Strategic Solutions: Selling Green
Companies need to tell the whole story when they are marketing "green" product attributes.
Green, bio-based, renewable, eco-friendly—no matter which label we attach, the current marketing buzz is about environmentally conscious products. With that much buzz and growing demand, how hard can it be to sell green solutions? As many companies are finding out, there are more barriers than one would think.
Mention the words green, renewable, or eco-friendly during most interviews, and you will be met with eye rolls or the verbal equivalent: a sigh. Why is that? The reasons are numerous and will change depending upon your market and your product, but here are some thoughts and tools.
One of the first barriers is cost. Few green alternatives are equivalent or less expensive on a unit-comparison basis. Only about 5% of buyers in the consumer market would be willing to pay more for an eco-friendly solution just because it is eco-friendly. Those buyers view a 10-15% premium to be reasonable. The higher the premium, the more restricted the market.
For business-to-business sellers, the target narrows even more. Your target needs to have a market that demands eco-friendly solutions, and your product needs to make a significant contribution toward that goal. For example, if the goal is to have greater than 50% renewable content, and you supply an adhesive that is less than 0.05% of the total weight of the assembly, testing and implementing your product will not be a priority.
You can play up your green impact by attaching cost savings to specific features. If your product lowers energy costs, reduces the use of facility resources, or increases durability, highlight the financial impact of those features to change the evaluation from unit cost to total cost.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle is the hype, misinformation and greenwashing prevalent today. Snake oil may be bio-based, but it is a pollutant in sales and marketing. Most people want to do the right thing, and reducing environmental impact is considered to be a good outcome. The problem lies in separating truth from embellishment.
One notable consumer website offering “green” products extols the energy-saving features of compact fluorescent bulbs (which contain mercury), while simultaneously condemning the use of disposable batteries because they “add mercury and other heavy metals” to the waste stream. Both claims are true, but both also left something out. The first claim never mentions the need to handle fluorescent bulbs differently to minimize the negative impact on landfills. The second claim fails to address the question of disposal for rechargeable batteries that also contain heavy metal contaminants.
In a better example, nicotine-based insecticides have become popular with green gardeners as a natural alternative to synthetic chemicals. To their credit, most proponents of this method note the potential for nicotine poisoning and how to avoid it. In doing so, they are educating people regarding safe use and that “all natural” does not equate to “all healthy.”
Effective Eco-Friendly Marketing
One of the first things I do when engaging with a new client on market strategy or business development is look at the messaging of their major competitors. Are they educating the market or deceiving it? Do their claims have supporting data? Believe it or not, stronger competitors that educate the public are better for you. Educators grow the market, while misinformation damages the market. In the current state of rampant over-marketing of “green” attributes, the challenge is to re-educate your potential buyer. If you let yourself become part of the “green noise,” your company and product will be lost.
These suggestions are basic marketing approaches, but they seem to be overlooked when promoting eco-friendly products and services:
• Know your customer/market and their needs.
• Target your message to them in their terminology.
• Support your claims with technical documentation.
• Quantify your value proposition.
So what am I proposing? Be honest. Tell the whole story. An informed customer is a good customer. Be a company, a brand and a person that can be trusted. What do you think of the company that labels marshmallows as a certified fat-free food? Do you want a reputation for hiding the whole truth? If your product or service has a hidden risk or cost, it will appear at some point as a deception, and your market will have permanently decreased by one.
Any views or opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of ASI, its staff, Editorial Advisory Board or BNP Media.