5 Fundamental Needs of Green Consumers

June 20, 2012 by Frontline Copy

by Faith Attaguile

I just finished reading The New Rules of Green Marketing from cover to cover. Jacquelyn Ottman is onto something!

Read her book. It’ll be well worth your time.

Meanwhile, I’m spilling the beans on part of her book to give you a head start. Consider them your hors d’oeuvres … just enough to make you come back for the rest.

So what basic needs drive your green prospect’s buying decisions? There are five of them, says Ottman.

And if you want your business to succeed in the sustainable living world, you’d better understand them. Here they are, á la Ottman:

Desire to take control

Rising concern over the state of our environment means that your prospects and customers are now closely examining packaging and ingredients of the products they buy.

But that’s not the only thing. They’re also looking at your company’s overall green reputation.

Consumers are asking questions like “Is this product recycled? Petroleum free? Bio-degradable? Produced under fair labor laws?” They’re looking behind your product to discover the facts for themselves.

That’s because corporations have a track record of being the worst polluters. As a result people don’t trust them when it comes to environmental matters.

This is a new reality you simply can’t ignore.

Desire to get information

The search for information on your company’s green backstory is increasingly taking place on the internet.

This isn’t always easy. With more than 400 eco-labels and certifications now in existence, it can be hard for people to get a grip on things. It doesn’t help that some companies “green” themselves or their products when they really aren’t.

Not to mention, Ottman notes, that other products (like vinegar and baking soda) don’t have “green” labels … even though they are.

So there’s a lot of information to slog through for consumers on the hunt. Yet your prospects are doing just that. Still another truth you avoid at your peril.

Desire to make a difference

Take note of this need because it’s a growing trend in people who buy green products.

Ottman cites a 2009 study by Natural Marketing Institute indicating that while 56% of all consumers see themselves as being pro-active regarding the environment, 55% actually think they should be doing more.

Your earth-friendly business can help them do that. Not only by offering a green (not greenwashed) product or service with a backstory prospects can check. But also by getting involved in community programs that help the environment. And helping your customers do that, too.

Desire to maintain lifestyle

But wait. If what I’ve already talked about covers some refreshingly new demands people are making of the business world, there are a few things that haven’t changed so much.

Not surprisingly, price and performance still matter. Even green consumers want a product that works … at a price they can afford!

So while you must be transparent on issues of sustainability, you must also offer a competitive product.

But something else is going on here, too.

Is your green product is a bit pricier than the rest? If you can prove your product will save money in the long run, people have shown great willingness to pay a higher price up front. Think CFL light bulbs and higher-priced but healthier organic food.

So even this need has taken on a new dimension when it comes to the green living world.

Desire to look smart

This is perhaps the least important need driving purchases of green products today. Yet Ottman cautions us to remember that a person’s desire to “be cool” may also play a role here.

A 2007 study of Prius owners showing that more people purchased the car for “the statement it makes about me” than for its energy efficiency reveals the truth of her caution.

Still, note that energy efficiency remained a consideration … if not a primary one.

Final thoughts…

There’s a unifying thread running through the first four needs Ottman outlines.

Your prospects must trust the sustainable credentials of your eco-product and the greenness your company. That’s key.

Labels and certifications are important to people. But they’re increasingly taking time to discover for themselves your green company’s backstory. They don’t like the unethical “greenwashing” some businesses are bathing in.

They won’t stand for it in yours. So be sure to market your green products in a clear and trustworthy way. Make the green footprint of your company … real.

Don’t worry if you have more steps to take on the road to sustainability. Be truthful about them and your customers will develop trust in, and increasingly respect, what you say.

You’ll lose out if you violate these rules. You’ll win big if you run with them.

See Jacquelyn Ottman’s book The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. (2011). Take the test on p. 42 to assess environmental and social issues affecting your company’s product.]

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