First, I’d like to thank Nevada EcoNet and REA250 for the opportunity to contribute an article to the special section of the Reno News & Review that was published today here in the Reno-Tahoe region. It’s really an honor to be considered worthy of this opportunity, and I hope my perspectives helped paint a good picture of our community and “green” brand marketing.
And so, here’s the article in it’s entirety:
Today’s consumers are increasingly socially conscious, with a growing concern to know if companies honestly treat employees fairly while doing their part to protect and save the environment. Brand values like social responsibility, benefit to the community, and “being green” are at the top of more shopping lists than ever. Not unsurprisingly, enthusiasts of technology are leading the way.
The recently published Forrester study titled Making The Case For Environmentally And Socially Responsible Consumer Products, a survey of over 5,400 U.S. adults were asked about their purchasing habits between April and May of 2008. Amazingly, 65% of those polled consumers confirmed they were “concerned about the environment or global warming.” This trend is up nearly 23% from a November 2007 study, which found that 53% percent of consumers were concerned about sustainability. In short order, business has been quick to leverage this social trending with products and marketing offers – some more successfully than others.
Today’s “green marketing” offers a unique set of challenges; the least of which is a prevalent lack of standards for identifying what it actually means to be a “green” product or company. In combination with the increase in consumer awareness, marketers are seeing a growing demand for eco-labeling, “green” advertising and the overall importance of reporting on sustainability and renewable energy oriented products and projects. This obviously has created a glut of misguided opportunities to nearly everything to be positioned as being “green”, from a minor packaging change to actual services and products that truly reduce energy and waste.
As so many new and old companies jump on the “do good” bandwagon, factions of green marketing have arisen — cause marketing, cause-related marketing, cause branding, conscious marketing, social good marketing and many other new ways of positioning brands within this growing market sector.
What binds this growing set of terms is simple: establishing your marketing efforts in a way that’s truly responsible. Often this can be misunderstood to mean aligning tactics with a cause, but it is certainly not limited to that description. It may also mean the responsible use of funds, reducing unnecessary print marketing materials, or not deploying a controversial ad that might benefit the company financially. Taking this effort a bit further might be easiest to simply call it “Ethical Marketing”.
This trending presents a unique challenge to green marketers like ourselves as products and messages become much more common, often resulting in great confusion in the marketplace. “Consumers do not really understand a lot about these issues, and there’s a lot of confusion out there,” says Jacquelyn Ottman (founder of J. Ottman Consulting and author of Green Marketing: Opportunity for Innovation.) Advantageous marketers can take advantage of this confusion by intentionally making false or exaggerated claims to being “green” – what we now know as “green washing”.
Mintel Reports completed a recent study noting that approximately 12% of consumers in the U.S. can be identified as “True Greens” – individuals who seek-out and regularly purchase so-called “green products”. With them, 68% can be thought of as “Light Greens” – those who buy green on occasion. “What chief marketing officers are always looking for is touch points with consumers, and this is just a big, big, big touch point that’s not being served,” says Mintel Research Director David Lockwood. “All the corporate executives that we talk to are extremely convinced that being able to make some sort of strong case about the environment is going to work down to their bottom line.
Given the obvious social and economic demand, how can companies honestly take advantage of today’s consciousness toward sustainability, renewable energy and ecology? I believe you have to do three things: Be Genuine, Educate Customers, and Offer Participation.
Being genuine simply means that you are doing what you claim in your green marketing campaign – and ensuring your business policies are consistent with your claim. Both of these elements must be met to establish valid credentials that allow the green campaign to succeed.
Educating customers is not simply letting the public know what you’re doing to protect the environment, but more importantly, letting them know why it matters. If education is not reason oriented for your target market, you’ll encounter a general “so what” response that will dash bottom-line results from the campaign.
Providing your customers with the opportunity to participate enables you to personalize your green initiatives — often by enabling the customer to take part in truly positive environmental action.
The lesson here is obvious and simple: you have to “walk the talk” and actually implement green policies and act in environmentally friendly ways for green marketing to work. If you do, you’ll create a powerful selling point with those who are environmentally and socially conscious and want to act to make the world a better place — a market that’s growing exponentially today.
“Green marketing” isn’t merely a catchphrase; it’s a marketing strategy that can help you get more customers and make more money. As in any marketing effort — the challenge is doing it right the first time.