How Sustainable Brands can Connect with the True Champions of Their Cause

Eco-friendly retail brands and marketers of ‘green’ products face a unique challenge that not many industries encounter. Not only do they sit at the moral crossroads of products that are less harmful to our planet yet have a higher price tag, but also the majority of consumers believe they are more environmentally conscious than others and actually overestimate their level of “personal environmental engagement.”

Why is this a challenge? Doesn’t having consumer overestimate their true desire for your product sound like every marketer’s dream? Wouldn’t that result in more sales?

Not exactly.

We as consumers don’t overestimate our need for a vehicle — we either need one or we don’t. Individuals don’t overestimate their need for children’s apparel — they either need children’s clothing so they make a purchase, or they don’t. People don’t overestimate their affinity for cookies — they either enjoy cookies, or they don’t (or they’re just on a diet because who doesn’t love cookies?). These are clear signals.

However, the subjective — and often inflated — perception consumers assign to their own environmental-friendliness creates even more noise and the need for more impressions. Marketers and data scientists for sustainable brands are forced to sift through the pretenders — those who may appear or think they are environmentally conscious because of their internal overestimation — in order to reach the people that will actually support their cause or buy their product.


So how can sustainable brands zero in on true climate champions and avoid wasting marketing spend on those that overestimate their personal environmental engagement?

Green Personas

Using cognitive psychology and data science, marketers and data scientists have the opportunity to understand the true motivations driving an individual’s decisions. As the first data company to blend cognitive psychology with data science in the creation of data, our team saw an opportunity to apply our proprietary approach to help eco-friendly retail brands reach their best customers by examining consumers through the lens of Analytics IQ’s Green Personas.

The Green Personas were formed by the intersection of an individual’s belief in man-made climate change and their cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility deals with one’s ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes and consider multiple different views, even if they conflict.

The result? Four distinct Green Personas – the most important, valuable and actionable being the Sustainable Living Spenders, as they possess the crucial combination of strong belief in climate change and high cognitive flexibility.

Understanding how the relationship between level of belief in climate change and cognitive flexibility drives consumer decisions and behaviors is crucial for brands and retailers with a mission in sustainability, so let’s explore.

Low Cognitive Flexibility

As illustrated in the quadrant above, Climate Change Skeptics may have a high degree of cognitive flexibility, but their disbelief in climate change makes them unlikely to purposefully seek out environmentally friendly products when cheaper or more convenient alternatives are available. Education from brands on the realities of climate change could be a way to turn Climate Change Skeptics into customers.

Climate Change Deniers, on the other hand, lack both a belief in climate change and cognitive flexibility, making them an audience green brands can confidently filter out of all targeting and put that time, effort and budget toward a better audience.

Strong Belief in Climate Change

While the Climate Conscious have a strong belief in climate change, their low level of cognitive flexibility results in them opting for a cheaper or more convenient options rather than doing what it takes to maintain sustainability. Our data shows this could be because of a lower level of affluence due to their earlier life stage. As younger individuals, their focus is primarily on value and frugal purchase decisions at this time in their life as they start their careers.

However, their belief in climate change is a promising sign. As these individuals move through life and gain affluence, they could one day shift to be Sustainable Living Spenders, so eco-friendly brands should not totally ignore the Climate Conscious — perhaps consider targeting them when items are on sale or speak to their frugal side with a value-based messaging.

Sustainable Living Spenders

Individuals with a strong belief in climate change and a high level of cognitive flexibility, known as the Sustainable Living Spenders, are an eco-friendly brand’s bullseye. These individuals do not overestimate their degree of environmental consciousness, as they truly believe in sustainable consumption practices. Not only are they most likely to truly be environmentally focused, but they also have the ability to put their money where their mouth is!

The Analytics IQ team discovered Sustainable Living Spenders are a highly educated audience that frequently and consistently makes green purchases thanks to their above average income. More specifically, individuals with a high belief in climate change and a high level of cognitive flexibility have an annual income that is 37% higher than average, and they spend 23% more annually on discretionary items than the average U.S. adult. This means marketers can confidently target the Sustainable Living Spenders with green products without fear of wasting their budgets on consumers who would never make a purchase.

Dave Kelly founded AnalyticsIQ 14 years ago after the successful acquisition of his former company, Sigma Analytics. Besides building brilliant teams, Kelly enjoys time with family, friends and his cat. Never a dull moment! He pairs wine (usually a Tuscan red) with yoga or tennis to slow down after work. He is an alumnus of the University of North Florida and earned his MBA from Georgia Tech.

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