Last week, I heard a couple of speakers at Sustainable Brands reference the coming challenges in a world where Wal-Mart displays a product’s environmental “score” next to the price at the shelf, a world where consumers have the ability to scan bar codes with their smart phones and find out exactly how environmentally responsible a product and company is.
Our ongoing consumer research sheds some light on this. The challenges mentioned last week are spot on: if you don’t have a real environmental story to tell, you shouldn’t try to create a green marketing/messaging platform. But not because Good Guide or Wal-Mart will smoke you out. Consumers will.
For two years in a row in our Eco Pulse study we’ve seen that the number one way a consumer decides if a product is green is by reading the label/looking at the packaging on the product. We also know they’re VERY skeptical of green claims. And if it doesn’t smell right, they’re not going to buy it. Hence, if your green claim is just a claim and not a commitment, they will eventually smell it.
Now, that said, there are many things consumers don’t know. As a run-up to our Green Living Pulse study, we recently tested several real-world packaging examples as well as some mocked-up versions in four focus groups — knowing that reading the label was key to decision making — to better understand what the winning claims are overall. (Note that the best eco message differs greatly by product category. See our Eco Pulse study and conjoint analysis for more on that.) Here’s what we learned:
- Get the most important information on the front of the package. As our focus group participants began examining the products we supplied, it seemed clear that many manufacturers aren’t choosing the most important claims for their precious front label space. Often, the detail participants wanted was buried on the back, while front call-outs were discounted as less important or even unbelievable.
- Specificity matters, particularly in call-outs on a package. “100% natural” tested better than “all natural.” “100% recycled content” was, for most, superior to “65% recycled content.” But if the messaging doesn’t address basic functional needs for the product category, it may still not be effective.
- Recycling buys you brownie points, but only in some product categories. Participants generally embraced the idea of recycling and liked the idea of things being reused, but many weren’t completely convinced they’d like things made out of recycled content. They embraced packaging made out of recycled plastic, but many were skeptical that clothing made from recycled fibers would be comfortable, and a few expressed doubt regarding the quality of paper towels made from 100% recycled paper.
- Abandon all the jargon — it’s confusing your consumers. Don’t assume consumers understand industry terms like “No GMOs” or “Low VOCs.” These terms were meaningless to most participants and a waste of valuable space on a product label. Two other descriptions commonly used by manufacturers, “produced with renewable energy” (which few participants could define correctly) or “produced with green power credits” (which none could define) tested very poorly, whereas “produced with solar energy,” a readily-understandable phrase, was particularly attractive to all participants.
- Certifications don’t buy you as much as you might think. Few respondents noted certification marks among their top reasons for choosing one product over another. One woman (out of all four groups) commented on the Sierra Club endorsement for Clorox Green Works® cleaner and only two noted the Good Housekeeping seal on Scrubbing Bubbles® cleaner.
- Colors matter. The color and consistency of products impacts perceptions of “greenness.” In both the detergent category and the all-purpose cleaner category, the majority of participants associated clear, or colorless, with being “more natural.”
So, if you want to win the green marketing battle at shelf — and get your products selected, make it real first. Then follow these guidelines to connect with consumers.