Skiing, Mountain Biking, & Suntans
What marketers get wrong about motivation & sustainable behaviour change.
People are selfish
Public awareness for environmental issues has never been higher thanks to a combination of fantastic television programmes and work done by environmental pressure groups. But getting people to change their behaviour (and not just claim that they have) is tough. In most cases people don’t personally feel threatened by climate change. They accept that climate change is a global problem, but they are unsure what impact it will have on them - as a concept, climate change is perceived as vague, abstract, and difficult for most people to understand. Marketers have tried scaring people into acting, but the results are mixed at best.
So how do we make climate change feel more real? The answer is simple; talk about the local impact of climate change, (and not what it will do to some distant corner of the world). Unfortunately, people are selfish and our attempts to persuade them should reflect this but this is not all bad news. It just means that we need to understand what people care about. If we know that somebody is interested in skiing, research has shown that talking about how climate change is putting their ski holidays at risk is more effective than general altruistic messages at changing behaviour. Or if somebody is a keen golfer, describe how climate change is going to threaten the local golf course.
Motivation and Sustainable Behaviour Change
Currently more companies are launching sustainable variations of their existing products. But if they neglect the reason why people buy a product in the first place, they’re likely to fail. A great example of this is when a company launched a 100% natural biodegradable mountain bike chain oil. Mountain biking is a great way to explore the mountains, but despite not having an engine, it still impacts the environment. Oil flicks off the chain and soaks into the soil and so a biodegradable oil seemed to be the perfect solution. It performed just as well as traditional oils, but without any of the negative environmental impacts. However, from a sales perspective it was a total failure - and that was solely because of the marketing. The marketing focused virtually exclusively on the environmental credentials of the product and completely ignored people’s motivation for buying it in the first place - the ability to improve a bike’s performance and give a faster and more exhilarating ride. Sustainability may well be a great point of differentiation, but you still need to show customers that your product will perform.
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