To the Chinese, Tao means "The Way." A recent Google search for the phrase, "Saving the planet one [whatever] at a time" revealed more than 17 million responses, with everything from saving the planet "one flush at a time" to "one hanger at a time" to "one bag, one shower, one burger, one carpet, one idea..." You get the idea.
Obviously, if you want to get your green message heard, responded to, and acted on, saving the planet one "whatever" at a time is not The Way to do it.
The New York Times reported that consumers have begun to suffer from "green fatigue." It's not hard to understand why when you can buy organic gummy bears and free-range beef jerky nestled between the six-packs and the rolling paper in a convenience store.
For your green message to be heard and translated into sales, you have to make your message relevant not only to the fate of the planet but also to the fate of the people living on it.
The question is, How?
The answers to that marketing dilemma, Grasshopper, are as follows.
1. Spell green with three E's
The first "E" is for ecology, which is obvious because that's where the green market was born. Saving the spotted owl, the rain forest, and the whales are all hugely important. But that is just the tip of the melting iceberg. In today's environment, the green message and movement need to be much more to make a difference on a planetary level.
The second "E" is for economy. That might not seem so obvious, because not being perceived as economical is one of the barriers to green-product purchasing. The truth is that a green product's economic advantages can and should be spoken about, even though sometimes those economic advantages are hidden.
What is the cost to a family's health from conventional, often harsh, cleaning products and paints? The off-gassing of toxins into your home's inner environment can cause allergic reactions and lead to an increase in asthma and other respiratory issues. In other words, get personal when explaining economic advantages.
Swaddlebees, a manufacturer of organic cloth diapers based in Knoxville, Tenn. (and a client of ours), communicates that its diapers not only minimize eco-damage but also can save a family more than $2,000 per child from birth through potty training. When ecology meets economy—that's really the bottom line.
The third "E" is for efficacy. Green doesn't just have to do good, it also has to work well. Only the most zealous greens among us will sacrifice product performance for ecological advantage. In short, the majority of people will buy your product when you move it from a cause to a because: Because it works.
2. Know that all greens are not alike
It's important not to rely on sweeping generalities about the green consumer. They are not monolithic. They come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, and economic groups, making them more of a psychographic than a demographic. A survey by the American Association of Retired Persons found that 62% of people 55 and over buy green products. They're actually the largest audience for green products. Go figure.
Here's a breakdown of the shades of green consumers:
- Deep Greens (DGs) are the most environmentally active segment of the market and the most willing to pay a premium for green products. They're going green no matter what. DGs represent about 19% of the US population.
- Where green meets the mainstream is where you'll find the Medium Greens (MGs). Consider them the middle of the roaders. They embrace environmentalism more slowly. But they will go green if it makes sense to their personal lifestyle and if they see the results of what they do. Efficacy is paramount with MGs.
- Light Greens (LGs) are the agnostics of the green world. They have a wait-and-see attitude. LG's will buy the notion but will buy the products only if they work within their budgets and in their homes. They make up 16% of the US population.
Make sure you know whom you are talking to before you start talking.
3. Educate, educate, educate
The more your customers understand why what you do is important in their lives, the more likely they will remain your customers. It's hard to sell nontoxic cleaning products to consumers if they don't understand what's wrong with toxic cleaning products in the first place.
In helping an environmental paint-and-flooring company educate consumers about the hazards of indoor air pollution (which the Environmental Protection Agency says is 2-20 times worse than outdoor air pollution), we created a marketing campaign called "Beauty Without the Beast."
First we focused on the reason people paint in the first place: to beautify their homes. We highlighted the company's wide selection of beautiful shades of paint and flooring. Then we drove the point home by sprinkling throughout the company's product catalog educational messages such as "A baby crawling on a conventional carpet inhales the equivalent of four cigarettes a day." (Source: Scientific American magazine). When this catalog dropped, the company's sales climbed 63%.
Education is everything.
4. Value their values
By definition, green consumers are values-driven consumers. So telling them about your company's values speaks to their values. Let them know about your "Way" of doing business, how you treat your employees, the safety of your working conditions, what your carbon footprint is and your plans to reduce it. Those are the messages that tell them you are the kind of company they want to do business with.
The mission statement of Patagonia, the outdoor equipment and clothing maker based in Ventura, Calif., is to "build make the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." One way that Patagonia puts its mission where its mouth is is by implementing a self-imposed "earth tax," which founder Yvon Chouinard says is owed to the earth for being a polluter and user of the planet's nonrenewable resources.
More recently, the company created The Footprint Chronicles, an interactive mini website that allows you to track the impact of Patagonia products from design through delivery—with descriptions under the headings "The Good," "The Bad," and "What We Think." The company's transparency speaks to the value of honesty. The result: a company you can trust.
A recent study of the green market found that 77% of people say they can make a positive difference by purchasing products from a socially responsible company. Be one of those companies, and your customers will be one with you.
5. Be relevant
Who does not want to reverse global warming? But there was nothing like the price of gasoline at $4 a gallon to turn up the volume on climate control and drive the sales of hybrids through the roof. Keep that in mind, and bring your message down to earth.
When introducing a new line of nontoxic paints for children's rooms and nurseries, we created a series of advertisements for our paint client. One headline read, "There really is a monster in your child's room," referring to the off-gassing of toxic paints, rugs, and cleaning products that are commonly used in children's bedrooms and throughout the home. That's not only relevant but also immediate. And what moms or dads could know that and not change their purchasing habits?
When you remind consumers that the one environment they have control over is the one they live and work in, when their health and the health of their families is the issue on the table, when ecology meets logic at the pump, green becomes not merely relevant but, for most of us, vital.
6. Don't be a me-tooer
Don't be the 10th version of something that nine others have already done. Don't get stuck on the notion that all you need is a soft shade of green and a tree or two on your package to market your green product. Those days are over.
We were keynoters at a recent trade convention. The theme was how to market green pest-control products successfully. To our dismay, the message delivered over and over was "Use some earth tones on your brochure and print it on recycled paper and that'll do it." The better message would have been, "It's green and it works," or, even better, "It works and it's green."
The bottom line is that it's not good enough anymore to just be green; you have to be great. Great products—like great people—deliver beyond expectation. Ask yourself whether what you've thought of is truly an original idea. Does it do its job better, more economically, and more efficiently with less ecological impact? Is it positioned better, packaged better? Does it communicate its unique promise of value better? If you can answer yes to those questions, then say yes to your product. If you can't, then go back to the drawing board.
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Green is not going away soon. But your product or service will if it doesn't break through the green clutter. It's simple, but not necessarily easy. To begin, follow those green-marketing guidelines one... er... point at a time, and you are on your Way.