Breakthrough Branding for Today’s Green Market
It was Super Bowl Sunday 2004 when Sesame Street’s beloved Kermit the Frog declared “It’s Easy Being Green” in a TV commercial for Ford’s new hybrid, the Escape. Life was good, and green was growing at super speed. You couldn’t pick up a magazine or browse a bookstore without seeing a marketing message on how to “Go Green in 5 Easy Steps”. Then it happened. The 2008 economic nose dive. I remember seeing the fear in faces of the green business owners at a conference I was presenting at in San Francisco. Would green go south? Or was Advertising Age right when it said green business “defies the economic downturn”?
Sorry to say that Ad Age was a bit too optimistic about our industry. We did take a hit and there was definitely a green fall out in the business community. However, smart green marketers that were savvy to the motivations of their customers shifted their marketing messages from saving the planet to saving the people. Many called that shift “Me first, planet later”. Boy, did that create a rift in the green biz community.
The truth is if you want to “greenstream” your product or service, you need to go beyond the choir and bring your message from the planetary to the personal. That means if you want to reach mainstream America, you need to dig deep into their real motivations for going green. Rarely, it’s about saving the polar bears (sorry, Nissan).
Know Your Tribe
Before developing your marketing strategy, first you have to know who you are selling to. What’s your target market and what are their values? Their motivations? This may seem like a duh, but I can’t tell you how often I see misplaced marketing messages. So let’s start here…
The consumer base is made up of what I call Shades of Green. Deep Greens (19% of US population) are the most environmentally active segment of the market. They are the most willing to pay a premium for green products and are more forgiving when it comes to efficacy. Medium Greens (33% of US population) embrace environmentalism, but more slowly. They are practical and like to see the results of what they do, so are more likely to buy green products that make sense in the long run. Light Greens (16% of US population) are generally unconcerned about environmental issues. They have a “wait and see” attitude and will only buy green products if they are economically equal, or better yet less than conventional products and services. After all, shouldn’t green cost less if you are using less ingredients/supplies/parts?
Knowing your target market will go a long way in understanding what market segment you need to reach and how to craft meaningful messages to reach them. It is important to ask, “Who are you really talking to? How much do they know? What’s important to them?” Positive Energy Solar, a leading solar installer in New Mexico, did their branding homework and found that there remains a perception amongst New Mexico consumers that solar is too expensive and too complicated to be easily implemented. In spite of their new and highly competitive financing options, this perception of a price-barrier lingered amongst potential clients. With a segmented market serving five very distinct geographic locations—Santa Fe, Taos, Los Alamos, Albuquerque, and Las Cruces—we knew the ad campaign and media strategy would need to be diverse, but also highly focused. We cut to the heart of the matter with the branding campaign and tag line: “It Pays to be Positive” and created a series of print advertisements and digital communications such as “See the Light!” and “Get the Sun Without the Burn”.
Reframe Your Message
My cardinal rule for all green marketing is to bring your message down to earth. Relevancy is the name of the game. It is imperative to make your messages relevant to the lives of your potential customers. To do that, spell green with 3 E’s representing Ecology, Economy, and Efficacy. Most consumers require a mix of these three in order to make a green purchase. Gone are the days when green is a significant differentiator in the marketplace. Your product or service can’t just be green. It has to be great. That means it’s got to work as good or better than a conventional product. And if it’s competitively priced, even better.
So it is important to ask: “Where does my product/service land on this landscape?” Growstone, an Albuquerque company, developed a breakthrough horticulture product and their story couldn’t be better.
They take the discarded glass from landfills (beer bottles, wine bottles, soda bottles, you name it) and crush it, mill it and bake it into “sheets” that look like brownies. Then they break the sheets into small “stones” in various sizes. These highly porous particles become Growstones. They are 100% recycled and 100% American made. What’s more, the company uses no water in the production of their product AND Growstones help prevent the destructive strip-mining that is commonly practiced by their competition, Hydroton (another indoor growing medium). How’s that for an environmental story?
Well, all of that is well and good but for growers, if the growing medium doesn’t work, who cares? We learned this first-hand by interviewing hydroponic retail storeowners and asked them. It was no surprise that product performance was #1 – but right behind that was the fact that Growstones were made from recycled glass. That combination, ecology and efficacy (roots love Growstones), made the product a winner and inspired us to create a testimonial campaign using the very words of the growers that grow with Growstone. We couldn’t have said it better. In one year, Growstones sales increased over 400%, their Facebook page exceed 10,000 fans and today they are a major player in the growing hydroponic and gardening market.
Go Beyond the Choir
Ten years ago, a Roper Green Gauge study found that 51% of Americans would “go green” if they only knew how. Sadly, after all these years, consumers are still not getting it. In another green confidence study, Greenbiz.com found that only 45% of consumers felt like they had enough information to make the right decisions about the products they buy. Educating your customer is a vital aspect of marketing your green product.
Bioshield, a manufacturer of non-toxic, zero VOC paints and finishes, knew that people buy paint first to beautify their home. The fact that their paints are non-toxic makes them even better. The dilemma was that most consumers do not know the toxic load in everyday paints and home décor products, so we developed an ad campaign around the question “Did you know?” and built in scientific elements to educate the customer.
- Did you know that indoor air pollution is two to five times worse than outdoor air pollution, even if you live in a heavily industrialized city? (Source: Environmental Protection Agency)
- Did you know a baby crawling on conventional carpet inhales the equivalent of four cigarettes a day?” (Source: Scientific American Magazine)
- Did you know that conventional paints, stains and finishes off-gas dangerous toxins into the air you breathe?
With a redesigned consumer catalog with some of “Did you know’s” sprinkled in, their “Beauty Without the Beast” campaign was launched. This branding line assured customers that they could beautify their home without sacrificing their health, the health of their family, or the planet at large. Sales increased 63%.
Green to Gold
Knowing your tribe, reframing your message and going beyond the choir can surely turn your green product to gold. That being said, green is beyond a marketing claim. It’s a BIG RETHINK of how we live on this big, beautiful planet we’ve been given. The trick is to communicate that in a way that meets the market we’re going for, so ultimately we ALL get it. So instead of standing on our planetary pulpit, let’s get down to earth and remember, we’re all in this together. That’s the real gold.
Carolyn Parrs is the CEO and co-founder of Mind Over Markets, a dedicated green marketing communications and design company in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For over 10 years, she has helped businesses and organizations succeed in the growing green market. Her clients range from renewable energy to organics to non-toxic paints, pallets, pet food and more. Her multi-media blog and robust Facebook community, Women Of Green, provide a strong voice for women focused on environmental and social issues. Carolyn is the Board President of the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce, part of the largest statewide business organization in New Mexico with over 1100 members. She is also a certified Marketing and Business Coach and works one-on-one with entrepreneurs and executives internationally. She has worked at top New York City advertising agencies, such as Benton & Bowles and Wunderman Worldwide, serving clients such as General Foods, Proctor & Gamble, AT&T, IBM, Richardson-Vicks, Manufacturers Hanover Trust, Time/Life Books and more.
Carolyn and her products have appeared on television shows such as Good Morning America, ABC News, CBS News and on radio and cable shows such as HBO, CNN and Lifetime Channel. Print coverage includes The New York Times, L.A. Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, People Magazine and Cosmopolitan. She lives in Santa Fe with her two children and two pups, Heart and Soul.
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