Naylor Investigates Consumer ‘Green’ Behavior

New Fisher faculty member Rebecca Walker Naylor loves when her consumer behavior research both expands the field of knowledge and translates into insights marketing managers can act on.

Such was the case with her research into why many people who say they care about the environment don’t always buy green products.

Green products and other products focused on sustainability used to be available only in niche stores. Today, they’re mainstream, with almost every retail chain and manufacturer offering at least some environmentally friendly products and packaging. Even Walmart is implementing a sustainability index to measure the impact of each product it sells in four key areas, including energy and climate, material efficiency, natural resources and people and community.

“As marketers we tend to think that consumers will be interested in sustainable products,” says Naylor, who joined Fisher from the University of South Carolina. In reality, many consumers buying products for strength or toughness will not buy green, she says, since the perception is that the all-natural version won’t work as well as the mainstream offering. Naylor calls this phenomenon the “sustainability liability.”

“The good news is that if you’re creating a sustainable product in a product category where people are seeking gentleness, such as personal care products, sustainability can actually be an asset.” In contrast, Naylor’s research, co-authored with researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the College of William and Mary, shows that marketers of sustainable products in product categories where consumers seek strength must actively counter the sustainability liability. Emphasizing sustainability in this context may actually harm product sales; the best way to avoid this potentially negative impact is to provide explicit information about product strength.

Naylor’s enthusiasm for her research inspires animated discussion among her undergraduate and MBA students, who are a key demographic in the green movement.

Her advice to green-minded marketers before they launch a sustainable product campaign? “Know what attributes consumers are seeking in the product category so you’ll know whether sustainability is an asset or a liability that needs to be addressed.”

Rebecca Naylor Interview

Rebecca Naylor, assistant professor of Marketing and Logistics, talks about green and sustainable products as well as being a part of the Fisher community.

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