How Mobile Apps Keep Shoppers’ Footprint Local

September 23, 2012

Today, many are touting the benefits of buying locally produced products because — all else being equal — these products have less of an environmental footprint because they travel shorter distances to market. Yet, there has been less attention paid to how far shoppers travel to make their purchases — and the opportunity to reduce their environmental impact when doing so.

Interestingly, many consumers view eCommerce as more eco-friendly than shopping on Main Street because they don’t have to travel from their homes to do so. But, environmental impact studies on the topic are mixed, and the actual answer depends on a lot of factors, including the number of products purchased at a time, the density of the surrounding area and the distance traveled to a store.

Moreover, online is estimated to represent only 7 percent of retail sales in the United States, with the vast majority of goods and services still being sold through traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.

Given that the overwhelming majority of sales are made offline, the Internet — and increasingly Internet-enabled mobile devices — arguably can have a significant impact how people shop when used to facilitate offline transactions closer to home. To that end, new mobile players with location-based services are emerging that aim to drive hyperlocal shopping.

For local businesses, such apps provide new ways to reach local audiences and drive foot traffic. Consumers benefit from the added convenience of finding what they need nearby. The environment also wins as consumers travel fewer miles to shop. Here are a few examples of mobile offerings that hold the potential to reduce the environmental impact of shopping:

Business locators. AroundMe is a popular app that takes advantage of geolocation capabilities to enable consumers to find businesses nearby. This app allows consumers to search merchant categories such as restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores, and displays results based on proximity or price (gas stations) or even availability (hotels). Such an app drives foot traffic to local establishments based on search results, as well as geo-targeted ads, while reducing the environmental impact of consumers traveling father distances to shop.

Product locators. JiWire recently launched Compass, a mobile advertising platform that enables retailers to target mobile users with relevant ads based on the location. What is interesting is that Compass can geolocate products from more than 200,000 retailers, allowing customers to then text or call retailers to put an item on hold for purchase. Not only does this create a superior consumer experience, but it enables consumers to avoid extra trips to make a purchase.

Location-based marketplaces. Grabio is a local marketplace that allows individuals and businesses to buy and sell goods through mobile devices. For local businesses, Grabio provides a new channel to reach consumers nearby. Local businesses can create mobile storefronts to list inventory, and conduct transactions using Grabio’s built-in mobile payment system. Because it is location-based, users know the exact location of the posting, providing added convenience — as well as reduced eco impact — when consumers make purchases closer to home.

Goshi, another emerging mobile marketplace puts a unique twist on this model by providing local “hubs” — a coffeehouse or other public meeting space — to exchange goods. The site allows local artisans and other businesses without storefronts to conduct transactions locally.

In-store rewards. Shopkick is a popular mobile application that provides consumers with rewards for shopping at — indeed, just walking into — a store. For retailers, the app generates much-coveted foot traffic – conversion rates are high once consumers walk in the door. While, today, most of Shopkick’s customers are national retail brands, the app holds significant potential for local retailers, by serving as a local loyalty program and keeping customers shopping closer to home.

Emerging mobile apps are motivating more consumers to shop locally. eCommerce was once hailed as a more eco-friendly way to shop because it eliminated the need to drive to a store. Now it should be mobile’s turn to help reduce the distance consumers have to travel to shop.

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How to Grow Consumer Attachment to Green Brands

May 10, 2012

Marketers work hard to create an emotional link between consumers and the brands those marketers promote. But that kind of attachment is not easily won and must be nurtured over time. Experts say one way to create that emotional link is by aligning a brand’s identity with the consumer’s sense of self; that is, with a person’s understanding of who they are and what they want to be.

But which sense of self are we talking about? The actual one based on how consumers perceive themselves today – or the ideal one based on who they aspire to be? Answering that question has profound implications for brands, including green brands, in terms of how they should build brand attachment with consumers.

Lucia Malär, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Bern’s Institute of Marketing and Management, and several of her colleagues recently published an article in the Journal of Marketing that explores the relationship between the consumer’s actual and ideal sense of self. While this academic study did not directly address green brands, there are important lessons green marketers can take away from it.

According to the paper, consumers generally form greater emotional attachments with brands that align to how consumers view themselves, rather than what consumers aspire to be. For green brands this is not a trivial consideration — especially when you consider that, for many consumers, the notion of being green is a goal they aspire to.

Malär et al. identify three attributes that have a significant impact on consumer attachment: the degree of product involvement, the level of consumer self-esteem and the propensity for public self-consciousness. Here are some thoughts on how these characteristics can help green marketers better engage consumers:

Product Involvement. The paper defines product involvement as a consumer’s engagement with a product, largely determined by how relevant consumers perceive that product to be in their lives.  Malär et al. observe that highly engaged consumers have a positive emotional attachment with brands that align to their actual sense of self, while less engaged consumers have positive attachment with brands that focus on consumers’ ideal sense of self.

At the same time, it’s not necessarily true that less eco-engaged consumers will respond positively to brands aligned to their ideal self. While consumers may be aspirationally green, they simply may not be familiar with the products that can help them achieve this aspiration.

Green marketers might first need to educate consumers about green brands before those brands can become relevant in their lives. One powerful tool is to communicate a goal-driven message around green products, while showcasing their actual use by people that consumers can readily identify with. That’s what Mitsubishi did when it created a demonstration program for electric car technology in the town of Normal, Ill.

Self-Esteem. Malär et al. say consumer self-esteem is an essential part of emotional brand attachment — as consumers seek out brands that reinforce or enhance their own perceptions of self worth. This means consumers with higher self-esteem have a positive emotional attachment to brands that reinforce their actual sense of self. At the same time, consumers with lower self-esteem have positive emotional attachment with brands that enhance perceptions of their ideal sense of self.

Given the relative newness of green as a branding category, it may make sense for green marketers to interpret self-esteem as a consumer’s confidence in their ability to make greener choices that are right for them. When engaging green-confident consumers, brands might therefore want to emphasize evidence that confirms the consumer’s self view.  For example, green brands should praise consumers for taking eco-friendly actions.

In contrast, when engaging less confident consumers, a brand may want to shape the perception of what it means to be a greener product, and to actively facilitate their purchase. Such brands might want to show consumers what they could achieve with these products, and provide a roadmap for them to get to their goals.

Patagonia provides a great illustration of this through its Common Thread Initiative.   While most companies market only new products, Patagonia launched a “Buy Less” campaign — to shape consumer perceptions regarding responsible consumption: reduce, repair, reuse and recycle. The campaign reinforces its point by actively facilitating the buying and selling of lightly-worm merchandise from Patagonia through eBay.

Public Self-Consciousness. Professor Malär and her colleagues identify public self-consciousness as a consumer’s awareness of how others perceive them. People with high public self-consciousness have a positive emotional attachment to brands that focus on consumers’ actual sense of self, while those with low public self-consciousness have a positive attachment with brands that focus on consumers’ ideal sense of self.

Green marketers should take advantage of this factor by providing ways for consumers to receive public accolades for eco-friendly behavior. One way might be to embed gaming elements such as badges, points and leader boards into networked products.

Reward companies such as RecycleBank and Practically Green have already made gamification a core part of their offerings. Moreover, car companies such as Ford and Nissan have begun to incorporate similar concepts into the dashboards of their hybrid vehicles to reinforce eco-friendly driving behaviors.

Alternatively, brands can encourage the use of social media apps, like the one Opower recently launched, can enable consumers to share and compare energy savings.

It’s interesting to note that, while Malär et al. address emotional brand attachment, they do not tackle rational brand attachment. But such an attachment can be an important brand driver for consumers — especially when products have a direct and measurable impact on the environment. As such, when it comes to green products, rational brand attachment has the potential to amplify the emotional.

One emerging example of how to cultivate rational brand attachment is the Obama Administration’s Green Button initiative.  This program will provide millions of consumers with access to their energy data. It might also spark the development of innovative ways to leverage that data, in an effort to motivate consumers to reduce their energy use.

Brand marketers face considerable challenges in establishing and nurturing brand attachment. Those attachments not only require an assessment of brand identity, but also exploring the mindset of the intended consumers — that is, how they actually perceive themselves today or ideally in the future. Green marketers can take advantage of this relationship by aligning their brands to the mindset that best promotes eco-friendly behaviors by consumers.


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