Rita Lübbe explains how to use the ‘green’ trend to full advantage with superior consumer positioning and communication
There’s been much hype in the office products industry recently about environmentally sound products. The sustainability trend with its focus on ‘green’ has finally hit office products and more and more of these products are launched every day. Sales of green products are often not living up to expectations, however.
So what do manufacturers need to know about consumers? Who is supposed to buy the OP industry’s green products manufacturers have put so much effort into developing?
Sociologists, trend and market researchers tell us that meaningful consumerism is gaining ground in developed countries. What increasingly seems to count these days is consuming better, not more. The times where the consequences of excessive consumption are ignored are gone and consumers have started to re-think. More and more consumers say they prefer products with a low carbon footprint and those manufactured in a way that does not harm the environment.
In Germany, recent Brandmark research from Burda Community Network and Roland Berger Strategy Consultants revealed that 75 percent of the population agree with this statement. About 63 percent of consumers even consider refusing to buy products from companies that are under suspicion of harming the environment.
Other highly regarded market research firms also indicate that 16 percent of consumers in Germany and the US and a phenomenal 30 percent in Japan today belong to what’s regarded as an environmentally-conscious target group. With this group expected to grow to a minimum of 25 percent of the population in all developed societies, the Zukunftsinstitut, a Germany-based think tank for future research, even identified the environment as one of the future megatrends.
All this sounds exciting for marketers and gives an estimate of the thrilling international potential for green products. And, of course, it’s excellent news for all companies already involved in the green business. But how does the OP industry develop the right products and start marketing them effectively?
Of course, there is no such thing as the average green consumer and various studies have already identified different types of consumers for green products. In the 1990s, one group of consumers has been identified as the so-called LOHAS group (Lifestyle Of Health And Sustainability). But even this group of sustainability-driven consumers is not homogeneous.
Roland Berger, meanwhile, has named three different types of green consumer. The first group is made up of the "eco purists". According to the research firm, eco purists are truly motivated to act in an environmentally responsible way. They separate waste, buy green energy and think thoroughly about the products they purchase and use. They are also strongly cost- and security-orientated and avoid unnecessary consumption as much as possible.
The traditional "bio" [organic] buyer as the second group is the one that caused much amusement in the past. Typified by woolly sweaters, Birkenstocks and wild hairstyles in the 1970s, the times of condescension are long gone. Today this is a target group that has to be taken very seriously indeed. Although it is quite conservative, this group is also rather consumption-friendly towards products of high quality and security.
Lastly, Roland Berger identified a group of "lifestyle greens". This more hedonistic, fun and adventure-orientated segment is not ultimately driven by environmental motivation, but by a joy of consumption, masked by environmental concern.
It’s not always easy to communicate to these different green segments, studies have revealed. Getty Images, for example, recently issued a warning in its annual MAP trend study against continuing to use the colour green for green advertising. Having investigated over 2,500 advertising campaigns, it found that consumers are getting tired of the same advertising messages and of seeing shades of dark or yellowish green, together with ecological clichés and picturesque animal scenes.
Segmenting consumers into different groups to understand their OP needs can certainly be taken as initial guidance. If your product is targeting the eco purists, it is important to give them cheap products with only must-have functionality. You might get away with designs screaming out ‘environmentally friendly’.
If your product is targeting the lifestyle greens, however, you are facing the challenge of linking design and/or thrill with economic factors. Traditional bio buyers, meanwhile, will only be attracted to solid, high quality products, accompanied by credible and useful environmental communication, including plenty of facts and figures.
A general knowledge of the market and the green segment specifically is vital, but it’s also important to have a clear positioning of your firm with respect to its green ambitions and to be able to predict purchasing behaviour at a product-specific level.
OP firms need to understand the message their companies as a whole are delivering to the public as well as to their employees. They have to invest in research concerning the motives of green consumers and any hidden barriers, followed by a process that combines those insights with their companies’ overall strategy and communication.
Into the consumer’s mind
One of the tools that gets into the mind, or the "limbic system", of consumers is the Limbic Emotional Explorer (LEE). The problem with market research often is that consumers don’t always know exactly why they behave in a certain way, for example why they purchase a premium brand despite the offer of cheaper alternatives. They cannot tell us their precise motives, because more than 95 percent of all decisions are taken subconsciously, according to recent brain research findings.
LEE is a qualitative technique to solve these problems. It was developed in a multi-scientific approach to gain deeper understanding of consumer behaviour by looking at factors such as brand images, products or services, product usage, lifestyle and purchase experience.
LEE provides a holistic approach to understanding the consumer. Consumers often become aware of their motives for the first time and can express the emotions connected with them. And they do this in a way that market researchers and marketing managers can follow and understand.
Predecessors of LEE have already resulted in marketing action that has paved the way to the successes of the Leitz brand and the Dymo label writer, for example.
What a company will find during the overall process of analysis, research and evaluation is an insight into the firm and brand itself as well as guidance for future product marketing and brand communication. Assessing your company’s environmental position based on consumer insight avoids falling into the trap of common ground thinking.
A shortlist of how to achieve green success:
• Identify the most promising green target groups for your company and your specific products and quantify their size
• Unearth your consumers’ true values, motivations and hidden barriers
• Identify the most efficient cause and effect chains for your products and communication
• Tailor your product to the needs of your target group
• Tailor your communication accordingly and avoid common ground thinking