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.


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.


Green Content Syndication: Part II – Top Environmental Diggers

January 22, 2008

One of the most effective ways to syndicate content is by activating power users on sites such as Digg.  Quite simply, “Diggers” uncover and bookmark interesting content – news articles, images and videos – for others to view.  

Top Diggers are known for frequently submitting content that is deemed compelling by the Digg community.  If others users like the content, they may “digg” it as a way to recommend it to others.

Why should marketers care about whether an article submitted on Digg becomes popular or not?  Well, “popular” articles create their own viral effect.  Not only are more people likely to be interested in articles that come highly recommended, but more people are exposed to them as well.  On Digg, popular articles tend to get preferred placement on the front pages of the site and each topic section.  (Note: while popularity is the primary factor that affects placement on Digg, Neil Patel of the Pronet Advertising blog suggests that other factors impact placement including “number of submissions in a category, diggs, and time” between submissions). 

For a marketer, this can translate into increased reach and traffic to a site where the content is hosted at little to no incremental cost.  Though it is difficult to quantify the incremental impact of traffic referred from Digg, antidotal evidence suggests that Digg popularity leads to increased traffic.

For example, The Daily Green recently published its “10 Most Popular Stories of 2007”.  Notably, five in ten articles had been bookmarked on Digg.  Moreover, three in five articles submitted were wildly popular on Digg – with more than 1,100 users digging each of two articles (“Major Breakthrough for Super Efficient LED Lighting” and “Arctic Sea Ice Re-Freezing at Rapid Rate“) and nearly 700 users digging a third (“Glass Wall of Death Surround California Suburb”).  Inevitably, these bookmarks referred significant traffic to The Daily Green and contributed to the popularity of the articles on the site.

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Today, “Top Diggers” are ranked based on the total number of popular stories that they have submitted.  Marketing Green believes that for green marketers, however, the current method for ranking diggers is incomplete. 

First, the current ranking gives undue weight to tenure.  Quite simply, the longer one has been digging, the higher the likelihood that they will have submitted a greater number of articles that became popular.  While successful tenure is an essential criteria, it may portray an incomplete picture, however, as it does not necessarily mean that the digger is very active today.  As such, any ranking of green diggers should also take into consideration recent activity.   

Second, the current ranking is based on articles submitted across all categories rather than those specifically focused on the environment.  Diggers are typically specialists that focus their efforts on a specific area of interest, however.  As such, not every Top Digger is interested in promoting articles related to the environment. 

Others have tried to create a more specific ranking focused on green diggers.  The Daily Green, for example, recently published a list of top environmental diggers.  While the list is solid, it is based on a “subjective process” that relies heavily on personal opinions rather than measurable facts.   

In contrast, Marketing Green believes that a ranking should be based on more quantitative criteria that enable it to be repeatable over time while minimizing bias. 

Moreover, any ranking should balance a digger’s success over time (successful tenure) with his/her recent activity specific to the environmental category (recency in category).  Marketing Green’s List of Top Environmental Diggers attempts to do just that (within the limits of publicly available data).   

Marketing Green gives equal weighting to two criteria: successful tenure and recency in category.  Successful tenure is determined based on the cumulative number of popular articles submitted by a digger over his/her tenure on Digg.  This is similar to how Top Diggers are currently ranked today. 

Recency in category is a proxy for how successful a digger has been recently in submitting popular articles specifically on the environment.  It is estimated based on two factors: the number of articles submitted in the “environment” category within the past 30 days and the historic percentage of submitted articles that have became popular. 

Marketing Green’s List of Top Environmental Diggers

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Based on analysis of diggers in early January, 2007; 1Overall popular articles; same as current Top Digger ranking; 2Popular articles on the environment within the past 30 days

Marketing Green’s Top Environmental DiggersMrBabyMan, supernova17, msaleem, suxmonkeyzaibatsu, tomboy501, burkinaboy, Aidenag, skored, sepultra; Notable mentions: 1KrazyKorean, capn_caveman, charbarred, cosmikdebris, DigiDave, FameMoney, johndi, maheshee11, petsheep, pizzler, vroom101

Notably, Marketing Green’s ranking reveals somewhat of a different mix of diggers than are included in the previous rank of “Top Diggers.”  It should not come as a surprise, however, to see that the four Top Diggers are also ranked on Marketing Green’s list of Top Environmental Diggers.  Interestingly, these Top Diggers rank highly on Marketing Green’s list based not only on their successful tenure (the current criteria for ranking) but also on their recent activity within the environmental category.

The remaining six diggers on Marketing Green’s list are ranked in large part due to their recent activity in category.  Up and coming diggers such as suxmonkey and burkinaboy are great examples as they rank #57 and 110, respectively, based on successful tenure while ranking #1 and 3, respectively, based on recent activity. 

Why should green marketers target top environmental diggers rather than digg the articles themselves?  For starters, content submitted by top diggers has a higher probability of becoming popular than others.  This is likely due to a variety of factors including: faster submission time (top diggers spend time trawling for new articles), superior ability to uncover interesting content, a broad network of friends that may digg articles submitted, and established influence within the Digg community that may peak the interest of others.   

Moreover, InvespBlog suggests that diggers also know how to ‘sell’ their Digg submissions through compelling titles (eg, more than 75% of the top 100 most popular articles on Digg had titles different than the original), by attaching relatively lengthy descriptions (eg, the median description for a top 100 article was 48 words) and by choosing articles of limited length (eg, the median number of words in the top 100 article was 444). 

How much better are top diggers than the average?  As it turns out, they are significantly better.  In fact, the 10 “Top Diggers” have an average % popularity of nearly 37%.  This is in contrast to the average of the 100 Top Diggers (26%), let alone the 1,000 Top Diggers (18%).  Impressively, Marketing Green’s List of Top Environmental Diggers have the highest average % popularity at 38%, narrowly surpassing the overall 10 Top Diggers.

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As such, marketers seeking to syndicate content should consider activating power users on sites like Digg to help them do so.  All diggers are not alike, however.  Green marketers should take into consideration not only the overall success of a digger but their recent activity within the environmental category.   

Stay tuned for the third and final part in this series for tips on how to active them. 


Green Marketing on Social Networks

December 1, 2007

Participation in social networks continues to grow seemingly without bounds as more people seek to connect, share and collaborate with likeminded individuals online.  Today, hundreds of millions of online users have already signed up, with an increasing number belonging to more than one network. 

For green marketers, social networks provide a compelling channel to communicate with consumers that have an affinity for green or are at least open-minded enough to listen.  Today, those users can be found across a wide variety of social networks, including both general interest and vertically focused networks that connect those interested in social responsibility or, more specifically, in the environment. 

Marketing Green has identified six different types of social networks that appeal to those with a green affinity.  Each network type provides the opportunity for users to connect, share and/or collaborate with others online.  And because many view green as a social cause, participation in such networks can generate both personal as well as societal benefits.   The six types of social networks include the following:   

Interaction sites connect online user to facilitate offline interactions.  For example, online users can connect with other likeminded individuals for dating or socializing on sites such as Care2, Earthwise Singles, dharmaMatch, Green Drinks, Green Passions, Green Party Passions, Planet Earth Singles and VeggieDate.  Alternatively, online users can find out about green events, political rallies or local meet ups on social action sites such as Leonardo DiCaprio’s 11th Hour Action, Care2, Do SomethingMeetup, Step It Up, TakingITGlobal, and WorldCoolers.  

Other sites allow members to arrange carpools on sites like GishiGo, GoLoco, pooln and WorldCarShare (Yahoo Groups), as well as rent, loan or reuse products (rather than purchase new or dispose of as waste) on sites like freecycle, gigoit, loanables and rentoid. 

                   Marketing Green’s Six Types of Green Social Networks

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Commitment sites enable users to share a personal pledge to make their lives more eco-friendly.  On certain Commitment sites, users can even collaborate with others to support their pledge or to encourage others to make similar pledges.  Examples include sites such as Actics, Low Fly Zone, Make Me Sustainable, PledgeBank, The Carbon Diet, Who On Earth Cares (Aus), Yahoo Green and the “I Am Green” page on Facebook.   

Utility sites enable consumers to connect and share online with others that have a green affinity and/or want to live a greener lifestyle.  Examples include general interest networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Tribe and Yahoo Groups (focused on green), as well as vertically focused networks such as beTurtle, Care2, Common Circle, Dianovo, ecoMetro, Eco-munnity, Good Tree, Green Bin, Holistic Local, Lime, Neutral Existence, rethos, TheNag (UK), Zaadz and Zelixy among others.   

Sites like Baagz are emerging that should, in theory, enable users to connect with a far greater number of online users across the Internet, rather than simply those within a particular social network.  Considered an early Web 3.0 application, Baagz leverages semantic web principles to allow software agents to connect people with common interests by reading embedded tags in web content (rather than natural language descriptions). 

Shopping sites allow consumers to connect and share green purchases and product reviews.  Examples include FiveLimes and Sustainlane.  Additionally, traditional social shopping sites such as Kaboodle, StyleHive, ThisNext and Wists include a wide range of eco-friendly (eg, organic) products.  

Today, online users have the opportunities to integrate their favorite purchases into their personal profile page on sites like Facebook using a Yahoo web application called “My favorite Things”.  This application enables users to share favorite products, create a wish list and send virtual gifts to friends online.  Importantly, integration of social shopping into Facebook enriches personal profiles and allows users to connect based on shopping preferences.  

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Alternatively, consumers have the option to connect with other likeminded consumers based on their brand and/or product affinity.  One example is Toyota’s community site for hybrid owners, Hybrid Synergy Drive.  Another example is Method’s community of advocates. 

Engagement sites enable users to share ideas and collaborate on new ones.  These social networks tend to attract members from specific vertical sectors.  Examples include local community sites such as ecoTreadsetters (Yokohama Tire), Gusse and Transition Towns (UK); innovation sites such as Green Building Forum (UK), Sustainability Forum and wattwatt; and business forums such as OpenEco (Sun) and OPEN Forum (American Express) among others.

Activism sites enable collaboration to promote change through social and political activism.  Example sites include: 2People, Care2, ChangeDo SomethingGreenVoice, idealist, just cause, Razoo, TakingITGlobal, tree-nation, Wiser Earth and Youth Noise among others.    

For marketers, such social networks provide a rich opportunity for messaging to consumers with a green affinity.  Today, there are three primary ways in which marketers can communicate with consumers through this channel: 

Search.  Marketers can bid on contextually relevant search keywords within social networks and provide relevant and engaging content on linked landing pages. 

Awareness and Engagement.  Marketers can actively engage consumers by placing corporate profiles within social networks, by facilitating the creation of user generated content and by encouraging viral marketing.     

The placement of profiles on social networks is a great way to build awareness within and across peer groups online.  Users connect to a brand or a cause as an expression of their online identities.  Those that do can be effective advocates for a brand (or cause) and brands should actively engage them as such.  Moreover, this simple link in a personal profile can provide a powerful way to build awareness within the user’s extended network as it provides a de facto endorsement of the brand or cause by a trusted source. 

Additionally, it is important to note that the creation of user-generated content itself can facilitate viral marketing efforts though sharing of content between consumers or via content sharing sites such emPivot, RiverWired and YouTube.  Moreover, users may bookmark favorite green content or websites on hunah, Hugg, del.icio.us, Digg and StumbleUpon, encouraging others to also view the content or visit the site as well.

Targeting.  Marketers can target consumers within a social network through direct ad placement where possible and appropriate.  

Importantly, Facebook has made an announcement that has major implications for how marketers can communicate to members going forward.  Essentially, Facebook said that it will allow marketers to target members with ads based on its user’s personal profiles, social connections and even the recent activities of each user’s extended network. 

This announcement marks a significant departure in the way social networks have been organized to date.  Until now, marketers have had limited opportunity to serve ads directly to users within the social network.  With this change, marketers will now have the opportunity to target consumers directly based on attitudinal, behavioral and demographic attributes included directly in or inferred from personal profiles and connections online.    

So, marketers should take note.   Social networks are proliferating and consumer participation seems to be growing without bounds.  For marketers, social networks provide an increasing number of opportunities to communicate with online users that either have a green affinity or perhaps are connected to someone that does.  To have the greatest impact, however, marketers should ensure that they align their messaging with the mission of each type of social network.  Done right, marketers can have a powerful impact on their brands and the bottom line.


Waning Opportunity to be Early Mover on Green

November 18, 2007

Today, consumers increasingly associate themselves with social responsibility, particularly on the environment:  BBMG recently reported that US consumers increasingly say that words like “socially responsible” (88% say these as words describe them “well”, 39% as “very well”) and “environmentally friendly” (86% well, 34% very well) describe them.  Additionally, Edelman reported that consumers are not just talking, but taking action:  40% of US consumers are more involved in social causes than they were two years ago and expect their brands to do the same.  The top issue that consumers care about globally?  Protecting the environment (92% of those surveyed).

As such, it should not be surprising that many leading companies today are responding by aligning their brands with more socially reponsible and eco-friendly activites and attributes (See “Defining Green Brand Leadership”, Marketing Green, October 29, 2007). There are several reasons why these companies feel the urgency to act:  First, they simply may be trying to stay relevant by aligning more closely with the evolving expectations that consumers have for the companies they purchase from and the brands they associate with. 

Second, they may be trying to secure a competitive advantage in the market as an early mover on green.  Pioneer status may bestow the companies credibly in the space, and perhaps enable them to reach new customer segments that have a strong affinity for the environment.  

 

Finally, companies recognize that it may be easier and far less costly to reposition a traditional brand as green today than it will be after Congress passes regulation that mandates all companies to do so.  Companies that wait for federal intervention will likely have to play catch-up when it does happen by complying with new mandates while convincing consumers of their green credentials.  By then, however, companies may have to do so in a crowded media space (because every company playing catch up will have to do similar) and face skeptical consumers who may question whether corporate motivations are genuine or simply done to comply with federal mandates.

 

Marketers should recognize that the window of opportunity is closing for brands to establish themselves as an early mover in the green space.  Today, not only is US consumer sentiment shifting, but the political winds are as well.  Backed or perhaps empowered by recent court rulings, politicians in Washington are floating legislation on climate change that will move the US closer to a time when being green is less of a differentiator than simply a cost of doing business.  Here is what has been happening:

States – led by both Democrats and Republicans – are pressing for change: With the announcement of the Midwestern Regional Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord (MRGGRA) last week, 24 states have now committed to greenhouse gas emission targets.

States with Green House Gas Emission Targets 

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based on Pew Center research and announcement of MRGGRA accord

 

Moreover, several state governors are actively campaigning for change.  For example, a recently launched TV campaign by the Environmental Defense Action Fund featuring three western governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), Brian Schweitzer (D-MT) and Jon Huntsman (R-UT) should help increase pressure on Congress to act.  This commercial is significant not only because it features two Republicans but that the governors represent Western states that traditionally champion states’ rights and frown on federal intervention.

Finally, major federal court decisions – three in seven months – hold regulators responsible for considering climate change risk when setting pollution standards.  The most recent ruling handed down last week by the federal Court of Appeals in San Fransciso overturned the Bush administration’s proposed fuel standards for light trucks and SUVs, stating regulators “failed to thoroughly assess the economic impact of tailpipe emissions that contribute to climate change”.  In doing so, the court sided with the plaintive that included 13 states and cities.

Political sentiment is shifting in the US in favor of action on climate change.  Marketers should consider taking action soon rather than later to green their brands in order to avoid playing catch-up afterwards.  Once Congress takes action, companies will lose the opportunity to build green credentials and shape their brand ahead of the pack.  Those that wait may struggle to catch up as consumers may question the integrity of their motivations. 


Defining Green Brand Leadership

October 29, 2007

“We will not be measured by our aspirations.  We will be measured by our actions”                   

— Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott in making sustainability part of his core strategy

Great brands today understand that return on investment (ROI) using hard dollars is not sufficient to assess the overall impact of environmental initiatives.  Today, social norms regarding the environment are changing and consumers are increasingly holding brands accountable for what they do (and don’t do) rather than just what they say.  As a result, more and more companies are making investment decisions that incorporate brand impact and brand risk into their equations. 

Wikipedia defines brand as the “embodiment of all information connected to [a] product and serves to create associations and expectations around it.”  Though intangible, a brand may generate significant value for a company based on its ability to create differentiated experiences for consumers – and enable the company to generate and sustain future cash flows as a result. 

One way to view a brand is that it can enable companies to charge a premium for what may ordinarily be perceived as a commodity product.  Take for example Coca-Cola, the #1 brand based on the 2007 BusinessWeek/Interbrand survey.  According to the Brand Finance 250 annual report, Coca-Cola has the highest brand value – over $43 billion or nearly 40% of its total $110 billion enterprise value – in a highly competitive beverage market.   

While taste is indeed an important differentiator, Coca-Cola is able to charge a premium for its products – and generate significant brand value – primarily due to the strong brand loyalty of its customers. 

Increasingly, leading brand companies are recognizing that environmental issues have the potential to impact brand value – positively or negatively – and are taking action.  Coca-Cola clearly understands this and is aggressively responding with bold initiatives that are intent on shoring up its green credentials. 

For example, consumers today are less willing to accept that a plastic bottle will take 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill.  By proactively redesigning its bottle to reduce material use and pledging to recycle 100% of bottles sold in the US, Coca-Cola is clearly taking action to stay ahead of consumer brand expectations – and by doing so, defending (or perhaps enhancing) its brand value.

Does reduced material use lower production costs for Coca-Cola?  Absolutely.  Does committing to recycling 100% of its bottles help attract new customers?  Not necessarily.  Regardless, recycling bottles impacts its brand value – and ability to continue to sustain future cash flows – by strengthening connections with existing customers and mitigating potential risk to its corporate reputation as a result of negative PR.

Today, many leading brands like Coca-Cola are responding to consumer concerns about the environment by making investments that strengthen or shore up brand value.  Marketing Green believes that there are five actions that define green brand leaders. These five actions need to be considered by companies looking to green their brands: 

Be accountable.  Companies should acknowledge that environmental issues such as climate change are real and that, despite good intentions, they are part of the problem (and can be part of the solution). At this point, businesses are likely to alienate few consumers with such a statement and can begin to attract the growing group of consumers looking for green brand leadership.    

Additionally, businesses should audit their own operations and the lifecycle of their products – including sourcing, use and disposal – to determine their environmental impact and track these metrics over time. Indeed accountability, now considered one of the top pillars of successful marketing communications, cannot be underestimated when it comes to the environmental space.

Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy and increasingly demanding when it comes to the environment.  Companies should not be shy in setting high goals for themselves when it comes to the environment; if there’s any time to admit the future needs to be different than the past, it’s now.  

Be transparent.  More and more, leading brands are providing public disclosures of their environmental and social impact.  Today, in fact, 43 of the top 100 brands – including 12 of the top 15 – make public disclosures based on sustainability guidelines set by the Global Reporting Initiative. 

This reporting framework – first proposed by Boston-based non-profit CERES, endorsed by the United Nations Environmental Programme and supported by a consortium of leading brands including Alcan, BP, Ford, GM, Microsoft, RBC Financial and Shell – has become the de facto standard for environmental and social reporting globally.  Currently, more than 1,250 companies in over 60 countries are making disclosures using this framework. 

Another way that companies are demonstrating transparency is through partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the National Resource Defense Council and Environmental Defense (ED).  NGOs provide credibility for a company because consumers view them as industry watch dogs. 

Certainly, one of the best partnership examples is the one forged between Wal-Mart and ED to make Wal-Mart’s operations and supply chain more sustainable.  In effect, Wal-Mart – not ranked in the BusinessWeek/Interbrand survey because it operates internationally under different brand names – has turned to a respected NGO to endorse its environmental efforts. 

This partnership hold such promise that ED announced last year that it was adding a staff position in Bentonville, AR in order to coordinate ongoing work with the retail giant.

Be credible.  Today, consumers are skeptical; too many companies have tried to green wash hollow environmental efforts.  As such, companies must work hard to build credibility and earn consumer trust over time.   

One way for a company to do so is to first green its internal operations, followed by its products and services, and then its marketing communications.  This way, companies ensure that they take responsibility for their own actions before encouraging consumers to do so with their products or through their messaging. 

But this is not the only way to gain credibility with consumers.  Companies like Toyota (# 6 ranked brand) started by greening its products (eg, hybrids) first.  The risk for a company, however, is that over time its own product enthusiasts are likely to challenge how the product is made.  In the case of Toyota, hybrid owners are now pressuring it to green its operations and manufacturing facilities and Toyota is taking action, according to Marjorie Schussel, National Manager of Corporate Communications, at the recent Green Conference sponsored by Ad Age. 

In contrast, Dell (#31 ranked brand, in contrast to #3 IBM and Dell archrival #12 ranked HP) started with its marketing communications first, declaring that it was going to be the greenest IT company on earth.  In doing so, it essentially admitted that its operations and products were not green yet but that it had every intention to make them green over time.  To help facilitate this transformation, Dell created a site called IdeaStorm to solicit input from its customers on ways by which it could go green. 

Be an enabler.  Leading brands should recognize that consumer expectations have changed.  It is not enough for a company to green its products; consumers expect the products that they purchase to help reduce the environmental impact in their own lives too. 

Recent research by Umbria, a marketing intelligence company, supports this.  Averill Doering, a consumer research analyst with Umbria, made the following observation: “[Consumers] see the [environmental] problem. They want to do something about it.  And, they want the companies they buy from to help them do it.” 

Such consumer expectations raise the bar and imply that consumers may hold companies responsible for the environmental impact of the products that they buy – across the entire lifecycle.  Consumers may increasingly care not just about product sourcing, but about its use and disposal too.  The emergence of eco-labels may serve to reinforce these consumer expectations as they will provide consumers with the necessary information to make greener choices by comparison shopping.  

Leading brands only need to witness the growth in hybrid sales – 49% during the first seven months of 2007 over the same period in 2006 – to recognize that consumers are actively seeking products that enable them to be greener.  Today, every major automobile company is following suit and is accelerating development and commercialization of greener automobiles. 

Be visionary. Visionaries are willing to make bold decisions that redefine their strategy or reshape industry dynamics.  Today, there are many emerging green visionaries.  Among them is Wal-Mart. 

In June of 2004, a pivotal meeting took place between CEO Lee Scott, Rob Walton, Board member and son of the late founder, and Peter Seligmann, Co-founder and CEO of Conservation International.  Walton and Seligmann were friends and had often discussed the potential impact that Wal-Mart could have as the largest global retailer if it were to change the way it did business.   

The pitch to Scott: Wal-Mart had long been criticized for its labor practices, employee health benefits and environmental record.  Given its buying power as the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart was in a unique position to affect change in the retail space and do so in a way that would greatly reduce its impact on the environment while saving money, growing revenue and positively impacting its brand image. 

Over time, Scott has essentially turned this pitch into Wal-Mart’s modus operandi.  Not only did Scott set ambitious goals regarding sustainability – 100% renewable energy, zero waste, products that sustain our resources and environment – but he has made it a central component of his strategy and brand positioning.   

Wal-Mart first demonstrated the demand for more sustainable products when it began selling organic cotton yoga outfits through Sam’s Club: 190K sold in less than 10 weeks. This year, Wal-Mart challenged itself to sell 100MM compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and has already surpassed that goal.  To do so, it combined its marketing muscle to heavily advertise the CFLs in its stores, and purchasing clout to be able to drive down the cost substantially over just one year ago. 

Moreover, Wal-Mart is intent on making its suppliers more sustainable.  Earlier this year, Wal-Mart launched Sustainability 360º, a program intended to enlist its employees, suppliers, customers and local communities to help reduce environmental impact.  This month Scott hosted a Sustainability Summit to connect Wal-Mart suppliers with vendors that could help them become more sustainable.  

Finally, Wal-Mart has expanded its brand positioning to include not just its long time low cost promise, but also “affordable, sustainable products that help [customers] live better every day.”  “Save Money. Live Better” is now the Wal-Mart tag line.    

Increasingly, companies recognize that environmental issues can impact brand value.  In response, leading brands are increasingly incorporating brand metrics into their evaluation criteria for green investments; they are also taking action to green their operations, products and marketing communications.   

Smart brand marketers should think twice about simply focusing on near-term green revenue and cost savings opportunities; the path for sustaining growth needs to also start with greening the brand.


Drought Can Spark a National Dialogue on Climate Change – Part II

October 20, 2007

“You can’t call it a drought anymore, because [the US Southwest is] going over to a drier climate.  No one says the Sahara is in a drought.”   — Richard Seager, Scientist, Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory as quoted in “The Future is Drying Up”, New York Times Magazine, October 21, 2007 

As first published in its July 14, 2007 posting, Marketing Green believes that persistent drought in the US can be an effective catalyst that sparks a broader, national dialogue on climate change.  With drought conditions worsening in areas of the US, the time is now for such a conversation. 

Drought can be a catalyst for a broader dialogue for many reasons. First, drought will directly impact the human condition, causing inconvenience and suffering.  Second, drought will likely cause economic hardship by limiting growth, reducing output, and significantly increasing costs (eg, building infrastructure to move water long distances or desalinate water).  Finally, droughts force political leaders to make unpopular trade-offs that require voter sacrifice. 

Indeed, as tomorrow’s New York Times Magazine reports, drought conditions are worsening in the historically dry Southwest while expected population growth will put more demands on limited resources in the years to come.  Shortages are on the horizon across the region, but are especially apparent in cities like Las Vegas which is dependent on water from Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the US, that is currently at less than half of its capacity.   Moreover, continued shortages will likely pit one entity against another in price wars and legal battles as individuals, businesses and governments compete for scarcer resources. 

Drought conditions in the typically temperate US Southeast may demonstrate a more alarming trend because they are so unexpected.  With scorching heat this past summer and a hurricane season that failed to materialize, the city of Atlanta confronts the drier winter season with record low water levels in its reservoirs.   Most experts agree, it is the driest period every recorded in the Southeast; few signs are on the horizon that suggest the situation is likely to improve any time soon. 

Interestingly, extreme drought in the Southeast is fueling water disputes between regional states over scheduled water releases from Lake Lanier, the primary water source for three million Georgian residents, that are mandated by the Endangered Species Act and enforced by the US Army Corps of Engineers. 

Currently, as Georgia enters what is typically its driest month, Lake Lanier holds a mere 81 days of stored water left.  Georgians have responded by imposing severe restrictions on water use, but unbridled growth over the past decade and limited water use planning up until now have put a strain on existing resources.   

But, it is the actions by the Georgia legislature that, perhaps, are generating the most controversy.  Pending legislation would temporarily wave compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act and allow Georgia (via the Corps) to suspend water releases from the Lanier that currently protect endangered mussels and sturgeon downstream.  So far, the Corps refuses to budge which means that a legal showdown is likely ahead. 

The state of Florida has leveled a complaint already, asking Georgia to release more, not less, water to protect Floridian biodiversity.  Moreover, Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama has asked the Corps to release additional water from other Georgian water sources in order to alleviate shortages in that state.    

It is likely that cross-border disputes will only intensify if sufficient rains do not come soon.  In fact, facing severe water shortages, Atlanta may soon become the first metropolitan region to reduce water available for commercial and industrial activities, a threat to the local economy.   These threats will only be compounded if reservoirs do not refill before next summer when water use is traditionally the highest.  

As water become more scarce and entities compete for dwindling resources, marketers have an opening to leverage drought a conversation starter for a national dialogue on climate change.  In many ways, expanding drought conditions will force the conversation as we will have to deal with consequences of a drier climate whether we are prepared to do so or not.  

Because the populous in the US is geographically dispersed, however, marketers risk that such discussions will be isolated to those regions most affected.  As such, it is an imperative for marketers to broaden the discussion regarding worsening drought conditions and their causes to create a truly national debate.


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