To go mainstream, brand sustainability needs to become more desirable for everyone, not just that tiny segment of “conscious shoppers”.
Green brands must not be a fight against or a vision outside society, but part of it. It’s time to drop the proselytism, quit the “sacrifice for a better world” argument, and above all stop trying to tell people what to choose.
It’s all about segmentation
Segmentation is one of the most fundamental concepts in marketing. It’s about knowing your audience to establishing the most compelling way of communicating with them.
For example, Quidel Corporation is a company that, among many other things, manufactures pregnancy tests. As we know, it is not possible to be half-pregnant but a mum-to-be could indeed be half-certain about wanting the pregnancy.
For that reason, the company created two different brands for the exact same product. Conceive, a brand positioned for moms that planned and desire to continue with their pregnancy. QuickVue, a brand positioned for those uncertain about the outcomes from that one-night stand or unplanned pregnancy.
Green brands need to be more inclusive
Clearly, different attitudes and behaviours demand different ways to designing and communicating products and services, even when they perform the exact same function. In the case of green brands, it is no different.
Sustainability needs grips so the general public can relate and aspire to it just as select policy makers, activists and scientists do. It also needs some positive theatre as to reverse its anti-establishment and “tree-hugging” reputations.
Moreover, well-known conscious brands such as WWF, Fairtrade and even Al Gore still suffer from being quite one-dimensional. They mainly preach altruistic values while most people tend to prioritise personal desires before social and environmental needs.
A way of bridging this gap is by being more inclusive of other psychographic segments that have the potential of becoming green shoppers.
In other words, this should be less about making people feel good about the benefits of buying green and more about making them look good from a green purchase. After all, quoting Oscar Wilde: “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”
A century of psychology meta-analyses has identified six major mental traits that are measurable and independent of age, gender, social settings, cultures and even species. These are intelligence, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, stability and extraversion.
In psychographic terms, highly agreeable people will be the likely early adopters of green products, but the adoption can accelerate by using the other five mental traits as catalysts to designing and marketing green brands.
The electric vehicle industry is doing this effectively
For example, the electric vehicles industry offers some interesting brands marked by distinctive features. The “born electric” BMW i (“i” for intelligent, hence green), with its complex controls, reading lights and maximum value, will certainly attract those wanting to display intelligence.
The Tesla Roadster (sexy, therefore green) will likely trigger the purchase desire of extroverts who gravitate to features such as sporty design, convertible roof and high-wattage subwoofers.
Renault Zoe (eccentric, thus green), a supermini with a see-through roof and a climate-control system developed with L’Oréal that can spray essential oils and scents, may find a keen audience with those scoring high in the openness trait.
For the dominant and less agreeable Hummer fanatic there’s still hope: the heavyweight, high-torque Chevy Volt. Green brands can indeed imbue a spectrum of meaning, not just altruism.
At the end of the day, people don’t like being told what to do
This is an important insight because people do not like to being told what to choose and the most successful brands are those serving as vehicles of self-expression.
Ethical brands need to understand that their commercial success depends on triggering the uniqueness of human motivations first. Environmental and social causes can come after. They must also be accessible to the consumer.
For example, Amazon’s Vine, a retail website that only sells low-impact products, may soon become more sustainable (commercially and environmentally) than most farmers’ markets, which are not always easy to find.
Boundaries and limitations are being broken as brands and sustainability regulators begin to realise that they are part of an ecosystem.
From being a revolution, sustainability really needs to cool down and embrace evolution. United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), the largest local government organisation in the world, also known as the “UN for cities,” are the pioneering proponents of including culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable development.
Brands are universal signifiers in contemporary culture. Making green brands desirable is also about embracing culture in its broadest sense. Brands can be transactional gateways permeating our everyday lives. The trick is to know what currency to use with the different segments of shoppers out there.
Sérgio Brodsky (L. LM, MBA) is the founder and principal at Surge. Follow him on Twitter: @brandKzar.
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