Marketing and Comms
AT&T’s Experiment with Sustainable Marketing Messages

As the increasing number of sustainability initiatives from some of today’s leading brands is demonstrating, the market for sustainable products and services is growing rapidly. The impact of a product or service on communities, on societies and on the environment is being given increasing consideration by today’s and tomorrow’s consumers. If that consideration can be converted into increased sales for sustainable products and services, it’s good news both for companies and for the planet. But what’s the best way to market sustainability benefits?

At AT&T, we’ve given a lot of thought to this question. So, last year, we joined four other brands from BSR’s Sustainable Lifestyles Frontier Group (SLFG) in conducting active research into the effectiveness of sustainability marketing techniques.

AT&T’s experiment involved an online survey of 800 participants to see what features of a security and home automation service were most appealing. Our pool included both current users of systems manufactured by competing brands, and people without any system but interested in purchasing home security or home automation. Each group was shown one of three options: the “core description” (control message), which emphasized control, convenience and security; the “core description plus a benefits message,” which highlighted energy savings and implied cost savings; or the “core description plus a sustainability message,” which added a focus on reducing the personal environmental footprint and helping to protect the environment.

What did we find? As set out in our report:

  • Consumers are interested in energy conservation, which was viewed as the second most important attribute after security and control. This may be due to the fact that consumers understand the potential monetary savings resulting from more efficient use of home energy systems, making it beneficial to explicitly promote the opportunity for monetary savings when marketing any energy conservation product or service that has this potential.
  • Adding a sustainability component did not significantly lower the attractiveness of the product, although it did not increase it, either. The core description (emphasizing control, convenience and security) generated the highest response overall.
  • Explicit appeals to potential reductions in the carbon footprint of consumers did not generate increased appeal – partly, perhaps, because our target audience is well-versed in these arguments.

Overall, our experiment suggested that primary benefits of the product itself must remain at the heart of primary messaging. Safety and conservation of energy (linked to monetary savings) are key messages for current or potential users of home automation or home security systems, but sustainability messaging may add value.

The bottom line: Environmental considerations are not dismissed by consumers — far from it. Our experiment with the SLFG encourages us in the belief that consumers are responsive to sustainability messaging, provided that the core offering remains as strong as always.


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