How Green To Go? A Question Of Brand Management

Let's start with a compelling fact: More than 90% of consumers feel that whether or not a company is green is important to their purchase decision. When research tells us that nine in ten of all Americans say they are influenced to buy (or not to buy) products based on the green credentials of the company producing those products, it is no wonder that companies are falling over themselves to "go green" as fast as they can.

Sure, it's tempting to be seduced by the research and apply our creativity to connect the brands we represent with the overwhelming evidence that green marketing isn't just good business, it's a public mandate. But it's not -- the mandate is to build the trust. Gone are the days when companies could talk the talk without walking the walk. Inquisitive consumers don't just feel good about buying products from a known brand icon, they now also want to buy products from a company whose environmental practices they can feel good about.

As David Ogilvy once said, "The consumer is not a moron" and they know immediately when they've been had. In this case, the green mob mentality has led to deep skepticism on the part of the consumers who want their brands to be green. They can't all be so green can they? Who to believe? Who to trust?

In the context of the green issue, it seems where marketers have gone off course and betrayed consumer trust is in not asking themselves how their product truly delivers on what the consumer wants.

At our agency, we work on behalf of a wide cross section of brands and we have been careful to "go green" with only a select few of them. Our criterion is simple: Don't mess with the trust. Stay true to the principles of branding. If there is an environmental component at the heart of the brand's promise, we treat it as we would any other brand asset. If not, we stay away.

Case in point: we recently engaged in a brand repositioning exercise for our commercial and school bus client. As we developed the company's brand strategy, our mandate wasn't to find creative ways to help them get green, but rather to evaluate what role their green credentials played in the larger strategy of highlighting their customer-centric approach to building buses and servicing bus customers.

As we conducted our brand audit, the company's commitment to deliver more environmentally responsible products was an unmistakable component of their brand story. (At the time, they were on the cusp of building the first hybrid school bus and were taking an innovative stand on delivering 2010 emissions-compliant buses across the board.) Along the way we stayed true to never violating the trust of the company's loyal customers and potential new ones. Now its green message is delivered only in the context of the larger brand promise and only when it is tied to credible activities of the company.

At the heart of every great brand is the intersection between what consumers need and how a product uniquely delivers that need. How they intersect is critical. It's not just about saying you can fill a need -- it's about the true credentials of a product to deliver on that need. So let's get back to basics. If building trust with consumers is the core tenet of brand building and brand management, let's use consumer trust as our best guidepost as we try to solve the answer of when to go green and how green to go.

7 comments about "How Green To Go? A Question Of Brand Management".
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  1. Andrea Learned from Learned On, LLC, March 10, 2010 at 12:32 p.m.

    So true, Peter! I'm guessing a lot of brands might have existing green or sustainable stories to tell that do not need a neon green sign. Still, given "green" is so darned trendy, it may be difficult for brands to resist flicking that switch for immediate competitive advantage. To those, we all say: resist!

    Instead -consumers looking for those green/sustainable aspects will notice them, and trust the brand that much more for not "pushing" it.

  2. Kevin Hanft from Marketing Leverage LLC, March 10, 2010 at 1:26 p.m.

    Caution to any and all marketers who merely view 'Green' as this quarter's promotion or campaign theme! Sustainability is a growing consumer issue and any shallow exploitation has potential for harmful repercussions.

    To benefit, brands must have a cogent and genuine 'story' to tell. For more check out my recent blog posting:

  3. Chris Corbett from KMA Direct Communications, March 10, 2010 at 1:42 p.m.

    Excellent article--a breath of fresh "green" air amid so much stifling propaganda on one hand and shallow consumer exploitation on the other. This is more important than ever with the increasing public skepticism over the global warming research controversies. People are more than ever on the lookout against being "had" by green messaging. Peter's branding recommendations are a faithful guard against that marketing danger.

  4. Christopher Laurance from Distraction Marketing, March 10, 2010 at 9:33 p.m.

    As you stated, taking an "audit" is great, however, how about creating your own guidelines?

    In 1994, I hosted a conference of 25 planners, sociologists, etc. with the theme "If I had 10,000 acres of land and wanted to house 50,000 people, and the community had to be designed to incorporate and encourage community-social responsibility" what would it look like?

    That conference caused entire master planned developments to reduce energy consumption, be forward looking, etc.

    However, 16 years later, most of the concepts still aren't integrated.

    My point? Its politically correct these days to chatter about "green", but how about us having our own standards, not using something like LEED or other measurements. Make it tough for any of our clients to actually declare themselves "green" and obtw- Sustainability doesn't exist, because the very definition implies stasis, which is anti Nature, physics, etc. so let's also create a new vocabulary- one that actually works.

  5. Juan Bufon from ethos , March 11, 2010 at 1:11 p.m.

    The answer to "how green to go?" is "as green as possible and fast as possible." However, the answer to "how green to crow?" is very different. Nike, for example, leads the footwear/apparel industries in sustainability efforts, which remain largely invisible (though relatively transparent) to the public. Their brand message remains the same: It's all about athletic performance.

  6. Woody Hamilton from PADDINGTON ADVERTISING ASSOCIATES, March 12, 2010 at 11:23 a.m.

    We have discovered there are ways for brands to openly support the "Green Cause" without declaring themselves "GREEN".
    With our "REDEMPTION MARKETING SYSTEM" brands are able to REWARD THOSE WHO RECYCLE with money-saving coupons for their products.
    This way the consumer sees the brand as being eco-friendly without making any environmental claims.

  7. Aditya Mittal from Infosys, March 30, 2010 at 2:02 a.m.

    Companies are jumping on to the green bandwagon, often half-convinced about this. I believe that the biggest drivers, in decreasing order of priority, for companies to go live are 1. government/ mandates, 2. shareholders/ ROI, 3. consumers, 4. competitors. If these drivers are missing for a company or industry, "going green" would be sustainable only if there is truly a deep corporate social responsibility culture at the company. I have blogged about this here.

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