April 2010: How climate change concern can motivate people to be interested in your offering

By , December 27, 2010 12:21 am

April 2010, Market Intelligence Article for Sustainable Business Magazine, reproduced with permission.

Peter Winters, President, Haddock Research & Branding

Double-click on the offprint below to see it in a larger size.

Climate change is stimulating unmet emotional desires within consumer society. In this study, a simple factual description of a new microgeneration product was presented to respondents – and the best predictor of enthusiasm for the product was whether the individual was very concerned about climate change, or not. As cleantech companies gear up for mass-market roll-out of their low-carbon products, we should expect those most concerned about climate change to be driving early adoption.

The management of cleantech companies might be forgiven for thinking that they need to concentrate on the performance and price of their products, when marketing to consumers, rather than place much emphasis on its ‘low-carbon appeal’. Do people really get excited about the environmental performance of their gas boiler, or of installing low-energy light bulbs? After all, a recent survey by the department of transport in the UK[1], seem to suggest that climate change is low down the list of the public’s priorities. And in the US, the Pew Centre[2] recently concluded that ‘dealing with global warming ranks at the bottom of the public’s list of priorities’.

But, by taking a consumer-viewpoint, it is possible to conceptualise the low-carbon marketing environment in a rather different way.

The research data we have seen, including our own Environmental Choices survey, indicates that the public is extremely divided about climate change. In this context, it is entirely misleading to think of the public as a single entity which is ‘modestly concerned about climate change’. In short, some people are very concerned about climate change, and others – not at all.

Taking a metaphor from sport, our Environmental Choices data also shows that 37% of English people are passionate about football, 30% are passionate about gardening, and 20% are passionate about rugby. If you think this means that ‘English people are enthusiastic about football and gardening’ but ‘are only modestly interested in rugby’, you ought to get out more, and buy tickets to a 6-nations international at Twickenham! Instead, we should be considering ‘climate change’, like ‘rugby’, as being a relatively minor ‘brand’. Whilst minor brands typically suffer the double jeopardy of both smaller numbers of users who are also less exclusively loyal (compared to the users of major brands), they can still create valuable franchises, and evoke powerful emotions amongst their followers.

And emotional connection is essential. Information, and good economic arguments, about your cleantech product is not enough!  Consumers will have to want it, and feel good about buying it. As a 2008 study about UK Microgeneration stated ‘consumer behaviour towards buying energy efficient or ‘green’ products is found to derive from a mixture of so-called ‘rational’ factors – including economic analysis – and from emotional, societal and cultural factors. Consumer uptake has been slow even for rapid payback investments such as low energy light bulbs and loft and cavity wall insulation.’ (p.26 of pdf) [3]

But, is it possible to put a value on the low-carbon enthusiasm that certain people feel for low-carbon products? After all, people are not very good at accurately assigning their motivations for doing things.

The issue underlying this need is to measure ‘causality’ – how to measure the importance of various factors in getting people to act in a certain way. Somewhat akin to medical randomised trials, one approach is to separate people into those who are ‘concerned about climate change’ from those who are ‘unconcerned about climate change’ to see if there is a difference in the ‘test outcome’.  This is what we did with our Environmental Choices study, using a statistical technique called CHAID.

As part of the study we tested consumer reactions to a simple, factual description of a prototype micro-generation product. This product profile had no brand positioning, no mention of the manufacturer, and did not refer to climate change or carbon emissions. The dependent variable was being an ‘Enthusiast’ for the product or not; defined as those who found the micro-generation product both ‘very appealing’ and who indicated they would be ‘very likely to install one’. The analysis was conducted amongst a nationally representative sample of 626 English people who fit appropriate screening criteria.

For the predictor variables, we included a range of demographic variables (age/sex, region, number in household, presence of children, income, political allegiance), as well as a 3-way segmentation about people’s attitudes towards climate change. Climate Citizens (33% of this sample) are the people most concerned about climate change, and Sceptics/Uninvolved (27%) the least. Those who were mildly concerned about climate change are termed Mild Greens (40%). The CHAID analysis showed that the best predictor for being an ‘Enthusiast’ was whether someone was concerned about climate change or not. 25% of Climate Citizens were ‘Enthusiasts’ compared to 13% of everyone else.

This analysis provides evidence that ‘concern about climate change’ is a valuable motivator for this particular low-carbon product.  It is also part of general findings from the Environmental Choices study that Climate Citizens are particularly likely to have interests and behaviours which are more ‘low-carbon’. As cleantech companies gear up for mass-market roll-out of their low-carbon products, we should expect that Climate Citizens (representing about a third of the population) to be driving early-adoption.


[1] http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/statistics/datatablespublications/trsnstatsatt/climatechgejan2010report

[2] http://people-press.org/report/584/policy-priorities-2010

[3] Page 26 (pdf) http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file46003.pdf

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