Go for the Green

Check out these 4 essential tips for turning green marketing into gold.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the March 2008 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Selling environmentally friendly products and services has gone mainstream. Not only is this good for the planet, it's also great news for your business because consumers are often willing to pay more for products that protect the natural environment by conserving energy or resources and reducing the use of toxic agents, pollution and waste. The vast diversity and availability of green products and services from major manufacturers is a clear sign that many consumers are already buying green. Organic foods, green household cleaning products and recycled or biodegradable paper products, for example, are widely available.

But that doesn't make marketing green products and services a walk in the park. In fact, a study conducted last year by Ipsos Reid showed that 7 in 10 Americans either "strongly" or "somewhat" agree that companies call their products green simply as a marketing tactic. To build trust--and sales--it's essential to base your claims in irrefutable facts and provide true environmental benefits. Third-party certifications or seals of approval can show that your product meets respected standards and bolster consumer confidence. Your marketing campaign must also ring true. Consider the fallout that happened when Ford Motor Co. ran magazine ads touting its new eco-designed plant: Some critics viewed the campaign as a smoke screen for the poor fuel economy of the company's SUVs.

Before you launch a green marketing campaign, consider these keys to success:

Motivate green shoppers. Even with today's spotlight on environmental issues, the majority of consumers will not necessarily purchase green products for environmental reasons alone. The growth in sales of organic foods and energy-efficient appliances, for instance, is largely because shoppers want to buy healthy food and save money. Look beyond the greater environmental benefits to the tangible advantages individuals gain by purchasing a product or service. It comes down to answering the basic question every consumer has in his or her mind: "What's in it for me?"

Show them the money. Saving money--when coupled with the additional benefit of saving the planet--is a terrific motivator. Particularly with a more expensive product, the key is to present a marketing message based on the value to the consumer in the form of cost savings over the product's lifetime. Items such as compact fluorescent light bulbs and energy-saving water heaters, for example, don't just benefit the world we live in--over time, they deliver measurable savings to the purchaser.

Promote safety and good health. For example, composite decking material, though more costly, is gaining favor over pressure-treated lumber, which is imbued with toxic agents and requires labor-intensive painting or staining as well as the use of chemical preservatives. Decide how your product will enhance the health and safety of users, and create a green message that relates directly to the customers' personal environment. A study by S.C. Johnson found that consumers are more likely to act on product benefits such as "safe to use around children" and "no toxic ingredients" over benefits such as "recyclable packaging."

Make convenience a plus. Early on, green marketers failed to consider the importance of convenience to customers. Electric cars were a dismal failure because of their need for constant recharging. Today's green products and services must deliver all the convenience consumers expect by saving them time or being easy to use. For instance, states including California and Virginia allow hybrid vehicle drivers to travel solo in high-occupancy vehicle lanes. And Toyota has marketed this convenience to drivers in high-congestion areas through its Prius website. Your product may ultimately have the power to save the world, but it will be purchased by more consumers if it also promises to save them time and money and benefit their health.

Contact marketing expert Kim T. Gordon, author of Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars: The Top 50 Ways to Grow Your Small Business, at smallbusiness now.com. Her new e-book, Big Marketing Ideas for Small Budgets, is available exclusively from Entrepreneur at smallbizbooks.com.

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