Greener Pastures Ahead? Five Trends You’ll See in 2010
Where is green going in 2010? Here are five consumer trends to look for:
1) “Waste not, want not” messaging will gain strength.
While “save money” messaging still tests well, one of our recent national surveys found 12 percent of Americans believe “don’t waste” is the strongest message to get them to conserve. That means a utility could motivate homeowners to conserve by telling them, “You’re wasting money turning up your thermostat!” rather than “Save money by turning down your thermostat.” It’s a subtle distinction – but for these consumers, a very important one.
2) We’ll see an increase in the number of consumers who haven’t seen the savings they expected from energy-efficient home improvements.
In one of our national surveys, a third of the people who claimed to have made energy efficient home improvements said they had not seen the savings they expected. That’s no surprise because most utilities and home-improvement manufacturers tend to speak in “save money” messaging, without any specifics (such as “You’ll save 10 percent on your electric bills if you install these windows.”).
Unfortunately, our brains don’t like generalities, so we fill in the blanks with our own number. Our studies find the number most consumers have in mind when they hear “save money on energy efficient improvements” is 50 percent. Wow. Totally unrealistic. Without some expectation management on the part of marketers, homeowners will continue to think that — and continue to be disappointed. And that means it will get harder and harder to motivate them down the road. As the old saying goes, “Once burned, twice shy.”
3) We’ll continue to see a decline in folks trying energy-efficiency “gateway drugs.”
The theory in energy efficiency circles has long been that if we can just get consumers hooked on the simple, easy things – like replacing light bulbs with compact fluorescent lights and installing programmable thermostats — we’d get them “hooked” on energy efficiency for years to come. Not so much.
Our 2009 Energy Pulse study revealed a sharp declining trend on propensity to install CFL’s and a significant drop in propensity to make simple behavior changes to save energy. This is, again, likely the result of poor expectation management. Consumers have done some of the activities asked of them and they didn’t see a savings (due to a colder winter, added plug load – new computers, big-screen TVs, cell phones, etc. — or a utility rate increase) and now they’re not motivated to keep trying.
That’s why it’s important that utilities and energy-efficient product manufacturers make sure consumers understand what they’re getting and promote behavior change alongside product purchases. Installing CFL’s doesn’t mean we can light up our house at all hours. And a high-efficiency air-conditioner doesn’t mean we can turn our home into a refrigerator in the summer.
4) Comfort and convenience will continue to be the major drivers for consumers making purchases.
One of our 2009 surveys found 60 percent of Americans are looking for greener products. However, given a choice between their comfort, convenience or the environment, 38 percent of respondents said they’d choose their convenience, 35 percent said they’d choose comfort and 26 percent said they’d choose the environment.
In this economy, we’re looking for comfort, and we’re looking for something, anything, to be easy. So if you’re marketing a green product, do everything you can to show that not only is your product environmentally friendly, but it’s also simple to use and makes people’s lives better.
5) The number of people willing to punish companies that greenwash will increase.
In one of our recent studies, we saw a jump in the number of people who said they’d both stop buying a product — and lobby friends and family to do the same — if they were told something was green that turned out not to be. Unfortunately, this puts consumers in the Box of Impossibility: Our studies find shoppers don’t know how to define what a green product is. They don’t trust manufacturers to tell them the truth about how green their products are, but they’re turning to manufacturers because they don’t have anyone else to turn to. Thus, they’re trusting people they don’t particularly trust — and they’re ready to pounce if that trust is violated.
OK, there you have it. Good luck in 2010. Let’s hope it’s a green year for all of us.
Suzanne Shelton is president and CEO of Shelton Group, an advertising agency located in Knoxville, Tennessee. The agency conducts four proprietary annual consumer opinion studies – Eco Pulse, Energy Pulse, Utility Pulse and Green Living Pulse.
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