Burrell Tackles Sustainability Effort for Toyota

For Effective Green Marketing, Consider What Green Means to Your Consumer

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Everyone on our planet has an equally compelling stake in a green future. But not everyone thinks about "green" in exactly the same way.

When Burrell approached Toyota about developing a green marketing campaign directed at African-Americans, we knew from long experience working with the African-American community that any successful campaign would have to be tailored to fit the needs of this segment. Our research showed that African-Americans think about green in a different way. They are more concerned about the environment on a micro, or local, level. They are more likely to think about how pollution affects the neighborhood. They are moved by tangible benefits, such as cleaner streets, healthier exercise and eating habits, local recycling efforts and improving air quality so children don't develop asthma.

Surprisingly, green campaigns have never specifically targeted the African-American community. Toyota responded to the idea at a time when that vacuum needed to be filled. This green campaign was really a major opportunity for Toyota to seize the moment.

After reviewing our research, we crafted the Toyota Green Initiative . To create direct interaction with the brand, we turned to the historical black colleges and universities. We launched TGI in October 2010 to coincide with the beginning of football season, and we continued into basketball season. Over the school year, we were on the ground at 27 campuses, bringing the TGI experience to life. We crafted a contest that encouraged students to submit a plan at our website, ToyotaGreen.com, to restore, improve or sustain the environment at their local campus or campus community. The winner was awarded a one-year lease on a 2011 Toyota Prius and a tree park for their campus.

At each of the campuses where we rolled out the campaign, we brought in an 18-foot tree made of recycled Toyota parts as the centerpiece of an immersive educational experience that included a simulated recycling center and bikes that people could use to generate electricity. We featured our coalition members -- including actor Lance Gross of the TBS series "House of Payne," and the founders of Earth Seed, devoted to reconnecting African-American youth to environmental issues -- to provide thought leadership on environmental issues as well as tools and tips for living an environmentally sustainable life. And we brought hybrid Toyota vehicles for people to get into and drive.

We encouraged people to sign up for the TGI Promise Drive, which involved a pledge to live a sustainable lifestyle. We tripled our goal of a 1,000 pledges. That number continues to grow.

Our effort culminated with the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association conference basketball tournament, which alone involved 180,000 consumers, giving Toyota a large audience. There, we also announced our contest winner, a freshman at Livingstone College.

We also created the ToyotaGreen.com website, which has met and surpassed our expectations. With this interactive portal providing green living tips and articles specifically tailored to the African-American community, we hoped for 12,000 hits. In six months, the site attracted 57,000 unique visits.

In the six months since TGI debuted, based on the core part of our tour through colleges and the website, our tracking indicates we have had millions of impressions. In terms of both interaction with the site and with the brand, we delivered on our objectives; and we look forward to continued growth in those areas. We are currently completing a study on how best to move forward into what we are calling TGI 2.0.

We have some insights on how to make green marketing stick in the African-American market; these insights could possibly be applied to other targeted green campaigns:

  1. We identified the market and determined that interest exists, that green is important to the African-American community.
  2. We tailored the message back to the target consistently, and we kept asking and learning how to do that better. We are always asking people: "What is green? Why does green make sense to you? What are the benefits? Is it growing gardens so you have better produce? Is it clean air?
  3. We recognized the significance of tight budgets for this demographic, given the economy, and we tied that concern into green. We stress that with a hybrid vehicle, you save money by using less gas. We also stress that a green lifestyle leads to better health, and in the long run, you are not spending as much on medical care.
  4. We regard this campaign as a conversation, a "way in," that takes time and patience. It isn't meant to be a quick in-and-out.

As an agency, we are always looking for ways in. With research, we realized there was a big opportunity to address this segment based on what was important to them. No one was speaking to our target about going green. TGI has been a great collaboration, encouraging the adoption of a sustainable lifestyle and building off Toyota's longstanding commitment to education and the environment.

The bottom line is , if you tie your green marketing plan back to the target community and keep its needs and concerns foremost, people will respond.

Fay Ferguson is co-CEO of Burrell Communications, a full-service marketing communications agency specializing in understanding and motivating consumer behavior in the African-American and yurban (young urban) markets.
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