Beyond PR

Aug 25, 2011

Marketing to Green Consumers

Ethical Marketing Expert, Writer, International Speaker, Consultant, Community Organizer, Frugalist

While green marketing involves many of the same principles as any other marketing discipline, there are specific things businesses should consider when marketing to the green consumer.That was the focus of a recentTwitter-based #ConnectChat hosted by @Profnet and featuring Shel Horowitz, copywriter, blogger, award-winning author, and environmental and social justice activist.

Since 1972, Shel has used his marketing skills for a number of environmental and social change organizations. Shel also founded the Business Ethics Pledge, a moral code of business ethics based on honesty, integrity and quality. He is the author of eight books, including 2010’s “Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green.”

Following are highlights of the conversation.

Shel: Great to be here. Looking forward to seeing my book-cover picture in Times Square.

ProfNet: Me, too! Ok, let’s jump right in. How big is the green consumer market?

Shel: Growing about 29 percent a year. It’s much more mainstream than just a few years ago.

ProfNet: What are some of the main differences between green and “regular” marketing?

Shel: Green customers are very sensitive to hype, and they want to make sure you walk your talk as an advertiser. If they see a disconnect between your messages and your behavior, you lose them FAST. They want specific, verifiable claims.

ProfNet: So if you’re going to make a claim that you’re a green company, you better follow through…

Shel: Not just follow through — you have to really walk your talk!

@Cstratinc: “Green” is such a broad term. How do you efficiently market to a more specific “green” and “natural” audience?

Shel: You can sub-segment ad infinitum. For instance, people who have dietary issues, protecting their kids, concern for future generations, social justice — you market differently to each. You can also sub-segment by other factors, such as demographic. Wal-Mart will sell organic food differently than Whole Foods.

ProfNet: What’s the biggest mistake companies make when marketing to green consumers?

Shel: Greenwashing: Speaking in generalities, platitudes or unverified/demonstrably false claims … either something that isn’t really green, or isn’t really true. In the book, I discuss how Nestle got hauled into court for failing to understand this, and how a few simple wording changes would have kept them out of trouble.

ProfNet: So this ties back to what you were saying about walking the talk…

Shel: Absolutely! And the good news is that it’s actually pretty easy to do. For instance, you don’t say you’ve achieved complete eco-compliance. You note that you’re on the path, making progress, but still have farther to go.

@elysepetroni: What are the primary motivators for consumers to go green?

Shel: Primary motivators will vary. For some, health. For others, their kids. For others, doing the right thing. For others, saving the planet, e.g., reversing climate change. For others, profit motive.

ProfNet: In your book, “Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green,” you say market share is the wrong metric. What metric is better?

Shel: Profitability. If my business is at its capacity, what does it matter to me that you also have customers? Often, the pie is big enough, but revenue has to exceed expenses.

ProfNet: You also say competitors can be among your best allies. Can you explain?

Shel: This is a really cool and wonderful thing. When you get out of the market-share mindset and into what I call the “abundance mentality,” you open up worlds of possibility to collaborate. Example: How is it that USPS guarantees Express Mail? Answer: They have a partnership with FedEx. FedEx understands how to move and track packages. Thus, USPS doesn’t have to offer thousands of refunds, because FedEx will get it safely to the destination airport. Another example: IBM, Motorola, Apple joined forces to create the PowerPC chip of the 1990s. Everyone wins. Locally in my area, 11 florists joined forces on a huge Mother’s Day ad in the local paper. None could have afforded it alone.

ProfNet: Ahh, those are great examples!

@Cstratinc: What advice do you have on pitching green medical alternatives to the green community?

Shel: How to make the green community aware of alternative methodologies will vary to some extent based on what we’re actually talking about. For instance, homeopathy can be marketed as harnessing the body’s natural defenses, while chiropractic would be more about therapeutic approaches that don’t involve medicine.

@Cstratinc: Thanks for your insightful answers on green #marketing.

@PKECreative: How do you feel about recent reports that say consumers are too concerned with the economy to care about the environment?

Shel: This is a huge opportunity for green marketers who can position themselves as price leaders. Example: Marcal, 100 percent recycled household paper products, price competitive with any brand. In fact, you’ve hit on one of my favorite themes: When you combine personal benefit with greater social good, you win.

ProfNet: OK, let’s get into the nitty-gritty. What are some strategies for green marketing?

Shel: Well, since I just mentioned Marcal (are you listening, @marcalsmallstep?), they dubbed themselves the official sponsor of fall foliage. And they ran a photo contest. That took some chutzpah but they got lots of press. It’s important to remember that just being green isn’t news any more, just like publishing a book isn’t news anymore. So we, as marketers, have to be creative. Instead of talking about going green, we can talk about such things as how much fuel we help save, how many thousands of gallons of water are not polluted, how we put money back into people’s pockets.

@PKECreative: Very helpful, thank you!

@MarcalSmallStep: @shelhorowitz Always listening to you Shel!! Hope all is well.

ProfNet: So I’m with a company that has a green product, or some kind of green news. What’s my first step?

Shel: The first step is to identify what aspect of your product/service is green, what core benefits you provide — and then create upbeat, sexy marketing messages focused on this benefit (or downer ones focused on problem, but I recommend the former). Most press release writers don’t understand this. They use a 1950s AP-type headline that’s all about them, and wonder why they get no media coverage.

ProfNet: I just looked at my chocolate wrapper to see if it’s green. You don’t mind if I eat chocolate while I type, do you?

Shel: As long as it’s organic and fair trade, not a problem. Chocolate is a great example of the need to be systemically green. We need to be aware of the impact our choices have on others and on the planet. Several years ago, I found out how much child slavery was involved in the traditional chocolate industry. I didn’t want to be a party to that, so I immediately switched to fair trade, which guarantees fair treatment of the harvesters and other good stuff. The market has greatly expanded in the intervening years, and now it’s easy to find high-quality fair trade chocolate. And most of that is also organic, which then has health benefits for we who eat it, for the growers and for the earth. For a chocoholic like me, I can rest easily knowing that the large amount I consume is good for the harvesters and the planet.

ProfNet: So as long as it’s fair-trade, I can eat as much as I want, right?

Shel: Yup! Con mucho gusto.

ProfNet: With so many companies in the green market, are consumers getting overwhelmed? Is “green” losing its value?

Shel: Green is GAINING value, but the landscape has shifted. Pretty soon, if you’re NOT green, you simply won’t be a credible player. People will stop doing business with you, because the green bar is being raised constantly. Also, consumers are justifiably confused by the welter of competing claims, certifications, etc. They are bewildered. Thus, the most successful green marketers will be able to differentiate themselves with comprehensible and verifiable claims. But as to the bar going higher, think about the water industry. Ten years ago, people thought they were going green if they brought in bottled water. Then we began to hear about how much water and plastic and oil that wastes, the effect on the

watershed from too much drawdown by large-scale bottling, and a bunch of other issues. Now, a green meeting planner makes a point of bringing in filtered tap water!

ProfNet: What kinds of companies benefit from using a positive message vs. a “downer” message focusing on the problem?

Shel: Negative messages are crucial to bring attention to an issue — but then, unless accompanied by positive steps, leaves people feeling disempowered and helpless. So yes, we need awareness about climate change, about the problems of nuclear power, etc. — but then what do we DO about it? So, for instance, when I talk about climate change, I talk about the fantastic work of people like Amory Lovins. When you can show how he saved the Empire State Building $4 million a year in energy costs, people are a lot more willing to hear that they can have a role in solving the problems. Similarly, I’ve been blogging a lot at about the problems with nuclear power, especially since Fukushima. But if you read today’s post, you won’t just see doom and gloom. You’ll see a call to action to shut down the nukes, and a promise that in the coming days I will be posting some specific things people can do.

ProfNet: So what I’m getting from that is that it’s not enough to say you’re green, but also have a call to action.

Shel: Yes. People want to feel like they’re part of the solution. They WANT to be asked to help. Maybe this is another area where the green market is different. That might be less true in, say, the sale of 60-inch TVs. 🙂  The problem-solution formula is way more empowering than problem, problem, problem.

ProfNet: As a marketer, do you reach out mainly to environmental publications, or general-interest ones?

Shel: I reach to both camps, but with different messaging. Right now, for instance, my syndicated Green And Profitable column runs in a local newspaper here in Massachusetts. My query to them was about the need for their readers to be more informed on the green aspects of business. But it also runs in a green trade magazine in Malaysia, and an environment/politics website in Australia. To them, I focused more on the business aspects of being green instead of the reverse. In my book, “Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green,” I talk quite a bit about this kind of segmentation.

ProfNet: How did you get into green marketing?

Shel: The environment and marketing have been two strands of my life all the way back to the 1970s. In 1999, I spearheaded a local campaign to block a monstrous inappropriate development on our local mountain abutting a state park. We won, BTW. That campaign used everything I knew about both marketing and community organizing, and harnessed my (and a lot of other people’s) knowledge of both the business world and the environmental world. I think that’s when I realized I could braid the two strands of my life together and actually forge a career on that intersection. It’s very exciting and fulfilling! It’s also an expansion of the work I’ve been doing on #bizethics. I think you cannot be an ethical company without paying attention to the environment.

@editorev: Great chat. One question: What are some regulatory/legal challenges for green marketers?

Shel: Of course, green marketers, like all marketers, are bound by the new FTC rules. Fortunately, telling the truth eliminates that as an issue. 🙂 Again, the big caution is not to claim things you can’t document, to see yourself as progressing rather than achieving the goal (and to position your company that way in marketing messages).

ProfNet: One last question, if you don’t mind answering: Do you have any regrets? Anything you’d do differently now?

Shel: I wish I had really understood on a deep level much earlier how much power there is in harnessing the energies of people from very diverse viewpoints. That was one of my real takeaways from Save the Mountain — that we can reach outside our own constituency and build consensus society-wide, and momentum for change.

ProfNet: Sadly, Shel, we’re out of time. How can people find out more about your great work?

Shel: Please visit – it has info on my consulting, speaking, the book, my blog, and my syndicated column, as well as the upper right-hand corner where you can sign up for my monthly newsletter. My phone is 413-586-2388 – that’s 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time.

ProfNet: Great! Thanks for being with us, and for the great info. And thanks to everyone who listened, RT’d and chimed in.

Shel: Maria, thanks so much for having me as the featured guest on #connectchat. Both you and the audience asked great questions.

2 Comments on Blog Post Title

christopher copywriter 11:13 EDT on Aug 26, 2011

Thanks for this interview… It’s thought provoking somewhat.

Regards, Christopher.

Maria Perez 13:20 EDT on Sep 1, 2011

Thanks, Christopher.

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