Values and ‘tude in consumer marketing

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

When market research around sustainability asks what people value, so begins effective consumer messaging with emotional hooks. And, it begins the crossing of the chasm from eco-niche marketing to ‘dark greens’—to marketing to masses sporting sea-foam shades of green.

A common thread of values runs through the landscape of marketing sustainability, from transportation to clean energy to high performance building.

“Toyota > The Power to Move Forward”
Toyota nailed values-based consumer marketing in an ad for a 2007 hybrid Camry aired during the 2006 SuperBowl, an ad imbued with themes of sustainability, cost savings, bucolic peacefulness, health and safety – an ad that also appeals to progressive, bi-lingual consumer segments. (“Papa, why do we have a hybrid?” “For your future.” “Why?” “It’s better for the air, and we spend less because it runs on gas and electrical power. Mira. Mira aquí. It uses both.” “Like you with English and Spanish” “Sí!” “But why did you learn English?” “For your future.” Tum, tum, tum.)

“Can Do!” Clean Energy
Presentations at DOE’s Green Power Marketing Conferences provide market research and real-world marketing reports from multiple (pro-clean energy) viewpoints, like Natural Marketing Institute (research), Green Mountain Energy Company (a competitive electricity retailer with some stories to tell) and Utah Clean Energy (a community campaign for clean energy). The conference, now in its tenth year, unearths marketing gems-in-the-rough like a Research Into Action report from 2002 on self-efficacy (the confident “Can Do” attitude) that may be a predictor in market adoption and a basis for messaging. The Toyota ad is all about “Can Do.”

According to Gang & Gang research on Salt River Project’s EarthWise Energy program, the really important emotional issue areas in marketing clean energy center on self and environment, as well as program design. Some of SRP’s non-participating customers had weak but positive, passionate emotions about the program, and others had significant negative, inhibiting emotions.

:: That is, not everybody thinks everything “green” is great. A certain segment, the anti-greens (it’s an attitude), may come to appreciate the value and benefits of green in their own lives when the message is disassociated from ‘tree-hugging liberal lefties.’ The likes of Andrew Bernstein who calls environmentalists “socialists” and discounts anthropogenic contributions to climate change may never be won over. ::

An insightful 2003 Canadian report “Consumers and Green Electricity: Profiling Potential Purchasers” found that consumers’ attitudinal characteristics were especially significant, more so then demographics and socialization in purchasing clean energy. “First, there appears to be continuing message of warning to marketers who think that they should base their segmentation criteria (and hence, their marketing strategy) solely upon demographics. Indeed, the recent conclusions of Straughan and Roberts can be applied to our investigation, virtually verbatim: ‘From the results of both past studies and the present work, the use of either a psychographics-only model (incorporating perceived consumer effectiveness, altruism, and environmental concern) or a mixed model (incorporating a range of demographics and psychographics) should be preferred to traditional demographic profiling methods.’ (Straughan and Roberts, 1999, p. 567).” Per the report, liberalism (progressiveness) is a fourth significant attitudinal variable determining a consumer’s willingness to pay more for clean energy. (Rowlands, Scott, Parker, 2003, p. 45).

:: The “willingness to pay more” benchmark can detour from the values, attitudes and non-energy benefits that inform sustainability marketing strategy. Some people buy coffee infused with milk foam and a squeeze of caramel for $4.00…jeans beaten to look worn for over $100…highway ‘vehicles’ better suited for jungle warfare at nearly the price of real estate…because it makes them feel good. How much would someone pay for a hybrid car, clean energy, a high performance home if it made her feel good, if it spoke to values? ::

Co-op America, a non-profit dedicated to “creating a just and sustainable society by harnessing economic power for positive change” knows what makes people feel good. Executive Director, Alisa Gravitz wrote in their Spring 2005 Quarterly: “When you ask people [young kids in an inner-city school, activists, business people] to describe what they want the world to look like, the pictures come out so much the same…In almost every picture, you see a nice house—representing comfort, quality of life, and economic security. People draw their families and friends relaxing or playing outside of their homes, sometimes sitting together at a picnic, often in a green yard or garden. Indeed, there is usually lots of green—sometimes a meadow or forest—and lots of blue, clear sky and clean water—a lake or stream or the ocean. Family, friends, home, community, blue sky, clean water, good food.”

“Alternative fuel” manufacturers like Toyota and the clean energy crowd are well on their way to incorporating these values and attitudes into marketing strategy.

The high performance building crowd has begun to recognize the values and attitudes of its consumers, spurred by rising energy costs and concerns for quality building—and demands for better product.

The energy efficiency folks? They have a way to go, but have successful examples to emulate, and some valuable insights from the likes of E-Star which posed the question: “What brings people to energy efficiency? Is it the desire to ‘do the right thing,’ the desire to save money?” E-Star says the evidence is conflicting. In polling for Colorado’s renewable energy portfolio standard (a clean energy mandate), the results showed a wide enough margin for a win at the voting booths if the RPS included only renewables. But, when energy efficiency was added to the mix, the margins dropped by 5%. E-Star has found that in residential home construction people want comfort, health and safety, and quality. “There is no single driver that brings brings people to energy efficiency. In the near term, it will not be the price of energy alone. A successful campaign in regard to energy efficiency should probably encompass a broad spectrum of values (saving money, doing the right thing, patriotism, and higher quality products such as homes.)”


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