On our Intuitive Customer podcast, Professor Ryan Hamilton and I have been talking about the ways that customers are irrational in their decision making, often focusing on things that seem irrelevant.
I came across an excellent example of this in a Scientific American article about men and the environment. We men, it seems, aren’t as good at being environmentally friendly as women are. We’re more likely to litter and less likely to recycle or bring reusable bags to the market. And this is true across ages and cultures.
You might assume that men are environmental slackers because it takes extra effort to sort things into a recycle bin, or that there are inherent differences between men and women. But a group of marketing researchers found that men seem to be less environmentally conscious simply because they associate being eco-friendly with being feminine.
In a series of experiments using 2,000 Chinese and American subjects, both men and women thought bringing a reusable bag to the store or doing something positive for the environment was more feminine. Men who were asked to spend a pink gift card on a specific product were more likely to choose a non-environmentally friendly version of the product, as though they needed to re-assert their masculinity.
Don’t Mess With Masculinity
Previous studies have shown that men are more likely to feel their masculinity is threatened if they engage in feminine behaviors. I think the culture reinforces this, as boys are often told not to cry, or they’re branded a “sissy” on the schoolyard if they’re caught hugging their mum.
What’s interesting about this is that perceptions about masculinity and femininity operate at a subconscious level to drive decisions about what to buy and how to behave. They are utterly irrational and often overlooked, yet they are critically important to both marketing and the field of customer experience.
Let me give you a real-life example. In the mid-1980s, Texas roadways were littered with massive amounts of trash, and the state was spending $20 million dollars a year to clean them up. Anti-littering campaigns along the lines of “Please Don’t be a Litterbug” and “Keep America Beautiful” weren’t making a dent in the problem.
And then the Texas Department of Transportation hired an ad agency that looked at the worst offenders – men between the ages of 16-24. They knew these young, macho guys weren’t going to respond to sweet, flowery slogans about “litter.” So they came up with a new campaign, “Don’t Mess With Texas,” and launched it with a TV commercial featuring guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Within four years, roadside littering was down 72 percent, and “Don’t Mess With Texas” is still going strong 30 years later. What was brilliant about the ad campaign was that it focused on the subconscious factors at work. It took littering from a cause championed by little old ladies in the garden club to a macho statement of Texas pride.
Tweaking the Environmentally Friendly Message
The marketing researchers who wrote the Scientific American article had some suggestions for companies that want to make their eco-friendly products appeal to men:
- Affirm mens’ masculinity by assuring them it is ok for men to purchase a “green” product or service or engage in eco-friendly behavior. That’s the subconscious message of Stevie Ray Vaughan or a pro athlete appearing in an anti-littering ad.
- Use more masculine fonts, logos and colors in branding. The researchers found that men were more apt to give money to a nonprofit with a masculine logo of a wolf than to one with a logo featuring a tree and a fancy font. In an experiment at a BMW dealership in China, men’s interest in a hybrid vehicle increased after the vehicle’s name was changed to “Protection,” a traditionally masculine term in China.
The lesson in this is that it is a mistake to focus exclusively on the rational attributes that might lead a customer to purchase your product or service. Often, subconscious influences play a much bigger role in customer decisions.
Fortunately, there does seem to be a growing army of men who are thinking differently and are very keen to promote and live an eco friendly lifestyle. I’m very proud to say my son is a shining example of this!
Why do you think women are more likely to be environmentally conscious? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.
You might also like these blogs:
Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Intuitive Customer podcast and on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX