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May 9, 2008

A New Rating System?

Brenda Haines | Customer Experience DesignA few days ago, Jaimy and Seth Godin raised questions about marketers’ bandwagon devotion to green causes around Earth Day.

Rather than just being part of the hype, Godin suggests marketers develop a useful green rating system that would work somewhat like the energy-star rating system for appliances. Here’s an excerpt:

Here’s what’s missing: a number. When you buy a fridge, there’s a big yellow sticker with a number about relative energy consumption. Now, we could argue all day long about how to figure out the right number (should the number on the fridge include data about the amount of energy needed to make the fridge in the first place?) but an imperfect number sure seems better than no number at all.

Drive to Philadelphia: 150.
Take Amtrak: 22.

Stick with the lightbulbs you have throughout your whole house until they burn out: 175.
Replace them all now with something better: 142.

It’s true. When we make a buying decision, we already have one number in front of us: the price. The genius in this idea is that it puts another number into the mix: the cost.

Now, let me plant another seed. (No ‘Earth Day’ pun intended.) What if, as marketers, we figured out a way to take that idea one step further? What if the rating system moved beyond green to sustainable?

That way, we’d know whether the coffee we’re buying is grown organically AND the growers are paid a fair wage AND the proceeds fund a school for girls.

I was thinking about this last night, while standing in the grocery store baking aisle. In front of me sat a bag of flour, with a label that read:

100% organically grown.
100% employee owned company.
100% livable wages.

It wasn’t an objective rating. There was no way to verify the claims. My assumption was that the language was designed to help explain the reason this flour cost 2.5 times the cost of another bag.

What intrigued me, though, is that it moved something that is normally a commodity purchase to a new decision-making realm. Every shopper knows exactly what they are buying with that bag.

Not perfect. But, it definitely takes transparency to a new level.

What is it about your products that consumers should know? Are you telling them right on the label?