Unlike the physically bounded geographic world, the “new frontiers” of marketing are continually emerging for the next great advertising explorers. However, just as Giovanni da Verrazano’s explorations led to his demise at the hands of cannibalistic natives, overly audacious marketing adventures can be fatal; if not to your life then to your product. The combination of ethical circumspection, smaller budgets, and divergent markets for green products necessitate the abandonment of old forms of marketing, while still playing it safe enough to avoid potentially lethal detours. As with the emergence of any new enterprise, the flexibility of undefined practices has put a penumbra over the efficacy and relevance of green marketing. To succeed in making green marketing a reputable undertaking, boldly going where no marketer has gone before is not only a prerogative, but an obligation.
The Use of New Formats
In this instance, traditional marketing, although continually inundated with slight variations upon the master theme, is considered to be those efforts that utilize the medium of paper. For the vast majority of small businesses, including locally produced environmentally friendly products, a quick and easy marketing effort involves the production of pamphlets, fliers, and other paper based advertising materials that are cheap to produce and easy to distribute. Unfortunately, these communicados are dispersed indiscriminately to local consumers, many of whom are uninterested and quick to trash the intrusive and unimaginative efforts into the closest trashcan or worse yet, quite literally throw them out the window. These materials continue to contribute to pollution and recycling problems without yielding significant results.
For companies touting the environmentally friendly aspects of their products, consumers view the hypocrisy of producing wasteful and polluting advertising as a reflection of ethical ambiguity on the part of businesses, and are less willing to purchase their products. Although the internet is an ideal method to reduce damaging by-products from advertising, many companies desiring to target a local region still prefer the physical presence of advertising in common view of their market. Ad transmission can be effected through a variety of mediums, and new options are emerging with regularity. For example, an unorthodox but surprisingly effective method is the production of biodegrable graffiti. Using non-toxic dyes, artists use stencils to place brand messages on private property where it remains visible until weathering away or being pressure washed off. For companies that want to maintain physical branding distribution, rethinking print advertising does not have to be a death sentence for offline marketing efforts.
Utilizing the Internet
A purely internet driven campaign is unreasonable for most companies. The variety of products and services offered, in conjunction with a diversity of branding demands, generates an amalgam of traditional advertising and online campaigns. Green companies, however, have the luxury of pinpointing their market and brand, and require relatively little consideration for vagaries in either. The demographics of green consumers skew young and educated, and product placement online, with supporting content, is critical to penetrate consumer consciousness. An educated consumer is one who researches the product they’re considering buying, and usually said research occurs on the internet. A company without a strong internet presence is seldom taken seriously among consumers who expect to quickly and easily use the internet to learn more about the company’s mission and offerings. By generating reputable content that is useful to potential buyers, even companies without a significant marketing budget can support their brand and realize a broader reach in the target market.
Branding of Green Products is More Difficult than Traditional Products
Although the branding of a green company falls within a fairly narrow set of constraints, establishing repute and believability is often much more difficult for companies that are smaller and newer than their counterparts producing more traditional products. The ethical concerns many consumers associate with buying green can cause them to vehemently reject branding they perceive as a misrepresentation of the company’s true practices. Green companies must tread a fine line between excessive boasting about their environmentally friendly practices and neglecting to promote the focus of their company. Whereas traditional products are generally known to consumers, and a relative comparison can be made using previously established preferences, green products are often unfamiliar and will be judged individually upon every purchase. Branding green products is riskier due to the unknown and volatile nature of environmentally friendly products and customer reaction to marketing efforts. Traditional marketing, with a longer time between conceptualization and implementation, and indiscriminate distribution, is ineffective for green companies seeking to quickly and carefully consolidate their brand message.
Green Marketing is a Niche Field, and Marketing Dollars Will Be Wasted with Indiscriminate Advertising
Often green products are a subsidiary of a larger company and don’t have millions to spend on expansive marketing campaigns. Carefully optimizing marketing efforts to target a niche market while still being effective is preferable for every marketing budget; for green marketing it is a necessity. Even for green companies that can indiscriminately spend on advertising, the majority of traditional campaigns for green products have a very low return on investment. Only a select segment of the population consider purchasing a green product, a segment that tends to segregate into communities that share their knowledge and preference of green products without regard for traditional campaigns. To access this market, companies must advertise at the appropriate venues and to the right markets to ensure their efforts are rewarded.
Use the People Who Love Your Products to Promote Them, and Hear From the Ones That Don’t
The greatest often overlooked facet of a green marketing campaign is the discussion it sparks. Whether consumers consider your campaign ingenious and can’t conceive of why it hasn’t been tried before, or perceive your message to be at odds with your brand, consumers who are passionate about their products will talk about them. Although green companies must be much more cautious about promoting their products due to the ethical concerns of many consumers, when those concerns are adequately met green consumers can become the greatest endorsers a company could want. Nontraditional marketing often allows you to observe conversations about reactions to your advertising and marketing efforts in real time. Zealous consumers are more likely to provide customer feedback, writing commentary about products and either spreading your message or devastating your efforts. With an educated and informed consumer base, non-traditional green marketing efforts can be quickly shared and understood, and more effectively reach an entire niche market than many larger companies can ever achieve with broad reaching campaigns.
Although online marketing is rapidly emerging as the primary means of spreading brand messages, a move away from traditional marketing does not mean every company must solely pursue internet campaigns. Many companies can maintain the same grass roots level marketing efforts that make local businesses known and loved, but in a more sustainable way. One of the strongest advantages green businesses possess is the green consumer. Discriminating, passionate, and conscientious; when satisfied most green consumers have a brand loyalty that would make Coca-Cola weep with envy. Alienating this core base with ineffective, misrepresentative, or unsustainable marketing campaigns destroys a green company’s market success irrevocably.
Emily McClendon is an environmental marketing specialist currently working at NeboWeb. She has a B.S. in Applied Biology from Georgia Institute of Technology and is currently pursuing her M.C.R.P. in Environmental Planning, also at Georgia Institute of Technology. She believes that communication and shared knowledge are the most important facets of conveying environmentally friendly practices. After participating in biological research, inter disciplinary planning, and interactive marketing, she is convinced a comprehensive approach is the only solution for creating a sustainable economy.