Concentrate On The Personal Benefit

I won't call what I had last week a "lightbulb" moment. It wasn't like a sudden thought popped into my head and instantly everything was made clear.

Instead, I'll call it a "Homer" moment: one of those times when a few things that have been in front of you for a while fall into place and make you slap your forehead and say "Doh!" Moments like these are usually followed by a short period of feeling chagrined that you didn't see it earlier ...

Regardless, here's what happened.

Recently I've had an opportunity to do some research for a CPG client, and as a result I've been reviewing different data sources related to green product launches and the relative success of these efforts. One such study is the Shelton Group's Eco Pulse 2009 Report. In it, the authors ask the following question: "In which product categories are you searching for greener products?"

To me, what makes this question more interesting than most is that it doesn't ask what respondents are currently buying. Rather, it seeks to establish where their future intent to buy is. To me, that speaks of unformed brand preferences, and that's a potential gold mine for CPG brand managers.

Here are the answers they received (percentage of respondents selecting a particular category in which they are searching for greener products):

  • Home cleaning products: 75%
  • Food and beverages: 65%
  • Personal care products (shampoo, lotion, etc.) 55%
  • Appliances: 47%
  • Home improvement products (windows, insulation, etc.): 46%
  • Automobiles: 32%

So that got me thinking: why these categories? What makes these separate and distinct from every other product segment that's out there screaming from the rooftops about its green credentials?

And that's when I got Homer-ed.

Time and time again, we've heard from participants in green-oriented focus groups that while environmentally friendly attributes in a product are important, the real interest lies in what personal benefits the products deliver. In other words: what's in it for them? Research supports these anecdotal findings. From Earthsense's Eco-Insights: "When asked why it's important to reduce energy consumption, 73 % of respondents chose 'to reduce my bills'; 26 % chose 'to lessen my impact on the environment.'"

That's where these product categories have succeeded. Each can make an overt connection between a green product and a clear personal benefit it can provide. Consider the categories again, but under these headers:

Products That Are Good For Me: home cleaning, food and beverages, and personal care. People are increasingly concerned with the safety of the products they use in their homes and put in and on their bodies. By actively promoting a product's greener attributes (e.g. fewer, more recognizable and natural ingredients) marketers have been able to successfully position their wares as improving a personal environment while also benefiting the global environment. Success comes from emphasizing the former rather than the latter.

Products That Are Good For My Budget: appliances, home improvement, automobiles. Selling a big-ticket item like a dishwasher or car in a tough economy is hard enough; focusing exclusively on environmental benefits makes it even harder. Saving the planet takes a back seat to personal finances, unless a connection is clearly made between the product and potential future savings. No surprise then that each of these categories can show consumers the long terms savings potential (through reduced energy and/or fuel bills) that their products can deliver.

In 2009, there were about 1,500 new product launches that featured claims such as "sustainable," "environmentally friendly" and "eco-friendly." With all that noise and inevitable confusion, marketers will find success for their green products by concentrating on the personal, rather than global, impact.

3 comments about "Concentrate On The Personal Benefit".
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  1. Andrea Learned from Learned On, LLC, March 3, 2010 at 12:05 p.m.

    As with climate change denial, the psychology of consumer engagement with sustainability or "green" is a fascinating thing to study. It's very helpful to have that Shelton Group research to scientifically confirm what we might have assumed all along.

    Making it personal is a great way to frame the task at hand, because it makes the issue "immediate" and "visible" and based on "simple causality" (self-motivation rather than global-awareness - as in groups of people/environment we don't touch/see daily). Check out a recent article in Yes Magazine by George Marshall for more of the specifics:

    Much as we wish our citizenry was more motivated by "others," marketers can't fight innate human behavior that leans toward self-concern.

  2. Shelton Group, March 4, 2010 at 10:43 a.m.

    Thanks so much for the Shelton Group and Eco Pulse mentions! We're so glad you found our insights useful. For more information on Shelton Group or the Eco Pulse research please visit:

  3. Aditya Mittal from Infosys, March 30, 2010 at 2:11 a.m.

    Interesting article really. The way things stand today, "green" can pick up steam for corporations as well as individuals if there's something in it for them. Whether we like it or not, personal benefit is a better motivator than altruism for a majority of entities. I have argued in my sustainability blog ( that consumers are a real driver for companies going green, but if companies create shareholder value through good ROI by going green (e.g, save ink, save paper, more efficient vehicles), that's a bigger motivator. Similar behavior is replicated at an individual level.

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