Green Marketing for Green Products
"Just like their conventional cousins, sustainable businesses must speak to basic consumer needs—efficiency, cost, health and safety, performance and status," says Patti Purcell, president of sustainable living media company Blue Egg. "The difference between the two lies in the makeup of their products."
Joshua Onysko, founder and CEO of Pangea Organics, says eco-businesses are held to different standards. "Green companies create, manufacture, sell and buy products promoting respect for life," he says. The Pangea Organics line of skincare products is the fastest growing in the world, and green marketing strategies highlight its Earth-centered focus.
A New Awareness
The growth of the green market has few parallels in the business world. According to Natural Foods Merchandiser, sales topped $56 billion in 2006, up 9.7 percent over 2005. "Every day, more consumers recognize the power of their dollars, and take responsibility for the products they purchase," says Jessica Root, a project manager at TreeHugger.com. "As the demand for organic foods and sustainable products increase, some larger companies have to reinvent their products in an attempt to capture a share of the growing green marketplace."
Still, consumers first want to know how products perform, says Purcell. If the item works well and has a minimal impact on the Earth, then people feel good about purchasing it, she says.
"All sustainable marketing strategies have to educate consumers," says Stacee Matheson, founder and president of Ecobranders, which sells an eco-friendly line of promotional merchandise. "People will change their behavior if they understand why it’s important. "
Mic LeBel, an organic product consultant for Planet Friendly PR, says that businesses promoting respect for the Earth need to craft distinctive messages to be heard over competing voices.
Green marketers must speak with authority to their most stalwart supporters, while persuading potential purchasers to explore environmental alternatives. Company communicators are the middlemen.
A Murky Background
Unsnarling fact from fiction in the buyer’s mind is a daunting task even for marketing gurus. "Because there is no watchdog group for [the beauty products] industry, people have been fed false promises," says Onysko.
Pangea lists all ingredients and their sources on its labels. "We also tell our customers if the product is not right for them," says Onysko.
The smaller companies that pioneered sustainable alternatives find themselves competing with mega-corporations that entered the field with a great deal of marketing and distribution clout, says LeBel. Communicating authenticity to possible buyers becomes a crucial component to sustainable marketing plans.
A Brave New (Commercial) World
Visionary green marketing has changed the landscape of the commercial world and taken industries by surprise. Purcell points to the advertising campaign for the hybrid Toyota Prius as a creative example of how to extend a product’s appeal beyond "deep green" environmental borders. Strategists banned the word "green" from marketing media, she says. And they downplayed technical talk about emissions.
Instead, the company spokespeople concentrated on promoting fuel efficiency and lower gas costs. This pragmatic tactic may be part of the reason that Toyota leapfrogged over General Motors and Ford to become the largest automotive company in the world.
In another approach to greening a polluting industry, Root cites a partnership between Expedia.com, a top travel site, and TerraPass, the carbon offset agency. Expedia.com customers now have the option of purchasing "carbon offsets" (such as tree plantings) to diminish atmospheric damage caused by flying. "Other innovative green marketing promotions—like those used for fair trade coffee, recycled furniture, and organic cotton clothing—have simply explained the facts and placed decisions in buyers" hands," says Root.
Consumerism and marketing will always be intertwined—even in the eco-world. And "buyer beware" remains good counsel. "Making the right choices isn’t complicated," adds Onysko. "We just have to think before consuming."
DIANE MARTY is a Colorado-based freelance writer.