If your company is like most others, you may feel a lot of peer pressure to hop on the green bandwagon. After all, green is the new black. On a surface level, for consumers, it has become a type of status symbol, and for manufacturers it is occasionally just a half-hearted public relations (PR) attempt. Whether the motives of consumers and manufacturers are truly altruistic, or if it’s mostly a matter of being politically correct, the marketplace is showing an increased interest in and demand for green, sustainable products and services.
No longer is this an isolated fad or trend targeting the hemp-wearing, sandal-footed, tie-dyed counterculture. Without a doubt, “going green" is mainstream. Like any new market trend, there are challenges in positioning product benefits in a meaningful and relevant way to consumers. And as if that wasn't a big enough challenge, now try to market green in an economy still in recovery.
What is Green or Sustainable?
Not only are there economic challenges to being green, but brand positioning faces barriers as well. Consumers are confused about what green means. They think green products are too expensive. They are skeptical about whether a product or a company is truly green. And they are concerned green products won’t taste as good as conventional products.
“Green" and even “sustainable" are fairly ambiguous terms. They are used loosely across the marketplace. Sometimes green is used purely as a PR tool. Faster than you can say “carbon footprint," myriad companies are pumping out reusable grocery bags with their logo and proudly announcing they’re suddenly a “green company." Nice beginning.
But try to grow a conscience if you’re one of “them" and look at the concept of green marketing from a broader perspective. There’s more to green than greenbacks. And most consumers are more informed and skeptical than you might think. Detailing negative fallout to companies that “green wash" or “guilt wash," an Ipsos Reid study reported 70 percent of Americans “strongly agree" companies selling green products are doing so merely as a marketing ploy.
In a perfect world, “green" essentially means better for the environment. This takes into consideration the entire manufacturing process from facilities and ingredients to packaging materials used. Because the term “green" is so broadly used, and at risk of becoming innocuous to the ever-vigilant consumer, there’s a definite need for greater definition and regulation of terms and categories in green marketing. Could green be the next “natural," a term that has lost all consumer credibility or relevance? Time will tell.
The U.S. government has stepped in to protect and maintain truth in advertising. Since 1992, FTC has been issuing guidelines called the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, or in a more sustainable and less bureaucratic use of language, The Green Guides. These guides are intended to help companies avoid claims that may be untrue or deceptive to consumers, not unlike the development of FDA guidelines for health claims.
Aside from a consensus on the definition of green, it’s important, as a company, to first ask if it makes business sense to go green. There, of course, is that nagging moral dilemma. Pesky morals aside, take a good look at the bottom line and the target audience. Do they really care? Sure, we wish everyone cared about the planet becoming a noxious landfill, but the reality is some people want good, inexpensive and reliable products, regardless of their impact on the planet. The positioning of a product as green may have no relevance to your customer.
The other consideration is whether being socially responsible is one of your company’s core values. If it doesn’t flow from an honest desire and commitment to help the environment, maybe it’s not for you.
10 Things to Keep in Mind About Green Marketing Efforts
- Be transparent. Let the consumer see who you are and why you are taking steps to be more socially responsible.
- Green messaging is better when it is more practical and less aspirational. We all want to save the world, but tell your customers what they can do today to make a difference.
- Green products must perform comparably—or better—than their less green counterparts. Being green alone is not enough.
- No amount of “green appeal" can make up for a bad tasting product. When it comes to food or beverages, taste is everything.
- Social media should be your primary conduit for green marketing outreach.
- Focus on communicating the “value" of buying green (quality).
- Tell your customers the story behind your sustainable innovations.
- Never forget most consumers are inclined to not trust what you say. Prove them wrong.
- Green consumers buy with their hearts as well as their heads. So, make both an emotional and rational appeal.
- Green is not black and white. Consumers embrace green and sustainable product benefits along a spectrum of acceptance. Some are more ready than others.
Jeff Hilton is the partner and co-founder of Integrated Marketing Group (imgbranding.com), a marketing and branding agency servicing a national and international clientele. He has been recognized by Advertising Age as one of Americas Top 100 Marketers and has more than 28 years of broad-based business experience, including 17 years spent within the natural health products industry with leading companies such as Natures Way and Nutraceutical Corp. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.