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Green Marketing – Growing Through a Difficult Age

When I was much younger, one of my grandmother’s favorite expressions of comfort and encouragement was, “Don’t worry, you’ll grow through it.” It wasn’t until years later I realized the dual meaning of her words. Whatever the problem I was facing, I was sure to learn or “grow” though the experience or difficulty. Eventually I also understood she was telling me in time, I would “grow” beyond the current circumstances.

B2B Green Overload

I’ve been keeping track and last week I received no less than seven invitations to green conferences, gatherings, functions, webinars or almost any excuse for the green minded or even green curious to gather. I could feel the frustration in the young man’s voice who called me, when I politely declined to fork over $800 (plus hotel and travel expenses) to participate in a two day conference that, as he described it, “You just have to attend if you are serious about sustainability.”

While I am grateful for the increased number of green resources compared to just a few short years ago, I think most of us will also admit being tired of all the green chatter and sales pitches. In addition to conferences, add the number of social media connections, groups, web site listings, and other associations who are all pitching their version of green, and the demand of time and resources can be quite extensive and expensive.

Where’s the Beef?

Unless you are in your twenties, you probably recall the Wendy’s marketing campaign from the mid-eighties where an irate but cute little old lady asked, “Where’s the beef?” She was buying a burger but could not find the meat under the oversized bun intentionally designed to distract if not deceive. (BTW, it is still rated as one of the most effective and memorable ad campaigns of all time, and the phrase has been well applied to countless situations where anticipated content is missing.)

The young man who called me was well versed on all the right green catch phrases and jargon but when I asked him what I was likely to learn at the conference he was selling, he went silent. After a long pause, he replied, “You’ll be able to meet fellow green minded businesses there and do some valuable networking.”

I love green networking but why would I want to take two, maybe three days (including travel) out of my schedule to attend a conference that does not deliver any real substance? I’m sorry, but at this point, I’m not really interested in listening to the same key note speaker and CEO of a large corporation who is going to tell his audience how committed his company is to sustainability or sitting in on another passionate presentation by a green activist with more heart than practical business experience.

The Business of Green

We are all in the business of green, and while some of us have been doing it a little longer than others; if we are honest we all have to admit we are working (probably in this order or in combination) to profit, grow and yes, to make a difference. Even green non-profit organizations have to eventually answer to someone, right?

When asked why the green movement has “stalled,” my response is always quick and the same: we simply have not marketed it well. There are rare cases of people who have who have profitably and emotionally promoted green and of course the first one who comes to mind is Al Gore. I believe most of us will admit being moved and in some cases transformed by his now famous “An Inconvenient Truth.”

The problem is that too many of us tried to follow his example and market green by tugging on heartstrings with a good helping of guilt. That might have worked well if the market was full of believers and we were all as effective as Al Gore. There is also of course the factor many like to ignore as a non issue and that is the economy. I dare say that if Mr. Gore’s 2006 movie had come out in 2007 when we launched our green business or in 2008 or 2009 when many new green businesses were already failing, I doubt his startling global warming presentation would have been as well received or as financially lucrative.

“You Got to Meet Them Where They Live”

That was one of the first pieces of advice I received in the area of sales and marketing and it continues to hold up well along with “it’s only important if it’s important to the customer.”

I believe we all have a tendency to over-think green marketing and though I agree it has some unique facets, the same basics that apply to selling and marketing “standard” products and services, also apply to green.

1.    Customers buy from people they like, not people who make them feel guilty.

2.    Coming in a close second is a natural desire to work with people who have unique knowledge they are willing to share.

3.    Today, more than anything else, people and companies want and need to save money and increase profits.

“Saving the earth one (blank) at a time,” has a nice ring to it, but meeting their first quarter financial objectives is where most people live these days. If the phone solicitor hawking his conference understood that, he would know that if he is going to ask me to invest my limited resources, he has to be better prepared to tell me how my investment is going to benefit me and my company.

Just being green is no longer enough and green marketing volume is not an acceptable substitute for green marketing quality. The good news is that according to my grandma, we are almost certain to grow through this experience.

Dennis writes in the area of sustainable packaging with his work appearing in numerous blogs and magazines, including his own blog, Inside Sustainable Packaging. Dennis and his company provide custom eco friendly packaging solutions through Salazar Packaging and stock green packaging products via GlobeGuardProducts, which is the first internet store featuring all eco-friendly packaging supplies. Recently Dennis also made news by launching GreenPackagingGroup, which is a B2B packaging blog and directory for eco-minded buyers. He is president and co-founder of Salazar Packaging.

Dennis Salazar
Dennis writes in the area of sustainable packaging with his work appearing in numerous blogs and magazines, including his own blog, Inside Sustainable Packaging. Dennis and his company provide custom eco friendly packaging solutions through Salazar Packaging and stock green packaging products via GlobeGuardProducts, which is the first internet store featuring all eco-friendly packaging supplies. Recently Dennis also made news by launching GreenPackagingGroup, which is a B2B packaging blog and directory for eco minded buyers. He is president and co-founder of Salazar Packaging.
 
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4 thoughts on “Green Marketing – Growing Through a Difficult Age

  1. I was just asked by a market research firm to comment on a series of buyer preferences studies amongst green building professionals that was done by Sustainable Rhythm of a few USGBC chapters. Overwhelmingly, the study showed that both green building professionals and the clients they serve are tired of the greenwash. They are demanding case studies, life cycle analysis, ROI, and other measurable metrics in order to make purchasing decisions about green building products.

    We’re at an interesting turning point in the marketing of green products and services. No other industries are so muddled with a grassroots advocacy base as those that surround green industries. I’ll be interested in seeing how things continue to change as the marketing messages diverge from the messages of the grassroots advocacy bases.

  2. Green marketing is dead. It’s just that marketers haven’t figured this out yet. Fortunately, it looks like the new FTC guidelines will effectively put the final nail in the coffin.
    Growing through it, many companies are adopting what I call “sustainability communications”. As Pamela suggests above, it is based on verifiable facts, modest claims, and a dialogue-based communication. My blog series “Why Most CSR Reports Fail” http://bit.ly/WhyCSRReportsFail lays out the key principles of this new communication.

  3. Let’s not forget that it’s not as simple as just removing the hype, but defining what is “green” or “sustainable” (since there isn’t just one definition or set of parameters). And as Dennis is writing about here, businesses will choose their green objective based on the bottom line. “Let’s use recycled packaging. That’ll make us green.” And now they can check off their “go green” marketing box. There are numerous facets that make a product friendly to the environment. Here’s an article that lays it out: http://bit.ly/heHTmA

  4. Dennis, excellent article full of truths in today’s business environment. Going Green sometimes just boils down to the ethics of our forefathers and mothers: quality, common sense, no waste, do no harm, treat people fairly (do unto others).

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