Do Customers Care About Your Green-ness?

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Al Gore, Social Responsibility, and Customer Experiences
What do these three have in common? The first two are fairly obvious. Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, has raised the level of consciousness about an individual’s responsibility for taking care of the environment. Customers are now seeking experiences that satisfy their conscience as well as their sensory, emotional and psychological considerations.
Here is related excerpt from my recent book, Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company (www.AddictedCustomers.com):

The Edelman and Datamonitor trust studies both indicate that customers increasingly associate a company’s relationship with its employees as evidence of social responsibility and trustworthiness. The impact is not trivial. The Datamonitor study reported that more than 70 percent of respondents considered a good track record in business ethics to be an important factor in their judgment of that company’s trustworthiness.
Patagonia is a socially responsible company to the core. But it goes a step further. It actively evangelizes environmentally-friendly behavior to its customers. Customers like the fact that Patagonia seeks ways to offer them high-quality, environmentally-friendly products. They also look to Patagonia for advice about how to live a more environmentally-friendly life—and they demonstrate their appreciation with their wallets. When the proportion of the content devoted to environmental education in the Patagonia catalog drops below 45 percent, sales decline.

Thanks to the publicity of Gores’ documentary, this movement is spreading fast and customers want it to be part of their customer experience. Check out the following quotes from the San Francisco Chronicle of 3.21.07:
“At a small but growing number of sustainably inclined Bay Area restaurants, bottled water has become as much an outcast as farmed salmon and out-of-season tomatoes. Instead of bottled water, diners now are served free carafes of — gasp! — tap water. It’s filtered, and comes still or sparkling, fizzed up by a soda-fountain-style carbonating machine.
…(before this) restaurants did not want to give up popular—and profitable—bottled water.
(now) “our goal of sustainability means using as little energy as we have to. Shipping bottles of water from Italy doesn’t make sense.” (GM of Chez Panisse).

It is interesting that shipping bottles of water from Italy suddenly doesn’t make sense any more. It is, however, reassuring that some companies are recognizing that what customers’ value will dictate how they vote with their pocket book. To take full advantage of this, companies will need to accept that today’s customers increasingly define VALUE in terms of experiences that are meaningful to them. This is in direct contrast to seeing value as the product or the utility is delivers. In an era of abundance and overwhelming choice, customers can easily gain utility from commodities, but meaning and value are another issue.

John Todor
John I. Todor, Ph.D. is the Managing Partner of the MindShift Innovation, a firm that helps executives confront the volatility and complexity of the marketplace. We engage executives in a process that tackles two critical challenges: envisioning new possibilities for creating and delivering value to customers and, fostering employee engagement in the innovation and alignment of business practices to deliver on the new possibilities. Follow me on Twitter @johntodor

3 COMMENTS

  1. John

    An interesting article about a difficult, mis-understood and emotion-laden subject.

    I particularly like your suggestion that “today’s customers increasingly define VALUE in terms of experiences that are meaningful to them”. Vargo & Lusch in an award winning article entitled Evolving to a New Dominant Logic for Marketing discuss customer perceptions of value in detail. One of the keys to the new dominant logic they identified is that the value of a product or service is determined by the customer when the product is IN USE, not by the marketer at the point of sale. This is similar in principle to your suggestion of valueing the experience.

    Value in use to the customer is the new value metric.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. Graham,
    Thanks for reminding me about the Vargo and Lusch article. I agree with you and them that value in use is the important metric.

    However, I believe it needs to be taken a step further. In the minds of customers there is utility-value and experiential value. In an era of abundance, overwhelming choice and hyper-competition, utility value is most often approached with and indifferent mindset by customers. This undermines loyalty. On the other hand, when customers get emotionally or psychologically engaged, they derived intrinsic value which can lead to increased desire.
    In this regard, I think people like Russell Belk and Morris Holbrook have pushed the discussion to value from the customer’s perspective. Understanding this and acting on this dimension will enable businesses, not just marketers, to pursue customer equity.
    In my opinion, customer equity will become increasingly important as Web 2.0 technologies give customers the ability to help each other make decision about what is valuable or meaningful and, how to actually go about extracting value.

    John I. Todor, Ph.D.

  3. thank you for your insight. I agree with your thoughts on the topic. I can use some of your ideas in managing my own company’s marketing strategy from a customer’s perspective. thanks again

    Maurice Layton

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