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Conscious Consumers in a Nutshell

It turns out that when you ask people how environmentally responsible they are, you can expect creative latitude in their answers. The truth is, green consumers are a moving target for media planners, and the shelf life of research reports can be shorter than milk. One poignant news story about risky spinach, an environmental mishap, or shipment of toxic toys can turn a consumer behavior pattern on its heels.

From Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, businesses are hoping to decipher data and turn statistics into sales figures. Meanwhile, marketing directors struggle to apply consumer research results to brand identity and media spending. Researchers have many terms for customers who are most likely to choose environmentally or socially responsible products and services. Most agree that there are millions of consumers out there willing to pay extra for safer and healthier products, and many others who are willing to make earth-friendly choices only because they care about the future, other inhabitants, or the planet. It gets even messier when you factor in the effectiveness of the messaging. Confusing marketing throws another “unknown” into conscious consumers data.

The good news is that things like corporate transparency, pending eco-liability laws, environmental risk assessments, shareholder activism, new indices for ‘quality of life’ and other economic factors are contributing to the growth of green practices all around. People are generally happy about that if it doesn’t cost money.

Here, in a nutshell, is a synopsis of conscious consumers for those of you who spaced out during the panel discussion at the last green marketing conference or were schmoozing in the lounge with old friends, maybe talking about how you wanted to save the world. Now instead of training dolphins, you’re swimming with sharks.

Health, Health, Health

The most heavily populated environmentally conscious consumer group consists of informed people gravely concerned about the health of themselves and their families. They are sick, know people who are sick, loved someone who was sick, are afraid of being sick, or having a baby.

If they have recently been touched by cancer, asthma, infertility, diabetes, or other conditions that may be linked to a toxic environment or product, they are more likely to choose toxic-free products. Nine times out of 10, these people will be wary of household products with warning labels like “Keep out of reach of children and pets. Harmful if swallowed. Kills rats.”

For the most part, this group is not defined by a certain income bracket, ethnicity, geography or demography, but by “psychography.” People most fearful of the harmful effects of dangerous chemicals in food, drinks, cleansers, soaps, toothpastes, clothing, bedding, cosmetics, paint, pills and dry cleaning are most likely to choose a safer product if they can afford to. There lies the irony. Many people can’t afford safe products but that is another topic altogether -- more of a social ill, than a marketing problem.

Reports Say Conscious Consumers are Mostly Women

It is fairly well documented that the household member who makes purchasing decisions is inarguably, and predominately, female. Even when making choices about widgets and cars, women are often described as gatherers, which in this day and age translates to mothers, daughters, wives, matriarchs and shoppers. Men are more likely to engage in goal-driven activities, such as throwing, chasing and catching things. Some research also will tell you that women are considerably more environmentally conscious than men. (Again, we report on reports, we don’t write them.)

In either case, when someone purchases a product that is personally harmless but harmful to our environment -- whether through manufacturing, corporate practices, bi-product disposal, resource consumption, carbon emissions, etc. -- it can be for many reasons. This is where analysts grapple the most. How does the word get out if a product does not pose a health hazard but its manufacturing does? In the past, expensive public relations would attempt to make sure the word didn’t get out. But now it does. The word gets out on everything. This is why conventional media planners are pulling their hair out.

Who Believes Whom?

In regard to branding, someone who will buy an environmentally friendly product just for the earth’s sake, or for their fellow earthling’s sake, or even because they care about their pets and other animals, listens very carefully to wisdom. They believe expert, intellectual sources. These are also the people most likely to create the link between a healthy planet and human health in general.

Researchers have titles for experts who are most likely to tout your brand: brandvangelists, brand stewards, product ambassadors, diehards, conscious consumers, cultural creatives, enlightened, converted, true believers, environmentalists, activists, thought leaders and the choir, among others. They are journalists, health professionals, scientists and religious leaders, as well as your relatives and friends. They are outspoken. They may or may not have chosen to live healthy lives but they read about it and talk about it. Experts are the source of information we believe because they are perceived to keep pace with news and statistics on the risks of scary things in our environment.

One study suggests at least 90 percent of the population consider themselves conscious consumers. Let’s say it’s true. We must take a serious look at what conscious means. One can be conscious not to buy an outdated TV. This way she won’t have to buy another one in two years. Frugality is a survival instinct in many forms of nature, human included. As far as how much and who cares about a kinder, gentler and safer world, it appears that people believe that clean air, food and water for everyone is better than just clean, air, water and food for some. Most people want way deep down inside a better world, even if it’s buried under discount mattress sale or factory closeout.

Preach to the Choir

Media channels most effective are eFlicks, news stories, public relations and events, newspapers and magazines, and social networking. Preaching to the choir is vital to any successful marketing effort. You must make them feel good about being loyal to your product. They must be rewarded with a sense of doing the right thing and feeling better because of it. So much so, they want to talk about it all the time. They use non-commercial media in all forms, particularly social networking online and off.

Any unsuspecting person could be your next brand steward.

Don’t overlook delivery people, church leaders, or organizations, and above all, be honest and passionate about your product and your company. It is interesting to your target audience so use master craftspeople to help you with your message and who feel genuinely vested in your success.

Everybody’s Human

How do people evolve from health conscious to environmentally conscious? Through their own free will. A mental connection occurs in a lightning strike moment, or over time. Maybe it was always there and is rediscovered. People begin to adopt, enjoy, and take pride in protecting resources as a more fulfilling way of life. And the politics of which companies are allowed to pollute and which ones offset it with money is providing engaging dinner conversation. Whether a person lives near landfill, or never touches their own trash, the conscious consumer is not defined by age, race, color, wealth, political party or astrological sign.

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