If you knew everything Gerd Gigerenzer knows, could you make consumers buy your green products? More green marketing surveys are showing that the return on investment in green marketing dollars is abysmal. Gigerenzer, the head of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, has the solution. One of the leading thinkers on how people make decisions, a discipline known as heuristics, Gigerenzer’s advice is to appeal to consumer intuition not logical behaviour.
Gigerenzer became a global household name with his 2007 book Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious. Since we now all have gurus and are developing our consciousness, it seems only natural to be relying less on logical and more on intuitive decisions made deep in our unconscious. If fact, we already do follow our intuition. For this reason, marketers should keep it simple, says the behavioural psychologist. Your consumers are less likely to make the decision you desire if you give them too many choices, he argues. Gigerenzer believes that we should all rely more on intuition and make fast-and-frugal decisions.
The expert on decision-making and his colleagues are now applying their non-rationale thinking to green markets in a new book Heuristics, a compilation of 40 of the best articles on the topic. One of the articles Green Defaults: Information Presentation and Pro-environmental Behaviour addresses a question many of us are asking: Why do we all claim to be pro-green yet our green purchasing power is so low that there are only a few select green products on store shelves to meet demand?
According to the Green Defaults authors, it is all about how we package information. Using green electricity as an example, they discover that consumers will choose the default option. When green electricity is the default option, they choose green; when grey electricity is the option, they choose grey. The experiment took place in a small German town in the Black Forest. The outcome was astonishing. The majority of people (99%) in the small German town with the green default chose and stayed with green energy, while in regions with a grey default, green energy usage remained at one percent. It should be noted that the greener town also had a campaign in place to move away from nuclear energy in the wake of Chernobyl.
Now, let’s look at how our green marketing logic is faulty. Currently, we treat green products as premium opt-in items. Consumers have to choose to tick-off green electricity as their power source, and often have to pay a premium, and possibly even a fee to switch. Evidently, consumers are not opting in. Studies show that 50% to 90% of European and American consumers say they are pro-green energy yet the highest penetration rate, in Germany, is only 2%. Education is also a factor with older generations less familiar with the concept of switching electricity providers, and the option to do so almost instantaneously via the Internet.
So perhaps using logic to buy a green product is too much work. We are, after all, living in the faster, better economy. If we switch green products, we have to take the time to read the labels and decide between the choice of green products. And we have to factor in the price differences. But what if we were to use Gigerenzer’s fast-and-frugal decision-making approach? If we relied on our intuition, would we naturally gravitate to the green product? Today, the decision to use green purchasing power is not complex but simple, as Gigerenzer likes them. There are only a few green products on the shelf.