The Green Prospects
In “Star Wars Episode IV,” Luke Skywalker struggles to convince Han Solo to help him save Princess Leia, stuck in the detention block on the Death Star. “But they’re going to kill her!” Han Solo’s cold response? “Better her than me.”
So Luke changes tack, and after a beat says, “She’s rich.” Han Solo comes back with, “How rich?” Encouraged, Luke blurts out, “More money than you can imagine.” Han smiles, saying, “I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit.”
You know the rest of the story: Han opts in, Luke and Han take some significant risks, the Princess is rescued, and then the three of them are off to try to save the galaxy.
While I can’t speak for the galaxy, it’s increasingly obvious to almost everybody that the earth and its inhabitants are in trouble. Global warming, dwindling oil supplies, wars over those same supplies, … OK, I’ll stop there. It’s also obvious that industry, big and small, and of any stripe (and certainly the direct-mail industry), is contributing more to these problems than erasing. What we’re doing is not enough.
Enter the princesses, err, the green prospects, who want to change things. Once upon a time, direct mailers could ignore these green people and their demands. But they’ve grown exponentially in numbers each year and now make up 30 percent of the U.S. population. Moreover, they’re rich. Not sure how rich you can imagine, but how does $500 billion sound?
That’s the annual buying power green consumers are expected to have in 2008, according to Experian Research Services, parent division of New York–based Simmons Research. Their recent report acknowledges that these folks not only have the means to support environmentally friendly products and companies, but they have the motivation.
So, whether your own motivations are more like Luke’s (to save the world!) or Han’s (to get rich!) — or both — it’s time to buckle up and do an environmental makeover on that mailing.
First, a reality check
Before you run off the cliff screaming that the green prospect doesn’t want any mail, be comforted that they do. The green prospect is spending plenty of money, but is just more environmentally sensitive — and she wants to see that reflected in the direct mail she receives. In other words, not just targeted mail that is somewhat relevant to her life, but packages that are increasingly environmental.
The 2007 Cone Holiday Environmental Survey, conducted by the Opinion Research Corp., reflects this reality: 54 percent of respondents are willing to pay more for a holiday gift or product this year if it is environmentally responsible, and 42 percent said they were purchasing gift wrap made from recycled paper. It’s not too much of a leap to see they will soon demand the same qualities from their mail.
The DMA is aware of this sea change in consumer behavior. Partly to ward off state governments enacting do-not-mail laws and to appease green customers, the DMA stepped it up in 2007 with their environmental initiatives. In particular, their Environmental Planning Tool provides guidelines and tips for a greener package.
“Being perceived as environmentally sensitive plays well with brands and is proving to be a motivator for employees,” relates Meta Brophy, director of publishing operations at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports in Yonkers, N.Y.
Consumers Union has used the planning tool successfully, and Brophy recommends it highly. “By using the planner, an organization can gauge its practices today and enable planning, testing and implementation for practices tomorrow. The planner does not ask businesses and organizations to abandon sound business decisions in their pursuit of a greener direct marketing process. It offers a path for a better environmental footprint and increased business efficiency by suggesting ways to achieve these mutual objectives,” she describes.
Package composition, literally, now matters
“How a package is composed, literally, is increasingly important to many consumers,” affirms Patricia Kachura, DMA’s senior vice president for corporate responsibility. She says environmentally conscious consumers are taking into account the entire composition and life cycle of the promotion, product and package, from the procurement of materials (does it support well-managed forests by asking for certified paper?), design and production (does it minimize product needed by using lighter basis weight materials, recycled content, soy-based inks?), printing (mill efficiency, emissions) and packaging and transportation/shipping (carbon footprint).
Kachura bolsters her argument with a global study just released by Edelman, which provides even more staggering statistics — 85 percent of consumers worldwide are willing to switch brands or purchasing habits to make tomorrow a better place; 92 percent labeled “protecting the environment” as their top concern; and 73 percent said they were prepared to pay more for environmentally conscious products.
Avoiding waste, more often than not, is avoiding cost. “There is always something you can do in the piece to lessen the impact and consume fewer resources,” says Brophy, who says one of the strengths of the environmental planning tool is that it creates a new conversation in house and requires different departments to work together.
“Branding and corporate responsibility have taken a long time to get down to the marketing people, including those who are doing direct mail,” remarks Dick Goldsmith, chairman of The Horah Group, a full-service direct marketing agency based in Pleasantville, N.Y. He says some marketers are concerned about the environment, but unless they’re told by a corporate policy to do something about it, they aren’t going to.
Responsible mail for responsible customers
While the greening of a mail package may or may not sway the consumer today, it may in the future. It shows the company’s overt or subtle commitment to the environment, and may nudge that consumer toward the buy, the donation, etc.
The recent DMA Commitment to Consumer Choice (CCC) program — which requires DMA members notify consumers of the opportunity to modify or eliminate future mail solicitations from their companies — may have a similar benign effect. “It reflects DMA’s continued emphasis on empowering consumers and strengthening their trust with the direct marketing community by providing consumers with the power to make choices about what they do and don’t receive,” says Kachura, who adds that passing a CCC test allows a DMA member to use the DMA Trusted Marketer Seal. Such seals may begin to appear more frequently on mail pieces, alongside FSC and Recycle Please logos. “If you’re going after the [green] market, they want to see minimal use of resources. So you want to do things that make your package look green, such as printing on 100 percent recycled paper and not [using] a poly window,” suggests Goldsmith, who also says to use paper that displays various pro-environment logos.
“[The CCC] is about being responsible to consumers. DMA member companies will have to change things whether they’ve been thinking green or not,” summarizes Brophy.
Part of being responsible, of course, is legitimacy. “Green washing, pretending to be green but not really, will not play well to those in the know,” says Goldsmith. And soon it may come with a price, as the Federal Trade Commission just announced it would speed up its decade-old “green” marketing guidelines because so many businesses are convincing customers to buy certificates or pay premiums for supposedly environmentally friendly projects or practices.
In fact, as part of DMA’s Green 15, marketers are told to avoid green washing: “Ensure that all environmental labeling is clear, honest and complete, so that consumers and business customers may know the exact nature of what your organization is doing.”
Finally, while the green message is getting louder on packages, it remains subsidiary to the marketing message. “Marketers say that too many messages confuse the buyer and depress response, [but] we are greening the mail because it needs to be done,” states Brophy, who says mailings should be made with preferable choices even if consumers may never know what those choices were.
Regardless of whether the green messaging is part of the package or not, it’s paramount that the transition be sped up … to reach green prospects, yes, and for the future of direct mail.
This article appears in the January 2008 issue of insidedirectmail. For more, go to www.insidedirectmail.com