BfG News Issue 13 - Expert View: Change marketing – a different kind of conversation with customers

13 Jun 2008|Added Value

mallen_polaroidEach month News invites an expert to give their view on a topical issue.  This month we approached Mallen Baker, Development Director, at BITC to share his view on influencing consumer behaviour.

Big companies and big brands are supposed to work out what the customer wants and then give it to them. But the world is changing, and suddenly it’s not quite as simple as that.

CEOs and Heads of Marketing alike understand that there are long term trends, particularly climate change, that will affect the health of their business in the future. So they have looked at their carbon footprint. They have looked at reducing travel. They have looked at new approaches to packaging. Some, like BT, have set the bar for ambition by targeting greenhouse gas reductions of 80%.

But there’s a problem. The biggest causes of emissions tend to take place at the point when the product is used, not when it is made.

So Boots, working with the Carbon Trust, may have reduced the carbon released in the manufacture of its shampoo, but actually the shampoo represents only 7% of the emissions associated with washing hair. The rest comes in the heating of water and the use of a hair dryer.

We are now into the territory of the big brands recognising that they have influence, if not control, over what their customers do, and starting to find ways to exercise that influence.

The Ariel ‘Turn to 30’ campaign is an excellent case in point. Procter and Gamble knew that their cold clean technology could do the job, and the main barrier to people washing clothes at lower temperatures was the belief that clothes wouldn’t be properly clean. So they launched the campaign to correct this belief. Before the campaign ran, 2% of people washed their clothes at 30. Afterwards, this had risen to 17% – with a large majority of the switchers associating the change with the Ariel campaign. It is marketing. It sold product. But it also achieved behaviour change that – at least in that case – should be pretty ongoing and sustainable.

Others have done similar exercises. B&Q, for instance, has run its own campaign to persuade people to install energy efficiency improvements and alternative energy generation in their home. OK – this is more a one-off investment than a behaviour change per se. But the fact that B&Q decided that the sale of outdoor patio heaters was so incongruous with this message that they discontinued a perfectly profitable product, showed this is a rather different kind of promotion.

Of course, some of the big drivers of change are not the household brands, but the companies that sell to companies. Sun Microsystems, IBM and Dell are amongst those jostling to produce the high performing servers that achieve the best energy efficiency. Everyone thinks that the internet is an emission free zone, but the huge server farms that house the internet are anything but. The consumer may not see much about this, but the marketing teams for these companies know well that in producing reduced carbon servers they are helping their customers to solve one of their key problems – how to run their business against a commitment to massively reduce emissions.

Ultimately, to drive change the company has to ask the right questions. The question isn’t “wouldn’t it be wonderful if customers would just behave differently to the way they actually do – so for instance if they would turn the TV off at the wall?”. The question is “how do we change the basis of our product offering so that the customer gets the convenience and value they want, but with a much better sustainability outcome”? There is a long way to go, but it is beginning to happen.

Mallen Baker
Editor, Business Respect –
Development Director, Business in the Community –

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