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Marketing Buzz 08/02

How you should not market your enviromently friendly product; how to encourage customer complaints

Eco-Quality

If your product or service is environmentally friendly, should you market it as such? According to the August 2001 RoperASW's "Green Gauge" report, 41 percent of consumers say they don't buy such products for fear they don't work as well.

This negative perception came from bad experiences with green products in the past, says Jacquelyn A. Ottman, an environmental marketing expert and president of J. Ottman Consulting Inc. in New York City. Still, it's not the whole story.

A poor perception doesn't mean you should stop touting your environmentally friendly products or services. The key is to plug its quality first and its environmental benefits second. "[If your] product has a significant green benefit, don't focus on that in the advertising," says Ottman. "Consumers don't buy a box of environment-[they] buy a [product] to get clothes clean. Market [a product's] consumer benefit."

But don't forgo the green angle completely. According to the RoperASW report, 56 percent of consumers agree with the statement, "I would do more for the environment, but I don't know how." Consumers will buy energy-efficient light bulbs because they're long-lasting and save energy costs, for example, but, says Ottman, "they'll also feel good it's [environmentally sound]."

Don't Stop Bellyaching!

Contrary to what you might be thinking, you should be pleased when your customers complain to you. That's right. When you actively seek out honest feedback from clients-from the good stuff to the bad-you can use that valuable data to improve your products, services and marketing efforts.

So says Kristin Anderson, founder of Say What? Consulting, a management consulting firm in Burnsville, Minnesota, and co-author of Customer Relationship Management (McGraw-Hill). "Ask personally for feedback," she says. "As you probe, people will reveal their complaints."

If you suspect your customers don't want to offend you by complaining to your face, hire a third party to get the feedback-customers will probably feel comfortable enough to speak more candidly.

Once you get the data, be sure to use it wisely. Make changes if necessary, but remember, says Anderson, "just because a customer complains about something, doesn't mean that thing is wrong."

Case in point: A hotel she once worked with received a customer complaint regarding the lack of TVs at the resort. Instead of buckling to the customer's wishes, Anderson suggested turning that negative perception around by promoting it as part of the hotel's charm, emphasizing that at this hotel, customers can be free of outside distractions and spend more time with their families.

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This article was originally published in the August 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Marketing Buzz 08/02.

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