These days, the economy is the first thing on many consumers’ minds, and sustainability efforts have, to a degree, fallen by the wayside. But there’s still a significant segment of consumers making decisions based on environmental differentiators, and when the economy recovers, we’d expect many more will join them.
So, we’ve put together some principles that should guide green efforts, particularly in the auto and broader manufacturing sectors. Read on for more:
Be (emotionally) real. Consumers still aren’t terribly sophisticated about what constitutes a “green” product and what does not, and a lot of sustainability-related purchase decisions are emotional – we can’t really expect consumers to investigate the global supply chain of everything they buy.
The problem with the emotional heuristic that many consumers employ is that it’s not particularly accurate – at least, in a factual sense. Many auto companies, for instance, have introduced hybrid versions of mid-sized and large SUVs. The fuel economy of those vehicles might not be impressive in the absolute sense, but relative to their non-hybrid siblings, they often represent a big percentage increase in MPGs. But many consumers panned those vehicles, some for good, logical reasons, but many more because the cars didn’t “feel” green.
The idea isn’t to stop counterintuitive green projects – but be aware that sustainability-focused consumers might react with skepticism to things that might not ring emotionally true.
Get specific. “Green” is a notoriously non-specific, ambiguous label. For some consumers, “green” products are ones that are carbon non-intensive – essentially, ones that don’t exacerbate climate change. For others, “green” means “free of artificial chemicals”. Still others are focused on more traditional pollutants or cost of ownership, and “green” has even begun to refer to concepts like fair-trade agriculture – something not necessarily related to the environment at all.
Since it’s almost impossible to guess what your customers want when they ask you to be green, brands that are successful in this regard focus on a number of concrete, discrete projects to reduce their impact on the environment – things that align well with the brand promise. We profiled Timberland’s efforts to simplify their sustainability programs.
Be an educator. We can’t expect consumers to have well-developed climate models in their head, nor can we expect that they’ll have the ability to analyze complex supply chains in search of environmental deficiencies – but we marketers can explain these things to them. Brands that are making headway in environmental perception are recognizing the information asymmetry and teaching customers how using their products can decrease their environmental impact.
This can be done during the buying experience or as a feature of the product itself – for instance, Ford’s new EcoMode delivers real-time feedback on fuel economy, actively teaching drivers which habits correspond to gas savings.
Dig deep. The end product is only one stage of supply chains and corporate processes, and most companies have significant room to decrease their impact on the environment through shifts in manufacturing and logistics practices. Don’t be afraid to tout efforts made on these levels – while your primary audience won’t be the broader consumer set, educated sustainability-oriented consumers can and do appreciate how manufacturing changes can make as much or more of an impact than more visible product shifts. Further, since the popular conception of what qualifies as “green” is still in flux, making inroads with sophisticated, sustainability-oriented consumers can trickle down in the form of general brand perception.