Don’t drink the Kool-Aid

If you read Karen’s post, you know a few of us are at the Sustainable Brands conference in Monterey. And if you read my posts very often, you know that I’m a political moderate and, above all, a pragmatist.  Given that we study Mainstream American consumers and advise our clients on how to then communicate their green or energy efficiency claims most effectively to those consumers, I view the world often through the lens of that Mainstream Consumer and work pretty hard to maintain an objective, politically neutral, pragmatic stance.

So, looking at the Sustainable Brands conference through the lens of the Mainstream Consumer, it’s pretty obvious most of the folks at the conference are what we would call True Believers (the greenest audience segment from our Eco Pulse study).  And that’s great — we’re talking about a bunch of committed, passionate people hoping/trying to make the world a better place.  But there’s a danger in being a True Believer — you begin to believe things that aren’t true. Here are a couple of examples from speakers on the main stage (which is a hard speaking slot to come by):

• One speaker said, in a long sentence about something unrelated: “…everyone’s embraced that climate change is real…” Not so much.  Only 48% of the American population believes global warming is real and caused by man, according to our 2010 Eco Pulse study.

• Another speaker said, “Consumers don’t care that you reduced your fertilizer use 35%.” Not necessarily.  When we ask consumers “how do you know a company is green?” 36% pick “the company creates no chemical waste or toxic emissions during manufacturing/generation.”  So reducing fertilizer usage — and fertilizer run-off — are stories consumers do want to hear.  Moreover — in a very-near-future-world where Wal-Mart will be giving grades to products for their eco-friendliness and putting those grades at shelf next to the price, or in a current world where a consumer can download a Good Guide app to his/her iPhone and check grades on products while in the supermarket, things like fertilizer reduction matter — it rolls up into the overall score.

If you’re in charge of marketing a green product, know that you know way more than most consumers, you understand the jargon and the issues, and you spend way more time thinking about this than they do.  Don’t get so immersed that you begin to believe everyone thinks like you or knows what you know.  Make yourself have a conversation with several average consumers every month to keep your mind in check and keep yourself real.  Otherwise all that Kool-Aid you’ve drunk will dull your mind to some very important consumer realities and you’ll miss the mark with your messaging.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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