Target Green

Q & A: Paul Walker, Cohn & Wolfe/ GCI Group

GCI (which announced last week that it had merged with Cohn & Wolfe) recently released its first global study of IT decision-makers and found that some regions and companies still need to be convinced to carry a green message. Paul Walker, the agency’s EVP of digital media, talked to Target Green about the survey and the agency’s proposed next steps.

Target Green: What prompted you to do this study?

Paul Walker: We felt like there was a lot of money being spent in green by enterprise IT brands. But a lot of them were asking questions about how strategic to be and whether they were going to get a return, and whether it was sustainable.

TG: What were you ultimately trying to learn from the survey?

Walker: The question was, is there a profit potential for green products in the IT space?  We wanted to get a global perspective on that because our hypothesis was that this was not a one-size fits all question or market. The way that someone looks at the environment in North America is wildly different to how they might look it in China, India, or Italy.

So, we knew there were some global considerations that really weren’t being taken into account because of lack of research. We wanted to be able to create a roadmap to being successful by understanding the executives that are more open to green products and what media channels are best to reach them. And we found executives that are more open to the green message and more willing to adopt green products do depend on different channels to get their information.

TG: Your findings were not a one size fits all, but was there a consistent thread of information for those in green IT?

Walker: First, there is a great opportunity here. Clearly, companies in different markets around the world are willing to pay a premium for green products. If you get really smart about how you go after those markets there is a chance for a company to increase its profits from its green offerings.

But the PR function has to work very closely with the chief marketing officer and the entire marketing department to exploit it. This is partially because of point number two - “one size fits all” doesn’t work. We see a lot of technology brands try to do dry, global, green programs that are really North American-centric. But the payoff will only come if the companies get really smart about how they implement these as global campaigns. For example, India is hot. India is open to green products and they are willing to pay a significant premium for those.

TG: The survey finds that nearly 25% of Germans believe buying “green” products has no real impact on the environment, generally twice that of any other country. Because Germany is often considered a green-friendly market, did these results surprise you?

Walker: Well, in Germany is where the green bar is set. They’ve legislated so many green standards and companies have to meet so many requirements that those in German market have just come to expect that if you’re going to do business in Germany you’re going to [have to meet stringent requirements]. But Germans don’t feel like they should have to pay for it because it’s a way of life. I think Germany might foreshadow the way this practice goes over time. Eventually brands and companies in various countries are going to come to expect that you’re living up to certain green standards.

TG: The survey indicated that in some instances price was listed as the biggest barrier to green. What does that tell us from a communications perspective?

Walker: What that tells us from a communications and marketing standpoint is your message better communicate the return on green. I think brands today aren’t sufficiently and clearly communicating not only the benefits of a green products, but also what is the clear economic benefit.

TG: The study says that although companies like Apple, HP, Microsoft, IBM, Intel, Sony, and Dell were frequently associated with green, there is no clear leader in this space. What is the PR opportunity here?

Walker: The companies on top are going to have to continue to invest to maintain those positions. But clearly, we think these are the companies that get the most strategic about green and really attack the markets that are going to be the most open to green markets – especially those that are willing to pay the premium. Also, for the most part, the C-suite is more open to green messages than the IT managers or IT analysts, but there are some exceptions. So if you want to get the message out, you have to target the C-suite.

TG: Are there any other studies in the works?

Walker: There was actually so much richness in the findings that we had to decide what to focus on. But one thing we learned was we should have dripped this into the marketplace more slowly. We’re doing a consumer electronics survey next and we’re going to drip feed that one rather than cover it in one announcement. We are going to do this on a periodic basis because we think this will be a quick changing market. We are soliciting additional questions as we speak and some other brands have asked to be included in this study.

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