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The Rules of "Green" Marketing

by Jacquelyn A. Ottman  |  
January 31, 2006

If you think your customer isn't concerned about environmental issues, or won't pay a premium for products that are more eco-responsible, think again. You may just find an opportunity to enhance your product's performance and strengthen your customer's loyalty—and command a higher price.

Like all new products, green products have had their share of whoppers: remember General Motors' EV1 electric car? Hefty's photodegradable trash bags? Earthlight compact fluorescent light bulbs? All these were doomed to the "green graveyard" for refusing to address one of the key rules of green marketing success: balance environmental issues with primary customer needs.

Happily, for every product that's failed there are many others that incorporated the lessons of good green marketing and achieved success. What did the losers fail to do? What did the winners do differently? Here's how you can incorporate those lessons to uncover a potent new source of opportunity for your own business.

The Rules of Green Marketing

The first rule of green marketing is the first of rule of marketing: Focus on customer benefits—i.e., the primary reason consumers buy certain products in the first place. Keep in mind that environmental benefits are important to consumers, but they are not the primary reason for all but "deep green" consumers' preferring one product over another; so treat them as good, value-added secondary benefits.

Next, keep in mind that for green marketing to work, it is important that customers...

  • Be aware of and concerned about the environmental issues that your product addresses. (Polls suggest that consumers are segmented around issues of personal health and wellness, resource conservation, and wildlife protection.)

  • Feel that by using your product they will make a difference, as one consumer or in concert with all other consumers. This is called "empowerment."

  • Believe your claims. This is true not only for businesses in general, it's especially true for green businesses, where claims are often intangible and a history of misleading claims has left a negative legacy for legitimate companies.

  • Feel your product will work as well as non-green alternatives. This reflects lingering misperceptions from the days when natural laundry detergents left clothes dingy, and fluorescent light bulbs sputtered.

  • Can afford any premiums. Some can't afford premiums for any kind of product, green or not. Of course, the more you offer, the more consumers may be willing to pay.

Shedding Light on Lifecycle Benefits

Philips Lighting's first shot at marketing a standalone compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb was as clumsy as the funny-looking bulb that didn't fit most lamps. To boot, its "EarthLight" name confused consumers. (I thought it was some type of plant light.) And at $15 each versus 75 cents for incandescent bulbs, Earth Light couldn't climb out of its deep green niche.

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Jacquelyn A. Ottman is president of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., advisers to industry on green marketing and eco-innovation. She is the author of Green Marketing: Opportunity for Innovation. Contact her via (

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  • by Count DaMoney Thu Jan 29, 2009 via web

    This is very true with most eco-friendly products. It should be an added benefit to the customer, but not the sole reason why they buy it.

    People will likely choose one product over another if it doesn't harm the environment (being that both products are relatively the same)

  • by manoj Wed Sep 16, 2009 via web

    it is a vary nice article.


  • by ritu rana,hoshiarpur,punjab Wed Jun 2, 2010 via web

    After read this whole article or ottman book m geting fan of this article.yeah consumer is the most important factor in our market.because in the coming time green products are going to ecome neccesity of evry consumer.along with a time consumer green product consumption is very important & should have to accept by all buddies.other wise we all are going in a dark era.

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