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Consumers Don't Warm to Eco-Friendly Products

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Of course, with all due respect to the planet, what consumers generally care most about is what the product will do for them and their families. Marketers of green goods are apt to go awry if they focus exclusively on what they'll do for the environment. "The most effective way to increase green-product adoption is to communicate the personal benefit and then deliver on this benefit," says Tim Kenyon, director of GfK Roper Consulting's Green Gauge study. "The Green Gauge research suggests that this is true in the U.S. and around the world. Two levers that marketers can pull are saving money and protecting health. Of course, this also exists within the framework of providing a product that delivers on quality as well. Most consumers are not willing to compromise for an environmentally friendly product that they feel is inferior."

That's a problem when, as Green Gauge polling in the U.S. found, one-third of consumers believe the eco-friendly products don't work as well as the "regular" ones. Similarly, when the Marcal polling asked respondents why they don't choose eco-friendly household products more often, 21 percent said, "They do not perform as well as conventional products."

THE GLOBAL-WARMING FACTOR
It likely doesn't help matters for marketers of green products that global warming has become the dominant concern of environmentalists, shunting aside more immediate matters like air and water pollution. As Kenyon remarks, "Consumers respond to issues that they can touch, feel and see—air pollution, water pollution, oil spills, industrial accidents, etc. It is harder for consumers to have a tactile or sensory response to global warming or carbon offsets." And that has important implications for how green brands ought to shape their messages. "Our research suggests marketers should focus on immediate and tangible benefits, such as promoting energy efficiency, water conservation and the recyclability of their products/packaging," Kenyon says.

Amid much doomsday rhetoric about the fate of the planet, it's harder to make consumers feel their individual actions will make any difference for good or ill. Here again, a tangible focal point is helpful—as are simplicity and clarity. "Green consumer-packaged-goods marketers must find ways to quantify their impact and explain it in simple terms, or risk skepticism or irrelevance," says Jolda.

She adds that Marcal Small Steps devised a "trees saved" metric that appears on its Internet homepage, "tied right to our unit sales." The point is to persuade consumers that their own choices do indeed make a difference—and to "demonstrate how the sum of small actions makes for powerful change," as Jolda puts it.

"In our category, a family of four can save two trees this year just by switching to bath tissue and paper towels made from recycled materials instead of virgin trees," says Jolda. "If every U.S. household switched one traditional product for one made with 100 percent recycled paper just one time, a million trees would be saved. We tell that story a lot."

However green marketers state their case, the claims probably won't resonate as strongly until the economy gets better. Inevitably, the downturn affects many consumers' attitudes about the relative urgency of environmental issues. Fifty-two percent of the Green Gauge respondents subscribed to the statement, "First comes economic security, then we can worry about environmental problems."