SECTION 2: THE EFFECTS OF COMPLYING TO SUBJECTIVE NORMS
In my research I used a modified version of the Theory of Planned Behavior to understand green consumer behavior in the outdoor sports industry better. The basic idea behind this psychological model is the following. Alongside previous authors, I argue that five different key factors influence an individual’s purchasing intention when making sustainable consumer decisions:
- Their positive or negative attitudes towards the effects of the specific buying decision, which consist of a function of (product-related) beliefs and expectations about the likelihood of their occurence (discussed in the previous blog);
- The positive or negative influence that significant others in the individuals social surroundings exert on the buying decision (the so-called “Subjective Norms” factor);
- The perceived lack of control about the behavior or obstacles that hinder the buying process (e.g. a lack of availability of sustainable clothing in local stores);
- A feeling of ethical obligation;
- The effects of green consumer self-identity or in this context, the influence a certain context-related measure of self-identity, called environmental identity has.
While “environmental identity” (measuring someone’s relatedness to nature) was the main variable I discussed in my thesis, subjective norms had also been part of the model but received less attention. Therefore, this blog entry is giving some further inside about the results regarding the influence of the social world everybody is embed in.
Descriptive results: Subjective Norms
This factor consisted of 8 variables. All eight were multiplied by their likelihood of occurrence. What does this mean? First, respondents were asked about the subjective norms of other people (close to them) or institutions. Secondly, they had to rate “How big the respective group’s influence on your decision is and how well they would listen to it.” The two variables were then multiplied e.g. your family is rather green, +3, and you are very likely to listen to them, +7, your maximum score with the highest potential influence on your purchasing decision in this context would be 21.
How likely is it that the following groups think you should purchase environmentally friendly outerwear?
‘very unlikely’ (-3) to ‘very likely’ (+3)
- Close friends
- Family members
- Your partner (e.g. spouse or boy-/girlfriend)
- Green outerwear producers
- Environmental organizations (e.g. environmental groups, etc.)
- Retailers who stock environmentally friendly products
- Peer-group in your sport
Please indicate, how much, in general, you want to do what the following groups think you should do…
Not at all (+1) to very much (+7)
Discussion of the results
As can be observed above, although the absolute range for individual respondents goes from -21 to +21, the average ranges between -1.2 for “co-workers” and +6.9 for “environmental organisations”. The results are clearly split in two distinct groups:
- Green institutions or organisations (an obvious example: It’s very likely (+3) that Patagonia wants you to make sustainable consumption choices, but the average consumer is “not really” (+2) willing to comply)
- Significant others in your social environment (another example: your “partner” cares about environmentally friendly consumptions choices (+1) and the average consumer is more likely to listen to what their beloved one says (+4) than any 3rd party)
Interestingly, the above results show that, for the average consumer, the effect of green institutions or organisations on consumer purchase intentions might be relatively high. But it suffers from the fact that most people are more likely to comply with subjective norms of significant others, they live in close relationship with.
Ok, this was obvious, so we need to find out who consumers in the outdoor sports market actually listen to! Thus, we need to dig a little bit deeper into the data. So here comes what’s really interesting. I split the 243 valid responses into two extreme groups differentiating by the overall participating frequency in several outdoor sports:
- Group 1 – very low or no participation in outdoor sports (49 cases)
- Group 2 – extremely high participation frequency in multiple outdoor sports (57 cases)
There was a significant difference between the two groups in terms of social influence by significant others. Group 2, the individuals with very high outdoor sports affiliation were a lot more likely to listen to the “peer group in their sport” (4.00 compared to 5.16, sign. level .000) and to “green outerwear producers” (3.57 compared to 4.33, sign. level .037). There was no significant difference in terms of any other group of significant others (at the 0.05 significance level).
Practical implication for marketeers
What does this imply? This finding, amongst others in this marketing research project, shows that outdoor sports enthusiasts are a rather special target group when marketing functional outerwear or clothing. Participants of specific action or outdoor sports like snowboarding or climbing identify to a higher degree with the peer group in their sports. Moreover, the high level of identification between customer and brand (here, being the producers of green outerwear) within this market is an indicator that outdoor or boardsports companies’ trustworthy green messages are more likely to be heard than in other areas.
Two important conclusions arise from these results. Firstly, it becomes a little clearer why outdoor sports companies are leaders in the textile industry when it comes to sustainability. This might not only be due to the fact that the industry is relatively small and therefore more flexible. Individuals working in the industry are usually characterized by a strong connectedness to nature. This potentially affects decision-makers in top management positions as well as consumers. Which leads us to the second conclusion, to affect the decision-making process of consumers, tightly knit into their peer group, working with opinion leaders of each market segment to sway preferences more successfully is likely to be a successful measure.
In terms of simply sponsoring athletes this concept is as old as the first skaters that started to be covered with advertising in the late 70s. In regard to spreading the green message and raising interest in the positive effects of sustainable consumer behavior, this idea is also starting to thrive in the action sports industry. Icons and highly decorated athletes, like American Jeremy Jones in backcountry freeriding (Jones Snowboards), vegetarian Nicolas Müller in freestyle snowboarding or legendary Norwegian Terje Haakonsen, an advocate of organic food, who owns his own food store in Oslo and cares about the carbon footprint of his Arctic Challenge snowboarding event, have the potential to reach out to many, many of their fans. Examples from other sports, especially in climbing, exist just as often. Thus, building a sustainable marketing strategy around trustworthy and respected “changemakers” that lead the way could considered one interesting way to change consumer behavior step by step. Apart from companies with a sustainable corporate strategy, the athletes themselves should also realize their own potential to make a significant difference. Last but not least, producers of green functional outerwear or sustainable clothing from the outdoor sports industry should expand their first mover advantage – the engagement into sustainability will be especially valued by the nature-related outdoor sports target group.
More insights about the effects of a high outdoor sports participation frequency on environmental identity will follow in Part 2, which is coming soon. Stay tuned…
You agree, disagree? Wanna know more? Drop a comment!