Sustainability: What Matters Most?

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I’m a big fan of analogies; one of my favorites is equating customer relationships with personal, romantic relationships. If you ask a woman about the kind of guy she wants to marry, she might say, “handsome, rich, successful and exciting.” Fast-forward a few years and we see whom she actually marries: maybe a nice, average, middle-class bald guy who happens to be the best listener and makes her feel special. Perhaps these attributes that tipped the scale were ones that she didn’t anticipate or know how to value until she experienced them.

It makes intuitive sense that what people say is important isn’t always what motivates them at the moment of choice. And yet we read poll after poll that trumpet astonishingly high percentages of consumers who say “green is important” or that they’d spend more money on green products. This is like saying that 77% of all women want to marry a rich guy. I’m sure we all recognize that this statistic is neither realistic nor helpful.

What’s more reasonable is looking at actual purchase trends of green products. Unfortunately what’s lacking here is the answer to why consumers made the decision for one brand over another. In a recent post I wrote about sizing your total available sustainability market (TASM); in other words, how many women are in the market for a nice guy. As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, this market sizing isn’t based on what consumers say but what they actually do. We look at how many women are actually dating nice guys now.

After we identify and size the market, we then seek to understand what is driving their decisions in the moment of choice. Again, this isn’t based on what they say is important, but through research techniques that unveil the top attributes that actually motivate their choice. In the dating world, the top 3 attributes that motivate choice of a nice guy could include listening, thoughtfulness and “makes me feel special.” In the sustainability space it might be education, toxin-free and “makes me feel like I’m making a difference.”

So now you’ve figured out your market and what matters most to these buyers, whether specific attributes or emotional benefits. Now the question is, how does your business rate versus other alternatives in the market? You might find that you rate quite low on the #2 purchase driver, but you get high marks for the #4 purchase driver. This tells you what to promote in marketing today while addressing the sources of dissatisfaction that may be hindering sales.

This isn’t an easy process. But what you’ll get out of it are quantifiable steps to boost revenue, reputation and competitive advantage from sustainability.

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