Changing consumer behavior was and still is Unilever’s Holy Grail. Helping consumers become more environmentally conscious is vital for the success of the company’s bold Sustainable Living Plan. Given that consumers’ use of Unilever products equals 68 percent of the company’s carbon footprint, and it is mainly due to their electricity and water usage habits, Unilever won’t be able to reduce its footprint by half by 2020 without a little help from its customers.
So it’s no wonder the company is utilizing creative tools to find how to help consumers make more sustainable choices – from crowdsourcing to conducting the first ever UK shower study to monitoring actual shower behavior. The latest tool the company is adding to this list is none other than Carrotmob. Last week the company announced a new partnership with the advocacy group Carrotmob to develop campaigns “that deepen consumer engagement, generate brand loyalty based on values and redefine global sustainability.”
This is a very interesting collaboration, but maybe the most fascinating question about it is whether Carrotmob can deliver the goods for Unilever – can it help the company find its Holy Grail?
Carrotmob is a new way of positive activism, organizing consumers to vote with their wallets for businesses that are ready to take steps to become more sustainable. It has been mostly involved so far in local campaigns with small businesses, and only tried lately, as we reported last week, to scale up its attempts, working with Thanksgiving Coffee in a global coffee campaign that ended last month.
So the partnership with Unilever is Carrotmob’s second attempt to work globally and on a much greater scale, though it is much bigger this time. “Over the next year, Carrotmob and Unilever’s product portfolio will work together to explore and develop various campaigns that support Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan…Over the next year, Unilever portfolio brands will partner with Carrotmob to execute campaigns that encourage environmentally or socially responsible actions,” Carrotmob reported on its website.
The Carrotmob campaigns with Unilever’s brands are supposed to work in a similar way to Carrotmob’s other campaigns – Carrotmobbers will be asked to buy products of Unilever brands, which in return will commit to take a sustainable action. This is just a general scheme and it looks like both Carrotmob and Unilever are still looking for new ideas for the campaign.
While this collaboration seems to make sense for Carrotmob, since the company wants to scale up its successful model, the question is what value it can generate for Unilever? One way to look at it would be to analyze it through the behavior change model that Unilever developed, Five Levers of Change.
The model outlines five techniques to apply when looking to encourage new behaviors, based on five key insights. Let’s see to what extent the collaboration with Carrotmob can benefit Unilever with each one of these Levers. For each of the Levers we included the level of benefit for Unilever.
1. Make it understood – “this Lever raises awareness and encourages acceptance.” Here the collaboration can certainly benefit Unilever, assisting to increase the awareness to its sustainable plan and products among Carrotmobbers as well as consumers who follow this movement or get exposed to the news about the collaboration. Benefit level – medium-high.
2. Make it easy – “people are likely to take action if it’s easy, but not if it requires extra effort. This Lever establishes convenience and confidence.” I’m not sure how much this collaboration can assist in making the purchase of Unilever products easier. Benefit level – low.
3. Make it desirable – “The new behavior needs to fit with how people like to think of themselves, and how they like others to think of them. This Lever is about self and society.” The collaboration can help make Unilever’s products more desirable within a certain group of consumers, although it’s not clear how large this group is. Benefit level – low-medium.
4. Make it rewarding - “New behaviors need to articulate the tangible benefits that people care about.” It’s not clear if Carrotmobbers will be rewarded in any way other than the satisfaction of being part of a change movement, but this might be enough to make it worthwhile for some people. Benefit level – low.
5. Make it a habit – “once consumers have changed, it is important to create a strategy to help hold the behavior in place over time. This Lever is about reinforcing and reminding.” Unilever hopes, of course, that purchases of its products will become a habit even after the campaigns are over, but it’s still not clear if this will be the case and, if so, for how many consumers. Benefit level – low.
In all it looks like the collaboration can benefit Unilever, although unless it can find a way to make many more people enthusiastic about these campaigns, the results will probably be quite limited. Yet, when it comes to finding the Holy Grail, it seems that Unilever will have to continue to look for creative ways to find it.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and the New School, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development.