Goodbye tree huggers, hello brand huggers

Goodbye tree huggers, hello brand huggers

All of us reading (and writing) this article have been thinking of them as tree huggers, as a little greeny-green, niche-y group that might be nice to reach with our marketing efforts, but could also be written off because, well, they’re tree huggers!

They don’t really buy stuff unless they have to, and then they buy it from niche-y green brands, right?


According to our Eco Pulse 2013 study, it turns out tree huggers are actually “brand huggers,” and they’re the most desirable target audience for virtually any brand because they –

  • make up 24 percent of the population,
  • are opinion leaders and early adopters,
  • shop more often than the overall population,
  • have more brand loyalty than any other consumer group,
  • regularly pay more for brands they trust,
  • are materialists (!), and
  • prefer shiny new green things vs. used stuff.

AND this highly desirable consumer happens to be very green.

She researches the brands she buys, reads labels, knows what ingredients she should avoid and consume, cares about the environmental and social story of the companies she buys from, and is, in short, looking to align her values with those of the brands she buys.

“Materialism” isn’t about filling some empty space inside with stuff; it’s about creating an external expression of her internal values. It’s about connecting with a greater purpose, a larger story and literally putting her money toward creating more good in the world.

She creates meaning in her life by being a part of the meaning that companies and brands, with all their power, are creating.

So what should a brand who wants to connect with this consumer do? Well, no kidding, buy Eco Pulse – there’s a lot more detail and insight there than I can give in limited space here. And, at a high level, do these things:

  • Create an authentic, meaningful purpose for your company and brand. This can’t be just a promotion or just an NGO alliance (though it might manifest itself that way). This is honest-to-goodness, brand pillar, brand DNA stuff. You HAVE to bake it in at that level or this consumer will smell it as a marketing ploy and you won’t sway her.
  • Create an experience of the brand promise. Once you’ve figured out your brand’s higher purpose and begun to manifest that in your products, invite her in. This could look like sending her free samples, creating events she can participate in or creating an interesting online community she can be a part of. She’s experiential by nature, so leverage that.

Above all else, flip your consumer perception around and stop thinking of this segment as “green consumers.”

Start thinking of them as “the most desirable consumers” and build a brand that’s worthy of her engagement. You’ll be rewarded in the end.


Posted on

September 12, 2013

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

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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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Laila Waggoner

VP Client Engagement

Laila leads our client engagement process, overseeing activities from both a strategic and a tactical level to ensure our work generates desired results – and clients’ satisfaction. She brings 25+ years of marketing leadership experience to her client relationships, with particular expertise in the homebuilding and remodeling industries as well as member-driven organizations, such as the Vinyl Siding Institute and Plastics Pipe Institute. Before joining Shelton Group, she led strategic marketing teams for Owens Corning’s insulation business.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Courtnay Hamachek

VP Operations

Courtnay oversees our day-to-day operations to keep us running smoothly and support our growth. She establishes project management systems and processes to help our teams anticipate bottlenecks, prevent process issues, and keep projects on time and on target. Courtnay has built extensive experience over 25 years in all aspects of marketing, from account services and project management to design and production.

Mike Beamer

VP Business Development

Mike joined our team to help provide strategic vision and foster our agency’s growth by overseeing new business leads and managing agency marketing and website content. He arrived in Knoxville steeped in energy efficiency and renewables – he previously led client service for an agency division in Boston dedicated to marketing communications strategy and branding for B2B and B2C clients in that space.