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Ecology of PR: The Interaction of Consumers with Their Environment

Posted At: May 23, 2011 10:49 AM
by Victoria Corley

Our culture’s relationship with nature has evolved into a multibillion-dollar business. Americans have come to accept and rely upon the idea that a product or a brand is closely connected to the environment. Eager to sell nature to the American consumer, marketers have generated the man-made phenomenon of using natural images to sell a product, brand or organization. This concept is known as bio-mimic marketing.

As Americans, it is engrained in our being to buy, and some may argue that bio-mimic marketing is a trend that companies are using to sell products. A good example of this is a recent AT&T commercial that manipulates an object found in nature to make cell phones more appealing to consumers.

The American consumer is more conscious than ever about products and services that a company is selling. Still, one enjoys feeling satisfied with making a “good” purchase. Consumers want to feel healthy, buy organic, give back to Mother Earth or just feel trendy. Marketers know this desire and use nature to provoke our “buying senses.”

What is bio-mimic marketing?

Bio-mimic marketing is a title used to classify explosive trends in marketing that have developed in the past decade. The idea of turning nature into a unique selling point has brought the phrases “go green” and “naturally made” to the forefront of marketing, advertising and public relations.

Keelie Segars, account director at Intermark Group Public Relations, companies are seeing a potential profit in branding themselves or their products as “green.”

“Larger corporations are now conducting market research to see how following the green trend affects purchase decisions,” Segars said. “They are looking at the green aspects of their products and beginning to talk about them more.”

For example, the largest professional lawn care provider in the nation, TruGreen. TruGreen, originally Chemlawn, changed its name to appeal to a more eco-friendly and greener consumer. Even though the company still uses chemicals and pesticide for lawn care, the company changed its brand from one that indicated the use of chemicals, to one that projects a more eco-friendly image.

Consumers buy “organic”

Arguably, the claim to be “organic” or “natural” is one of the most convincing forms of bio-mimic marketing, and consumers fall for it every day. Think eco-tomatoes, bottled mineral water from a natural wellspring, organic shampoo and biological meat.

According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, “natural” was the number one claim on new product packaging last year, appearing on 23 percent of newly launched food and beverage products. Even Frito-Lay has incorporated the label “all-natural” into its classic potato chips.

Marketers also use nature as an aesthetic; taking a product that has a very weak link to nature and using imagery from nature to appeal to consumers can be seen in different types of brands. Apple consciously incorporated the perception of nature by using an apple as its logo. Dubai followed this trend by artificially creating islands that are more attractive and have a higher market value due to their distinctive palm-tree shape.

Part of bio-mimic marketing is convincing consumers to buy into the idea of the “natural feeling” associated with a particular brand or product. There is a notion of nature as something refreshing, delightful and soothing. When those feelings are associated with a product like a hair dye that will transform brunettes into natural blondes, we buy it.

Rebranding to appear more “trendy”

As these trends become more effective at influencing consumers to buy, the need for PR professionals to work with companies on branding will increase.

When a company decides to rebrand itself to follow a trend like “going green,” it can be more dangerous than effective, explained Fitting Group’s Creative Director Travis Norris. Companies should stay current and respond to market changes (aka trends). They should explore trends with careful planning and strategy without endangering their brands.

Noris said that it is trendy to be green, and important to tap into the ideas that are strong in the consumers minds, but agrees rebranding around one idea is dangerous.

Segars recognizes the importance of supporting a client’s drive to stay current and respond to market trends, but doing so without completely abandoning its original brand.

“If you know your brand and you’re careful planning your strategy, most clients can effectively explore trends without endangering their brand,” Segars said. It is vital to use the endorsement of PR to get consumer to see your brand as the real thing.

Liz Bishop, account manager at Intermark Group Public Relations, believes a “brand is one of the most valuable elements that a company owns.” It is the role of the PR professional to ensure that the company’s brand resides within the hearts and minds of customers and prospects. With bio-mimic marketing, sometimes the marketing tactics like the go-green approach is not always received as genuine.

With the “going green” trend, more companies have begun to realize the advantage of appearing more environmentally conscious to their consumers, but there is a concern that the green effort be real and meaningful.

“You can’t just claim to be environmentally friendly or green and not deliver on the promise,” Bishop said.

Carly Rullman, account coordinator at Scout Branding Company, said when working with clients who are looking to brand themselves as green to appeal to consumers, Scout Branding asks the question, “Is there an environmental story?” From there, the company should work on reflecting its initiatives or efforts to be green in media and print. Completely changing a brand to seem more green is not always the best route to take when reaching consumers.

No matter the trend, it is vital for an organization to stay true to who the company is when branding it. Rullman said the bottom line to branding is to be sure everything is in line with the client’s personality, philosophy, products and service.

“It’s not your logo; a logo is a reminder,” Rullman said. “Your brand is not what you say it is, but what they say it is. Branding is not a science with hard-and-fast rules … it’s not a project with a beginning and an end.”

The goal of branding is simple: To delight customers so more people buy more things for more years at higher prices, and bio-mimic marketing seems to be doing just that.

Photo by Ghaya Alghaya

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