Lead, follow or… ?

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As cleantech champions, we are often asked whether cleantech is the same as greentech (generally, yes) and how “green” companies and customers differ from “regular” ones. Good question.

A couple of widely cited studies have concluded that green consumers can be rated or ranked by the degree of their dedication to green ideals. Not only do survey respondents define green differently, so do the authors of the surveys and the studies that report on the results. And those differences are compounded by debate about what distinguishes a “devoted” green from a “dabbler.”

But no matter how the labels are defined, there seems to be a pretty consistent finding about the percentage of consumers who are “deep green.” These folks — those who are already convinced that the environment is severely threatened and are committed to doing something about it — apparently represent the minority of the population, a figure hovering around 16% to 19%, depending on the source.

So what is the takeaway for “green” marketers? Although our focus at Posit is on business-to-business technology innovation, we pay close attention to articles and blog posts by consumer branding experts. And a whole lot of them are disparaging marketing strategies that target “deep greens.” Their opinions are variations on the “don’t waste your time preaching to the converted” theme. Which we agree is good advice. But the recommendation that typically follows is tougher to swallow.

It goes like this: Don’t try to sell consumers on the environmental benefits of green. Appeal instead to their economic or health-related self-interest. It’s not about saving the planet. It’s about saving us. So forget the 16-19% and focus on the other 80%+ of consumers.

I get the logic. But what I want to know is this: Why do we have to choose between preaching to the converted and appealing to the disinterested? Is marketing a response to a population with fixed perceptions? Or is it a tool we can use to educate and motivate a population with evolving perceptions? Why don’t we market products and services in such a way that we grow that 16% or 19% to 29%, 39% or 99% — by making it clear to people that environmental messages are economic and health messages? The faster we can convince consumers of the inevitable economic and health benefits of sustainable industry, the better for them and for us. Everybody wins.

Thousands of companies prosper by supplying precisely what consumers tell them they want. A handful of truly great companies invent realities consumers never before imagined.

Are we marketers akin to poll-driven politicians or idea-driven leaders? It’s up to us.

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