The potential for mobile apps to drive green behavior

11 May 2010|Kelli Peterson

Green products and environmentally friendly services are beginning to trickle into the mainstream marketplace. Research tells us that consumers are interested in many of these options but they just aren’t educated on the offerings or issues – nor do they have the time to explore what can be a rabbit-hole of complex claims. Going green is a desire, but as with the adoption of all new products, the basics of functionality , value, convenience, and efficiency in combination with the emotional drivers encompassed in the overarching product experience must break through the many rituals that make up our day. The introduction of green options via mobile platforms creates an interesting catalyst for expediting environmental awareness and the eco-behaviors that spark change – one activity at a time.

Mobile apps have caught fire (over 100,000 available to date) because of their ability to surprise and delight with convenience and most importantly, with very little commitment of time or money. The vast range of games, tools and information create a treasure trove of at-your-fingertips resources that make discovery fun and often create small efficiencies for mundane activities (like checking your bank account or purchasing necessities). The simplicity of these activities and proven utility creates a sort-of reliance and drives us to sample more apps. Functionality and fun become intertwined in the intuitiveness of the platform.
While Google’s introduction of Android and its accompanying app platform is less developed than iPhone’s, the competitive play has ensured that we are seeing only the beginning of the potential for mobile app utility as consumers are no longer bound to the Mac original. For mainstream business going green, the mobile platform has tremendous opportunity to generate trial and expand both consumer awareness and decision-making when it comes to green choices .
To take advantage of this platform, companies need to keep a few things in mind.

Customer first
First, they need to work from a customer-first strategy that considers both the consumer lifestyle, needs in the realm of green products and the brand relationship. The future of really smart green apps will reinforce brand and product expectations and deliver value with clever functionality that aligns with the current brand experience. The challenge for brands is to go deep inside the consumer mindset and then innovate based on the platform benefits. Think small, think singular occasion, think emotional connection – and then build on that. Change is not broad-sweeping, but starts with small and repetitive activities.

Think collaboratively
Second, companies should think collaboratively. Recent economic and political events have shown us that communities and partnerships are inspiring greater participation and thus creating spheres of influence (crowdsourcing, social networking, etc). Apps that consider and leverage cross-category or authoritative relationships (3rdWhale, GoodGuide) will drive credibility and trust. This will help in conquering one of the barriers to entry in the green category, which is the skepticism of company claims. As cultural values that embrace community welfare rise, we are placing greater trust in brands that are willing to align and support the common good.

Marketing integration
Companies should also integrate mobile initiatives into marketing programs in order to foster a more dynamic relationship with their customer. Providing distribution points for the apps (web sites), promoting usage (in-store, member benefits, loyalty programs) and leveraging press and editorial outlets create opportunities for these tools to grow virally. Simple availability of these apps is not enough to drive adoption, usage needs to be solicited and consumers need constant reminders and demonstrations of lifestyle applicability. Thoughtful marketing strategies can address this. And new versions of emerging apps like Foursquare may bring different technology platforms together to make incorporating many of the facets of green living choices fun.

The app marketplace is itself in its infancy. To wit, the current cataloguing of sustainable apps on iTunes and the iPhone directory is near non-existent but one has to believe this is ripe for an overhaul. With over 1.5 billion downloads, some refinement of the current directory seems warranted. And Android is only just getting started. Until then iPhone’s very large library of apps, which includes carbon trackers, video and documentary libraries, product comparison sites, energy management, health and safety, sustainable seafood and many more topics, will go largely un-leveraged.

With clever development of apps that keep consumer needs and behaviors in mind, the app market is poised to support consumer interest in making greener choices. Change starts with one easy green activity at a time. Staying focused on that simple, on-the-go education opportunity will prove invaluable as companies enter the green marketplace.

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