press releases and articles about cars and car parts. Attach your sites description and services at the end of the article as well as the link. 6) Join forums and form online communities Capture a market and show your expertise and credibility. When you found a good foundation for your site, people will trust you and your site and will pass on to many people their trust. Traffic will certainly increase because they know that you can provide what they need. 7) Lastly, Offer newsletters. If many people know what you are about and your existence is shared with many others, you will find a loyal traffic that can provide you with more traffic by recommendation. If you arouse the curiosity of your customers they would be pushed to help you with your traffic. –Hardaway Press

  13. This is a great article. Although, it seems that its getting harder and harder to discern which companies are truly green and which ones practice greenwashing techniques. Green Focus Films tries to support companies who fall in the later category. Check out there site.


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  15. The primary motivating factor to go green from a consumer and corporate p.o.v is money itself.
    For a consumer: Lower cost and increase benefit of the product/service (over a non green product/service), and you’ve successfully accomplished 1 green consumer. Multiply this effect and we’ll have a huge impact.

    In these days, no corporation would even consider going green unless it had a financial benefit to the company in the long run. It boils down to there must be an incentive for action to occur.

    Changing the law, increasing the benefit/lowering the cost and giving incentive are the three factors I believe we should be focusing on.

  16. I Agree with Ed – i think the bigger save the Earth debate distracts from more basic points that people can engage with. Stop wasting so much and start being more efficient. If you can apply this to your daily tasks you will start saving energy. Even the most hardened non-environmentalist would have to engage with this message.

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