Monday, April 21, 2008

Communicating Green Value

As reported by LOHAS, the 2008 Green Gap Survey conducted by Cone LLC and The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship indicated that 39% of Americans are preferentially buying Green, but only 22% understand key concepts employed in environmental marketing.

GREENBUZZ executive editor Joel Makower says, “[C]onsumers are confused about shopping green, and aren't willing to pay more or otherwise sacrifice to do so.” Some of this confusion can be attributed to the specialized Green nomenclature that has emerged. For example, ESA reports the word "biodiversity" does not resonate with the general public, and many people confuse it with a government program.

According to the ESA's Ecoservices, “Most believe that we have a responsibility to maintain a clean and healthy environment for our families and for the future generations…[However] recent focus groups indicate that the public underestimates the degree to which human actions are responsible for the rapid loss of species and their habitats blaming nature instead.”

An effective communications strategy responds to the needs of consumers by providing informational resources in the most commonly used modalities. The Green Gap Survey demonstrates that many Americans are accessing product information online. 54% access information directly through company websites; 51% go through a third-party website; 48% employ a search engine; and 45% access information via product packaging. Despite broad commonalities within the Green buying community, it is crucial to know your target demographic and tailor your message accordingly.

Be precise, use accessible language, and explain terms. Concentrate on clearly communicating key messages. General claims like ‘environmental friendliness’ should be replaced with specific claims and quantitative impacts. The Cone LLC Survey indicates that "70% of Americans say quantifying the actual environmental impact of a product or service is influential in their purchasing decisions."

The Green Gap Survey indicates that 38% of Americans say they feel informed by Green messaging. Only 14% say environmental messaging makes them either feel cynical or overwhelmed. These findings also indicate that approximately 30 million Americans “feel empowered or inspired to act.” A Green marketing message must be hopeful and empowering. Give consumers a reason to care, and motivate them to take personal and political action.

This can be accomplished by elucidating the connection between buying into Green and the future stability of the earth. Green offerings afford the consumer an opportunity to make a buying decision that helps to save the planet. The Cone LLC study reveals that "74% of Americans say providing a clear connection between the product/service and the environmental issue (i.e.,a hybrid car and lower emissions) influences their purchasing decisions."

As I discussed in Green Ethics, communicating an ecologically friendly product offering places a premium on earning consumers trust. Enhance credibility by researching the veracity of any claims made. Research conducted by The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship indicates the public is most responsive to marketing messages that are consistent and realistic. “Don't let marketing images send a signal that contradicts the carefully chosen words and facts you use. There are always more environmental improvements that can be made to a product or service, and they are but one piece of a much larger environmental journey for society. Communications that include some sense of context, as well as a ‘work in progress’ tone, will be more credible and less subject to criticism.”

Communicating Green marketing initiatives entails making precise claims, providing quantitative impacts, and explaining the connection between a product or service and the environment. Effective and credible Green communications should be presented as an information resource, with consistent and realistic usage of images, promises, and claims.

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