Mission Versus Message - Why You Might Need To Rethink Green Marketing

Sustainable brands are some of the few types of companies that are clear about their mission. While tech giants and consumer brands struggle with their mission statements, striving to balance responsibility to shareholders, with responsibility to employees and consumers, green brands tend to know why they exist. 

In your deep green company, the mission of sustainability colors most everything you do. This can be a mistake.

As one commenter on my post last month, put it, “Creating a brand for the long haul isn't about green. It's about delivering a remarkable experience to your consumer.”

Simply put, the message you, as a green brand, want to deliver to the consumer may not be the message she wants to hear. But that’s okay. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t deliver it, but it does mean you may have to marry values to a more urgent message that the consumer does want to hear. 

No less than giant natural products retailer Whole Foods has learned that lesson this year as they have watched their stock price slide and seen competitors add “Better For You” products up and down the grocery aisle. Whole Foods has doubled down on a strategy that pushed their values and mission, but will it be successful with consumers who rank sustainability further down the list of their core needs?

The outcome is unclear, but for many sustainable brands the answer is, “not really.” While deep green consumers respond readily to sustainability messages, those less informed or less concerned can be a frustrating target for green companies. It may be encouraging to know that this is not an issue limited to green. In any industry, it’s tempting to think that the target market is driven by the same needs as the marketing team. 

Every once in a while, a Steve Jobs comes along and amazes everyone by knowing exactly what every consumer is thinking … before they think it themselves. But that should not be mistaken for common. Usually, and maybe especially in sustainable products, innovative, future-thinking individuals with a deep knowledge of the impact of civilization on the planet start companies and try to sell their mission to a less receptive audience. Unfortunately, time and again, research has shown most consumers are not mission-driven. Most consumers are need-driven instead.

That consumer need, for most products, is unlikely to be “I want to be educated” or “My primary goal in life is saving the planet.” So, green brands wanting to deliver on their sustainable mission must first connect with the consumer with a message that meets their needs, whether that is for clean clothes or tasty food or a fun experience. 

This isn’t really too hard. Any marketing department can do it. It just takes a change in the mindset, which, if you think about it, is what sustainable companies really are looking for consumers to do, too.

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