If you've been tracking the green marketplace lately, there's a good chance your head is spinning. It's not just the endless polls and surveys, which continue their relentless march toward the trivializing of just about any environmental concern or issue.
It's also the segmentation -- the divvying up of the marketplace into clever categories that sum up distinct subsets of the population that behave in the same way or have similar attributes or attitudes.
Market segmentations of green consumers aren't new -- the Roper Organization has been conducing a Green Gauge survey since 1990. But now there are as many as six different segmentation studies, depending on how you count. That includes only the studies available for sale by market research firms and doesn't include the segmentation studies done privately by companies like Wal-mart, Procter & Gamble, Clorox, and other consumer product makers. These and other companies have been assessing and tracking green-shopping attitudes and habits for their internal use.
So, how many ways can you slice the green-consumer pie?
For starters, there's Roper, which divvies up the marketplace thusly:
- True-Blue Greens -- the most environmentally active segment of society (11% of the U.S. population).
- Greenback Greens -- those most willing to pay the highest premium for green products (8%).
- Sprouts -- fence-sitters who have embraced environmentalism more slowly (33%).
- Grousers -- uninvolved or disinterested in environmental issues, who feel the issues are too big for them to solve (14%).
- Apathetics -- the least engaged group who believe that environmental indifference is mainstream (33%).
And then there's the Natural Marketing Institute, purveyor of all things LOHAS, the market space that includes organic foods, health and wellness, alternative medicine, green energy, green living, and other goods and services. NMI tracks more than 100 drivers to consumer behavior and divides the market into five categories:
- LOHAS -- very progressive on environment and society, looking for ways to do more; not too concerned about price (16%).
- Naturalites -- primarily concerned about personal health and wellness, and use many natural products; would like to do more to protect the environment (25%).
- Conventionals -- practical, like to see the results of what they do; interested in green products that make sense (e.g., save money) in the long run (23%).
- Drifters -- not too concerned about environment, figuring we've got time to fix environmental problems; don't necessarily buy a lot of green products, though may like to "be seen" in Whole Foods to enhance their image (23%).
- Unconcerned -- have other priorities, not really sure what green products are available, and probably wouldn't be interested anyway; they buy products strictly on price, value, quality, and convenience (23%).
Next comes the Hartman Group, a Seattle-based market-research firm that's been tracking consumer attitudes, mostly related to food and organics, since the 1980s. Hartman recently released The Hartman Report on Sustainability: Understanding the Consumer Perspective, which looks at "how consumers feel about a world struggling to live in balance today for the benefit of future generations." It parses the consumer landscape this way:
- Radical Engagement -- "If people do not band together and employ radical means to overcome major problems, our future is bleak" (36%).
- Sustained Optimism -- "If we rely on rational intelligence and science, we can overcome major problems and secure a hopeful future" (27%).
- Divine Faith -- "If we leave things in God's hands, everything will turn out as it should" (20%).
- Cynical Pessimism -- "Save the planet? Who are we kidding? We can't even take care of ourselves" (9%).
- Pragmatic Acceptance -- "I don't worry about the major problems facing the world because they are beyond my control" (8%).
Finally, there's Landor Associates, perhaps the most prolific -- and most confusing -- purveyors of green market research. Over the past year, Landor, alone and with partners, has come up with no less than three green market segmentations. Last July, it revealed a study showing that 58% of the U.S. population considered themselves Not Green Interested (they don't care about environmentally friendly practices, including recycling, corporate social responsibility, or natural and/or organic ingredients); 25% were Green Interested (concerned about the environment, but not active in its defense); and the remaining 17% were Green Motivated (feel it's very important for a company to be green and base purchase decisions on whether or not a brand reflects "green behavior" in its packaging, ingredients, and corporate actions).
Then, a few weeks ago, Landor released the results of the 2007 ImagePower Green Brands Survey, conducted with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates and Cohn & Wolfe. It divvied the green landscape into Active Greens, Muted Greens, Green Motivated, Green Hypocrites, and Green Ignorants. (I won't bother to explain each one because, I fear, you're getting bored with this.)
Even more confusing, the ImagePower survey conducted a similar survey of consumers in the U.K., using somewhat different nomenclature: Bright Greens, Green Motivateds, Fading Greens, Dull Greens -- and, if only for good measure, a group simply called -- you guessed it -- Greens.
What to make of all this name-calling? Is it really helping brand managers fine-tune their products, packaging, marketing messages, and all the other complexities of selling to consumers? Hard to say. (Anyone out there have a clue?)
What's safe to say is that there's a desperate need for consumer product companies to smarten up the marketplace. American consumers seem just short of clueless about how to shop green. Consider these dazzling conclusions of the 2006 Landor study:
Consumers may be interested in green, but can't identify it. Sixty-six percent of the American population cannot identify the steps a company can take to make itself more green.
In the Fast Food category, the perception of not being green does not prevent even the "Green Motivated" individuals from purchasing the products. Consumers will also buy in Automotive & Petroleum / Energy industries regardless of brands' "non-green" image.
While two out of three consumers cannot name a brand they consider to be green, there are differences between perception and reality on what companies are green.
Confused? So am I. With all we seem to know about consumers' environmental attitudes, you'd think we'd be doing a better job of engaging, educating, and inspiring them to make good, green choices in the marketplace. Any nominations for the company doing the best job on this?
Meanwhile, here's my own personal market segmentation, based on nothing but intuition, common sense, and twenty years of observing the green marketplace. I believe there are basically four kinds of consumers out there (you know who you are):
Me? At this point, I'm pretty much a little bit of each.