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Opportunities to target green consumers increasing, but one size may not fit all

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With America’s environmental awareness growing by the day, more companies have developed green products and business practices. Now, some database marketers are taking their green marketing efforts a step further by leveraging consumer data to target those individuals most likely to be responsive to them.

Olathe, Kan.-based Ruf Strategic Solutions, for example, has introduced a Green Consumer Index to help direct marketers better connect with the green scene. The index ranks U.S. consumers by their environmental attitudes and behaviors, and defines green consumers by their demographics, geography, psychographics, lifestyle characteristics, buying behaviors and media preferences.

According to Ruf Strategic Solutions Marketing Manager SallyAnn Gray, the Green Consumer Index is based on direct mail surveys of more than 49,000 U.S. adults selected by income and geography (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) from January 2005 to October 2006.

Experian Simmons also offers a green segmentation targeting system called GreenAware, and Acxiom has used its PersonicX segmentation system to identify the clusters scoring the highest for environmentally friendly tendencies.

“If you’re just mass communicating to your clients … then you’re wasting a tremendous opportunity,” said Kurt Ruf, owner of Ruf Strategic Solutions.

He added that the ability to pinpoint consumers with environmentally friendly attitudes and behaviors is not only essential to fine-tune offers and messaging, but can also help companies optimize their media mixes.

“You can have tremendous negative fallout if you do a lot of direct mail to a green index group and talk about your green initiatives when you’re still sending paper left and right,” Ruf said.

Recent studies show that green consumerism is on the rise, so green targeting capabilities are, indeed, well-justified.

According to the Natural Marketing Institute’s (NMI) Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) Consumer Trends Database, more than 80% of today’s total U.S. adult population shows some type of green motivation. These results come from surveys of more than 6,000 U.S. general-population adults drawn from a representative 7 million U.S. consumer-panel annually.

However, some experts question whether targeting “green” is sufficiently specific when environmentally conscious consumers come in varying hues, with consumption habits and behaviors that match their motivations.

NMI’s research divided the entire U.S. population into five segments based on their attitudes related to sustainability and social issues:

  • Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability: Early adopters and trendsetters driven by a sense of social responsibility (17% of U.S. adults).
  • Naturalites: Individuals motivated by personal wellness and a desire to live a healthy lifestyle (17% of U.S. adults).
  • Drifters: Trend followers who want to be seen as participating in the green movement but lack a genuine concern for the environment (24% of U.S. adults).
  • Conventionals: Individuals who have sustainable habits, like buying compact fluorescent light bulbs or reusing grocery bags, but are more motivated by a desire to save money and/or reduce waste than a sense of social responsibility (26% of U.S. adults).
  • Unconcerned: Those not involved or engaged with environmental issues (16% of U.S. adults).

    Applying these segments to database marketing models can be challenging, said Gwynne Rogers, LOHAS business director for the Natural Marketing Institute. Though NMI observed a few statistical trends—for example, Naturalites have a higher concentration of women and Drifters skew younger—the LOHAS segments are based entirely on attitudes, behaviors and psychographics, and the individuals who comprise them are typically diverse.

    To craft highly relevant green marketing programs, Rogers said there is only one surefire method: Ask customers to share their environmental views and priorities.

    “There are so many sustainability messages out there, and a lot of them are very similar,” Rogers said. “Companies need to do some research to understand what’s unique about their customer bases and build strategies that are meaningful to them. … The days of planting a tree and calling it a sustainable marketing program are over.”

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