Cracking the code on the GreenWorks conundrum

Cracking the code on the GreenWorks conundrum

A few weeks ago I wrote a response to the New York Times article that declared the green movement all but dead.   Their declaration was based on sales figures of cleaning products — in short, sales of green cleaning products from conventional brands (Clorox and SC Johnson) are down, while sales of green-ier products — Method and Seventh Generation — are up.  Their point was that mainstream consumers won’t pay the price premium for greener products from mainstream brands.

And on that front, in this economy, they’re right. The cleverness of creating a green product under a conventional brand name is that it de-mystifies it and gives a consumer confidence to purchase amid a tremendous amount of confusion about what’s actually greener/healthier/safer/better. But that same consumer is also extrinsically motivated, needing price promotions and coupons to motivate her to purchase.

So my standard answer about this conundrum has been just that:  before you launch the product you must align the pricing strategy and branding strategy with the right audience.  The mainstream Americans (who we call Seekers and Skeptics) will respond to a conventional brand name, but they’re price motivated as well.  The greener Americans (who we call Actives) will actually pay more for greener products, but they’re not turned on by conventional brand names, believing that a Seventh Generation or a Method sounds/feels/smells more pure.

We’ve now added another layer to this way of viewing the American consumer, deepening our understanding of exactly how to align a product with the right audience and deliver the right message.  In our annual Eco Pulse study, which publishes later this month, we added in questions from John Marshall Roberts’ Worldview Assessment Tool. This allows us to see each of our segments in a whole new light.

For instance, though there are 8-10 questions in our surveys that determine our segmentation, one of the key questions is how many green activities someone is already engaged in.  If they’re engaged in many, they get bucketed in the Actives category.  Broadly, Actives are more attuned to the environment and are motivated to make green purchases because of their desire to do the right thing for the earth. But there are a lot of nuances that are critical for getting a brand and key selling message right…and for asessing true market potential.

For instance, Karen Barnes, our VP of Insight who also blogs regularly, is an Active (she does a lot of green things) with a Systemic worldview (she sees the world as a complex, interrelated system, believes companies should all follow a triple-bottom line approach, and will be motivated to buy from companies who do).  I, on the other hand, am an Active (I do a lot of green things) with an Individualistic worldview (I see the world through a competitive lens, respecting and buying from companies that are successful and profitable, and am motivated to engage in green activities and purchases by a sense of pragmatism — i.e. wasteful = unprofitable.)

There’s a LOT more to this and we’ll be writing, speaking and sharing more about it in the coming months.  The piece I want to put out there now, though, is simply this:  the answer to the question, “how do we get Americans to buy more green products” is that you must understand exactly who the most likely target is for your product’s value proposition and align them tightly.  And you must build a business model that will allow you to be successful by capturing a single digit share of the market, rather than a massive chunk of the market.  In the end, green cleaning products may capture 30% of the market…but within that niche, there will be multiple brands that will appeal to various segments with specific worldviews.  Done well, a brand will align itself tightly with one segment and one worldview.  Those who try to be all things to all people will likely attract nobody.

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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