Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of the term “green marketing.” While phrased with the best intentions, it’s far too limiting and self-serving for my taste. At its worst, it risks a myopic focus on leveraging environmental commitments to earn points with consumers. I’ve often thought, “Is the term green marketing itself green washing?”
The truth is, a lot of consumers out there aren’t thinking about core green issues and, according to some studies, there’s been an alarming drop in consumer willingness to pay more for products from companies working hard to reduce their environmental impact.
While the statistics are disheartening, it doesn’t mean companies committed to positive change should stop in their tracks. But it does mean they may want to shift their communication tactics.
From a marketing perspective, I believe the opportunity to connect with consumers relies less on a CSR report and more on demonstrating and living your values. Consumers want brands they can believe in. It isn’t always about recycling and renewable energy, it’s about how well you treat employees, give back to your neighbors, stick your neck out on an issue, do something unexpected and have fun.
Make Them Laugh
Axe, a Unilever brand not typically thought of in an environmental sense, this month launched a new marketing campaign encouraging people to save water via “showerpooling,” the act of sharing a shower with an acquaintance. While it’s arguable whether this was a serious initiative or not, the fact remains that the campaign focused on a real issue -- water conservation -- and tapped into the typical consumer’s mindset, an unwillingness to make personal sacrifices, by offering a more enjoyable alternative. Because it was such a bold challenge, the campaign garnered extensive media coverage and online buzz, accomplishing a major goal coveted by all brands: distinguishing itself from competitors.
Respect Their Intelligence
One of the best ways to get people talking is to start a conversation, then leverage every channel possible to amplify the results. That’s exactly what Honest Tea did when it introduced the National Honesty Index, a social experiment and consumer experience that tested consumer honesty via pop-up tea stands with on-your-honor payment systems. A brilliant interpretation of both the brand name and core value, the initiative included in-market experiences that generated social buzz, as well as a city-by-city comparison that drove media coverage so outstanding there was no need for traditional advertising. Much more than a typical sampling initiative, it worked because the brand was willing to take a risk and do something that no one had ever done, then invest in supporting buzz builders, website, analytics and media relations, to amplify reach.
Sometimes, you have to go where no one else has gone and take a stand on an issue that may be controversial or politically charged, risking skepticism and potential discord because your view might not make everyone happy. Take, for instance, Chipotle. When it introduced its Food with Integrity initiative, the company was at the forefront of the sustainable food movement. By making a commitment to use only the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the farmers and the environment, it set a new standard in its industry. It also wasn’t perfect. Instead, by being transparent about its own sourcing, and goals to improve, Chipotle won people over by raising the stakes. This was long before activists prompted other fast-food companies to use cage-free eggs, and address animal welfare standards. Taking the risk put Chipotle in the lead on an issue that has become a hot topic not just among activists, but mainstream consumers as well. Its position on the issue became a major point of differentiation, one it has reinforced through marketing, first at the store level and now all the way through traditional broadcast advertising. Competitors are busy playing catch up.
In the end, I don’t think the conversation is really about green marketing. It’s about embracing values beyond profit and not being afraid to stick your neck out. Consumers are looking for more meaning. Go beyond what you do and tell them why.