What Green Businesses Can Learn from Obama’s Campaign

December 14, 2012

Although President Barack Obama ran a successful campaign and won a decisive electoral-college victory, the margin in key battleground states was slight. Indeed, a shift of 407,000 votes across four of them — Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Virginia — would have given Mitt Romney the 69 electoral votes he needed for victory.

Big data has been touted as key to Obama’s victory — and securing winning margins in swing states — by enabling the campaign to focus scarce resources on voters who could be persuaded to vote for Obama and, once persuaded, were likely to actually vote.

Critical to this effort was the Obama campaign’s recognition that voters may be demographically similar while at the same time strikingly different when it came to the issues that they cared about. As Dan Wagner, the campaign‘s chief analytics officer, told The Los Angeles Times, “White suburban women? They’re not all the same. The Latino community is very diverse with very different interests. What the data permits you to do is figure out that diversity.”

For the Obama campaign, a key to victory was to precisely understand which issue would be most persuasive to a voter’s choice and then microtarget like-minded voters with messaging that relayed the President’s stance on the issue and his action plan to address the issue going forward.

Underpinning this effort by the campaign was market research to determine the precise issue that most effectively influenced voter decisions — and which voters cared about which issues. The campaign also targeted known supporters, asking them to reach out to Facebook friends in swing states in hopes of influencing their voting decisions.

Such microtargeting is not limited to campaigns. Companies can also use this approach to identify and shape green brand preferences, and ultimately, purchase decisions. Here is how:

Focus on consumer persuadability. Politicians are known for boasting to voters about what they have done while in office and expecting voter support in return. This is similar to how many brands tout their green accomplishments today: more recyclable, safer chemicals, reduced material content. But, as in politics, such accomplishments may not be relevant to consumers, green or otherwise. Nor are they necessarily factors that influence brand preference and choice.

In contrast, the Obama campaign had a laserlike focus on the issues most associated with influencing voter decisions. Brands can learn from such an approach. By determining not only what consumers care about but also prioritizing messaging to focus on those needs most associated with consumer preference and choice, brands can have greater impact for a given investment. In each case, market research is required to reveal what cares or needs have the most influence on preference and choice and for which audiences.

Method’s recent Clean Happy video campaign illustrates such an approach. The campaign targets household decision-makers and focuses on a broad range of consumer cares and needs and how Method’s products deliver on each.

For example, one video titled “Clean Like a Mom” promotes Method household cleaning products that contain safer chemicals than traditional cleaners. But, instead of focusing exclusively on product attributes, the video highlights how Method products address specific consumer cares, namely, kids’ safety and the desire by moms to be perceived by their peers as doing the right thing. Presumably, Method did market testing and found out that with moms, these issues motivated greater brand preference and choice than alternatives.

Interestingly, green marketers can effectively influence consumer behavior even if consumers do not consider themselves to be green. One dramatic example comes from a Yale University/George Mason survey that segmented Americans based on their attitudes toward climate change.

The survey revealed that two consumer segments — the one most alarmed by and the one most dismissive of climate change — were the most future-oriented in terms of their outlook. Such attitudinal similarities provide a potential opening for marketers to try a more future-focused message when selling greener products to these segments despite their polar opposite views on climate change.

Be true to your brand. Some politicians try to reinvent themselves in order to tell voters what they want to hear. Arguably, this is similar to a brand that wants to engage consumers on green issues but is not currently perceived in the market as being green.

Brands do not necessarily have to be known for being green in order to be relevant to consumers. Instead, brands should tell their story in a way that is true to their existing brand positioning.

Unilever’s Axe is a great example. Known as an irreverent brand that uses the sex appeal of its products to drive sales, Axe launched its “ Showerpooling” campaign to engage its customer base on the issue of water conservation. The platform uses showerpooling — sharing showers — not only as a way to grab attention, but to make it relevant with the audience. The campaign jokes: “It’s not just environmentally friendly … it’s all kind of friendly.”

Target microsegments. The Obama campaign identified microsegments through research and projected these against a database of registered voters in a nationwide effort to influence voter choice. Of course, marketers could develop their own database by encouraging consumers to sign up for ongoing communications from a company.

But, even without a database, marketers can certainly target microsegments online. This can be done by targeting green consumers on contextually relevant sites, retargeting those visitors elsewhere online or by partnering with a demand side platform to identify and target audiences with like-minded profiles regardless of where they go online.

Turn loyalists into influencers. The Obama campaign successfully tapped its supporters to motivate friends in swing states to vote. Similarly, advertising campaigns should activate loyal customers to serve as influencers and advocates for the brand. Method deployed a similar approach in its recent campaign by distributing fun videos through social sites such as YouTube and Facebook and providing incentives for viewers to share them.

The Obama campaign demonstrated the power of microtargeting to influence voters, and arguably, affected the outcome of the election through this technique. Obama’s success was bolstered by focusing on specific issues most influential with specific voters, rather than a more general message. Such a campaign provides many lessons for green marketers — as well as the opportunity to take a similar approach to drive adoption of green products.

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.

Shopping for Green Online

March 4, 2008

An Interview with thepurplebook Founder Hillary Mendelsohn

With the exception of a few select product categories, growing consumer interest in green has not yet translated into substantive changes in purchase behavior by mainstream consumers.  Like many nascent categories, green faces many barriers to widespread adoption. 

In many ways, product adoption in the green space is a classic chicken and an egg problem: uncertain demand leads manufactures to limit the number of products they launch.  Limited products and product choice, in turn, curtails demand.  However, this only tells half the story as there are many reasons why demand is limited. 

Even with those receptive to a green message, marketers are challenged by low familiarity with green products.  This, in turn, hampers consumers from effectively navigating the category as well as making informed purchase decisions.   

Where do consumers turn for credible information today?  Product companies?  Not necessarily, as consumers are increasingly skeptical about green marketing claims.  Fellow consumers?  Uncertain, as their peers are likely to have equally limited experience with green products.  

Can consumers rely on standards?   Perhaps.  Standards have been adopted in certain categories and many more are on the way.  Yet, rollout of new standards takes time; familiarity with what existing ones mean (i.e., how green is green?) is still limited.    

Instead, consumers today may turn to credible third party sources for guidance.  One such source is the recently launched thepurplebook green, a complete guide to green shopping online.  With an extended following already, thepurplebook series enters the green market with significant brand awareness…and credibility as a reliable source for online shopping information.  Indeed, just weeks after launch, thepurplebook green is planning a second printing.


Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with thepurplebook Founder Hillary Mendelsohn.  We discussed growing consumer interest in the environment, the role that purchases play for consumers to express their convictions on green and the role that thepurplebook green plays in facilitating green purchases.  Here is what she had to say: 

MG: Does consumer concern for the environment translate into increased purchase of green products? 

HM: Purchasing power holds two powerful acts for the consumer.  First, purchasing green allows the consumer to feel better about his/her choices and particularly for personal care products, food and household items there are positive health-oriented reasons  to make such purchases.   

Second, other than voting, this is the consumer’s strongest voice to the corporations at large.  Purchasing green holds corporate America more accountable for creating green options, and ultimately having greener practices internally. 

For both of these reasons, the ‘voice’ that purchasing green gives the consumer has and will continue to increase the sales volume of green products. 

MG: What types of green products do consumers purchase?   

HM: Consumers are purchasing based on their lifestyles.  Young families are focused on greener/healthier cleaning, food and personal care items.  Older consumers are building or remodeling green.  The overall theme is that people are beginning to care about shopping more responsibly and are looking for ways to make better choices.   

It is the job of thepurplebook green and those of us that care about this concern to point them in the right direction. 

MG: Are consumers purchasing green products or brown products that are now greener? 

HM: The answer is both.  But the victory lies in the fact that they are making the effort to make better choices.  We must educate, create standards and make sure products do not lack in quality, style or cost too much.  If we can show consumers that they do not have to compromise on quality, taste or price, we can have everyone purchasing green. 

MG: What was the origin of the book?  Did it evolve out of a passion for green or a business opportunity similar to your other books or a little of both? 

HM: I knew very little about being green prior to starting this book.  I was happily writing online shopping guides when one evening, a friend invited me to see a screening of An Inconvenient Truth.  I sat in the darkened theater thinking about how I had contributed to this huge problem, and the legacy my children will inherit.   

Then I thought, if I were to become part of the solution instead, what would that look like?  Being an online shopping expert, I went to the web to see what I could find as far as earth-friendly fare was concerned.  It was slim pickings and hard to find anything at all. 

I thought, if I apply my skill set and focus exclusively on green product, I will educate myself, and create a book that might help make being green easier for others.  That said, I am a business professional, and what I have discovered, is that green makes sense and makes money – they are not mutually exclusive.   

I do hope this book is wildly successful, as that will mean people are adopting change and I have done my part. 

MG: Who is your target audience?  What beliefs do they hold about the environment?  What are their demographics?  Are they consistent with their behavior? 

HM: The beauty of this book is that it is meant for the eco-neophyte as well as the eco-savvy.  There is education and information for those who want to learn more and great resources for those who already know why they are making  better choices but can’t find the product.  There isn’t a demographic, but rather those wanting a greener lifestyle.   

The idea isn’t to exclude anyone, but to include everyone open to making greener choices whether it is their first or someone who lives dedicated to the greenest lifestyle possible.  This is doable for everyone.  The more we encourage choice and change, the more people will adopt greener lifestyle habits. 

Consistency lies within the consumer having good experiences with green products.  Once they have found good products, they do stick with them. 

MG: How should merchants approach you for inclusion in the book?  What is the criteria for inclusion? 

HM: Any merchants who wish to be considered for inclusion in thepurplebook Green, can log on to www.thepurplebook.com and submit their site for inclusion.   

Our criteria includes the following:  You must be able to complete the transaction online using a secure server, the site must be reasonable to navigate, customer service policies must be clearly stated and fair and a phone number is required for all sites. 

MG: How do you determine how green a company is?  Do you use a ratings system?  

HM: We have familiarized ourselves with all of the certifications currently used and have tried to glean a working knowledge of what is and isn’t green.   If we have questions, we contact the site and we do our very best to deliver consistent, quality information to our consumers. 

If we question it, or a site is not completely green but has a substantial green offering, we let the consumer know that too.  We are all trying to just to do better than we were yesterday, and need to keep that in mind and not judge too harshly. 

This is a relatively new area and we all have much to learn.  No one knows it all – yet.  All of the sites listed in the book are exceptional or they would not be there; however, we do make a special acknowledgement for those sites that also package and ship green.

Greener SimCity Virtual World as Channel to Influence Real World Behaviors

October 17, 2007

Electronic Arts (EA)’s SimCity, the popular simulation game that challenges users to build and run a metropolis, is set to release its latest version in mid-November – SimCity Societies – and is generating a lot of buzz in the process.  


One way that sets Societies apart from previous versions is its new functionality that requires users to take economic and environmental factors into consideration when making energy production decisions.  (Other simulation games that require users to make trade-offs between energy and environmental concerns include Energyville, recently launched by Chevron and The Economist Group; ElectroCity, sponsored by Genesis Energy in New Zealand; and My Abode, sponsored by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.)

While this novel functionality is generating significant buzz in the market, the real learnings for green marketers may be how EA and energy giant BP are leveraging the game itself as a marketing channel to influence its audience.  In doing so, EA and BP will have impact across the purchase funnel:

Awareness: As a key sponsor of Societies, BP will place its logo on renewable energy sources throughout the game.  BP is likely betting that branding renewable energy in this virtual world will have a positive impact on brand awareness, favorability and purchase intent in the real world.

Cleverly, while BP plans to place its logo on (not so eco-friendly) gasoline stations within the game, it is purposefully not associating its brand with dirtier energy sources that are used to generate electricity like coal (though this positioning may be somewhat inconsistent with its real-world energy mix).

Consideration: The game itself provides a high impact channel to educate consumers about real-life trade offs that are increasingly required today.  

In this simulation game users make decisions regarding how to meet the growing energy needs as well as how to deal with their consequences over time.  For example, users that choose to fuel industrial growth with low cost, but high polluting energy sources may find themselves facing droughts, heat waves and other weather-related consequences of global warming.  

Ultimately, companies like BP will benefit from such presence if consideration for renewable energy in the virtual world translates into the real-life consideration as a result. 

Purchase: Perhaps the most powerful use of this gaming channel has yet to be explored, that is, driving transactions.  While enabling functionality is not planned for this version, the potential exists to facilitate purchases longer term. 

In a gaming environment there are several ways in which real-world transactions could take place.  One way could be to allow users to sign up for or indicate interest in renewable energy directly through the gaming environment or an associated micro site. 

Moreover, it may even be possible to exchange Simoleans, or SimCity virtual currency, to purchase renewable energy in the real world over time.  This would be similar to the way virtual Linden dollars can be exchanged for real dollars in the popular virtual world of Second Life.

So, marketers should take note. Gaming is an emerging channel that may be used to reach new audiences and influence behaviors across the purchase funnel.  The virtual world of SimCity Societies requires users to make economic and environmental trade-offs similar to those that we increasingly confront today.    For marketers like BP, such an immersive environment offers the chance not only to influence awareness and consideration in a virtual world, but to shape behaviors that impact the bottom line in the real one.

Greening Your Brand in a Web 2.0 World

October 3, 2007

Last Friday, I have the pleasure of moderating a panel at the Sustainable Brands conference in New Orleans.  Panel participants included: 

  • Susan Space, Director, Brands & Advertising, at Sun Microsystems
  • Brian Reich, Director of New Media at Cone, a brand and cause marketing agency, and
  • Janet Eden-Harris, CEO of Umbria, a marketing intelligence company.  

I have included my opening remarks below (and will follow up with the transcript of the discussion when it becomes available):

Web 2.0 enable consumers to participate, share and collaborate online like never before.  And whether you are a B2B or B2C marketer, you probably have noticed that consumers are embracing these technologies not only to participate but to control and dictate when, where and how they want to be communicated to. 

Today, consumers view six times the number of ads that they did 20 years ago. And not surprisingly, customers feel inundated and are tuning them out.  (Ad Age, February 4, 2006) In fact, consumers are finding ways to opt out of viewing our advertising altogether by using Pop-up blockers, spam filters, and DVRs and by signing up for Do Not Call Lists and even Do Not Mail Lists. 

At the same time, they are opting in to view content of their choosing by using blog readers like Technorati, customzied news feeds like NewsVine or even signing up for emails with green lifestyle tips from sites like the Daily Green. 

Today, more and more consumers are active contributors online, and in the process, blurring the distinctions between advertising and content and between consumer and publisher.  In this new world, ads are no longer the stuff that fills the gaps between the content.  Content, in effect, is advertising.  And, advertising is increasingly distributed as content.   With nearly 50% of consumers generating – or perhaps I should say publishing – content online, this shift has already taken hold.  (Pew Research) 

Moreover, distrust of product companies will only accelerate this trend, as consumers increasingly turn to their peers for seemingly unbiased opinions and information. 

And, it is in this environment that most marketers focus on the loss of control over brand messaging and identify, rather than the opportunity.  

How then do marketers – and particularly green marketers – take advantage of this new Web 2.0 order?   

We need to first recognize that the rules of engagement have changed; many traditional assumptions regarding marketing, media and branding no longer hold true.  Yet, as marketers, our response should not be to shy away from this change, but to encourage and embrace it through new marketing approaches. 

And, as it turns out, the green category is defined by specific consumer, product and brand characteristics that can take full advantage of Web 2.0 capabilities.

First, green is an emerging product category.   Consumers are not very familiar with the products available today.  Few standards exist.  And, new products and technology solutions are coming to market each day. 

As such, marketers have the opportunity to leverage Web 2.0 capabilities to help consumers to navigate the category, facilitate consumer education and drive product development through collaborative environments and communities 

Second, many consumers are not fully committed to being green yet.  Attitudes are evolving.  Purchase behavior is inconsistent.  And, perceptions about corporate brands are still be formed. 

Marketers have the opportunity to influence this evolution through transparent participation in the online dialogue, encouragement of WOM marketing and facilitation of consumer engagement online.  

As with consumers, the greening of a company and a brand should be considered a journey.  One challenge for green marketers then is to keep the journey of your own brand one step ahead that of your customers. 

Third, it is important to remember that for some, green describes not only a product attribute but a social cause.  All marketers should take advantage of this by activating those consumers most passionate about the category.   

The challenge for marketers then is to act in a way that is perceived as genuine and not simply “greenwashing”.  

And, it is in this context and this environment that we welcome our panelists and begin our discussion.  

(Special thanks to Carl Fremont, EVP and Global Head of Media at Digitas for his contributions)

Testing Green Promotional Benefits to Drive Acquisition

September 16, 2007

Promotional benefits are a popular marketing tactic used across almost every industry to acquire new customers.   Marketers like offering such benefits as they can greatly increase acquisition rates or drive repeat purchases over time.  

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the use of promotional benefits has been extended to the green space.  Using “green” promotional benefits – that is, incentives that have environmental benefit – to drive acquisition, however, is unchartered territory as there are few benchmarks to validate their use or their effectiveness.

Nonetheless, such green benefits are increasingly being offered across a variety of product categories.  Here are just a few examples:

Autos: Volkswagen of America announced its “Carbon Neutral Project”, a campaign that offers to offset the carbon emissions for one year.  This promotional benefit is being offered on a trial basis and expires on January 2, 2008.

Banking: Several banks offer discounts on auto and home-equity loans that pay for environmentally-friendly goods. One of the most generous is the Carolina Postal Credit Union, which serves US Postal Employees and Federal Employees in North Carolina, which offers a 1% discount on auto loans when purchasing a hybrid.

Credit cards: Today, it is common for credit card companies to offer one-time bonus miles for signing up for an airline affinity card.  The latest entrant into the green card market, Metabank, puts a different spin on this promotional benefit: bonus carbon credits.  Every new applicant receives the equivalent of 10,000 lbs of CO2 offsets – the average annual CO2 emission of a car in the US – when they sign up for their green card.

Real Estate: NY-based Moss Real Estate Group offers both buyers and sellers in a completed transaction offsets for their carbon emissions for one year.

Telecommunications:  San Francisco-based wireless carrier Working Assets announced that it offers new subscriber a “carbon neutral phone” (a $55 value) to offset average CO2 emissions caused by phone use over the next year.

Green or not, promotional benefits come with clear economic trade-offs.  First, benefits can be very expensive, as not only do they reduce net revenue and increase costs, but they are likely extended to many prospects that would have converted anyway.

Second, promotional benefits tend to attract incremental customers with “lower repurchase rates and smaller lifetime values” according to Michael Lewis, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Florida. 

In fact, his study of consumer-level data from the newspaper and online grocery industries offers sobering results: “a 35% acquisition discount results in customers with about one-half the long-term value of non-promotionally acquired customers.”  (“Customer Acquisition Promotions and Customer Asset Value”, Journal of Marketing Research, May 2006).  As such, while benefits attract new customers, they may not necessarily generate economic value in doing so.

As the impact of green promotional benefits remains uncertain at this time, Marketing Green recommends a cautious approach for marketers: test the efficiency and effectiveness of this type of program with a small, targeted audience before scaling more broadly.   

Such in-market tests should seek to answer five key questions that can impact program design, target segments and types of offers:

  • What value do consumers place on green benefits, either perceived or actual?  How does this value differ by target segment and product category?
  • Who should be the recipient of this benefit – the individual consumer or society (eg, via a donation to a non-profit organization, for example)? 
  • Do green benefits expand the market or simply reward those that would already purchase a product or service?
  • Do green benefits impact average customer lifetime value positively or negatively over time?
  • Do green benefits generate brand value by positioning the company as more socially responsible?

Moreover, Marketing Green recommends that marketers should assess whether consumers understand these green promotional benefits (eg, what do carbon credits mean?) as well as their equivalent economic value (eg, how much is it worth?).  Without broad acceptance of these promotional benefits by consumers, marketers may find that they also have to invest in consumer education if they want to target anyone today but the most committed green consumers.

Aggregating Green Audiences

August 31, 2007

Online advertisers are increasingly interested in targeting audiences with green affinities and publishers are aggregating traffic in order to provide compelling ways to do so. 

August has seen a fury of acquisitions as publishers move to aggregate existing green traffic and extend their reach to other green sub-segments.  Earlier this month Gaiam  purchased both Lime, an eco site and green ad network, and Zaadz, a green social networking site.  And less than two weeks ago, Cleantech purchased InsideGreentech.com.  All of this consolidation activity follows Discovery’s acquisition of Treehugger, the leading green blogging site, at the beginning of the month.

Alternatively, online publishers are banding together to create green ad networks that provide media planners with significant reach by bundling ad sales across multiple sites and through a single point of contact.  As such, it came as little surprise this week when Adify announced the launch of its latest vertical platform supporting green ad networks.  Today, this platform supports four green ad networks including Green Ad Planet, Washington Post’s environmental blogroll, Matter Network and SustainLane Green Ad Network.   

While today no green ad network ranks among comScore’s Top 50, with 4MM unique monthly visitors, the combined traffic of the green networks supported by Adify’s platform makes it a formidable player in the space.   

Today, there are at least nine individual green ad networks available to advertisers.  Here is Marketing Green’s first Green Ad Network Ranking: 


Target Audience Monthly Unique Visitors
1. Green Ad Planet LOHAS 3MM+2  
Sites: LiveScience (1.4MM), Daves Garden (1MM), Hybrid Cars (0.1MM), Blohas, Cathy’s Crawly Composters, Cleantech Blog, , Eco Sherpa, EcoStreet, Green Harmony Tours, Green Living Tips, Green Maven, GreenBin, Greenedia, Greenona, , Inveslogic, KindWeb, Naturalpath, One Shade Greener, Organic Day, Our Hudson Valley Network, RiverWired, Tea Body’s, TenBees, TerraPass, Throwplace, Zaadz
2. Lime1 Broad 2.3MM2 
Sites: Lime (1.8MM), Mongabay (0.3MM), EcoGeek, EcoSherpa, The Beauty Brains, Savvy Vegetarian, Eco-Chick
3. GreenAds Broad 2MM2
Sites: TreeHugger (1MM+), DrWeil (0.4MM), Grist Magazine (0.2MM), eMagazine (0.1MM), MetaEfficient
4. Blogads Broad <2MM2
Sites: Treehugger (1MM+), The Oil Drum (0.1MM), Inhabitat (0.1MM), EcoGeek, Life After the Oil Crash, PlanetSave, MetaEfficient, Ecorazzi, Groovy Green Blog, You Grow Girl, Garden Stew, Lighter Footstep, GetOutdoors Outdoor Blog, Jetson Green, GardenRant, Great Green Goods, About My Planet, The Good Human, Mighty Foods, green LA girl, Really Natural, Triple Pundit, Groovy Green Magazine, The Evangelist Ecologist, Green Options
GreenAdWorks LOHAS 1MM+2
Sites: Mongabay (0.3MM), Inhabitat (0.1MM), Ecorazzi (0.1MM), Earth Easy (0.1MM), Savvy Vegetarian, The Good Human, Terrapass, Alternative Consumer, Organix Authority, Celsias, Natural Path, Groovy Green, Dr. Briffa, The Healing Mind, The Sunshine Chronicles, Econscious
Washington Post’s Environmental Blogroll Broad 3
Sites: Great Green Goods, Nature Geezer
Matter Network Investment professionals 3
Sites: Matter Network, TerraPass
SustainLane Green Ad Network LOHAS 3, 4
Sites: Sustainlane.com, Sustainlane.us, The Unsustainables
NooTouch (UK) N/A 3
Sites: Ecologist Online, Hippy Shopper, New Consumer

1 Does not include other Gaia community umbrella sites including Gaiam, Conscious Enlightenment and Zaadz

2 Rough estimates based on sum of unique site traffic (from Compete) for key sites in network, assuming no more that 10% overlap of unique visitors across each site

3 Limited traffic or limited visibility into network sites to estimate

4 Does not include 24 affiliate sites with a combined reach of 35MM monthly ad impressions based on Sustainlane data

NOTE: Marketing Green contacted each network as part of the research for this article.  Marketing Green plans to update this posting as more ad networks respond to the inquiries over time.


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