Advice to Green Marketers: Forget About Green

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For all the energy dedicated to the growth of the green consumer market, there’s an enormous bias, both overt and unexpressed, against sustainable/responsible products.

People are predisposed to see greener as being more expensive and less effective. And in my mind, some of it is justified, with companies that lean too hard on the crutch of green, neglecting quality, durability and efficacy.

Though LOHAS evangelists would have you think otherwise (and I would like to think otherwise), there is still not a majority percentage of the population that actively, regularly chooses green in their purchases. At least, not without external motivation. They may have the expressed desire and passion (see: every study ever published on the habits of green consumers., but how do you turn that passion into action?

Definitely not by guilt. The surest path to resistance is to attempt to shame people into action. This is literally not sustainable marketing.

People also have a fear of separating from the flock, being dragged into knowing about and having to pay attention to issues they don’t fully understand and more importantly do not directly impact their lives. At the risk of sounding overly cynical, dying polar bears and honeybees, though massively important, is not a way to get the average consumer’s business.

Brand loyalty also cannot be dismissed, as the familiarity of a product can have a calcifying effect on people’s ability and willingness to consider other options.

So what can you do as a green company to effectively compete with the other, often much larger and less-green competitors? Without the burden of the extra steps necessary to create a product sustainably and responsibly, traditional manufacturers are free to produce on a mass scale, freeing a much larger portion of their budget to dedicate to marketing.

It’s simple, but perhaps not so simply done. Forget about green for a minute and focus on quality and/or price. Preferably both.

That’s basic advice, but it’s not always intuitive to those in the green space — who rightfully view their unique market differentiation as sustainability. And depending on what you make, price parity is a potentially difficult proposition. But in order to even be on the radar of a large percentage of the population, it’s an absolute must.

Green cleaning leader, and TerraCycle partner, Method, provides a great example of this being a successful model. Though slightly more expensive than a standard cleaner, their high quality and small price premium have made them a massive mainstream success at Target and other major retailers.

Now, by introducing a refill pack (which can be recycled for free through a new TerraCycle Brigade) they have driven their cost down while also reducing their packaging weight. They’ve managed a nifty trifecta: They’ve made their high-quality product cheaper, reduced their packaging costs, and given shoppers a way to feel good about their green purchases.

While in most cases, you won’t be able to compete on scale and reach, you can still focus on making a product that is equal to or superior to the other options, and that difference can be made apparent to the average shopper (who, once again, is not really predisposed to seeking sustainable options), allowing you to take that market share you need.

The hardest part may be that you’ll have to step back from your green story, and let the experience, the results and the efficacy of product be what leads — and the green aspects become icing, but not the proverbial cake.

You may also want to employ a tactic TerraCycle uses still to this day: Interact with potential customers directly.

Having myself spent time in many dozens of stores all over the northeastern U.S., it’s an invaluable exercise, in part because it gives you the chance to actually demonstrate your product to actual potential customers. But you also get real-world, immediate feedback, questions and ideas that like would never make it back to you at company HQ, and can help point out obstacles that you hadn’t even considered.

Readers: Where and how have you effectively made the case for your green products to non-green inclined consumers? Where are you hitting roadblocks? Let us know in the comments, or by email.

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