I’ve seen broad terms like “green marketing” and “sustainable marketing” tossed around with very little explanation as to what they really mean. To remedy that, Mamie Patton’s excellent redux can be found here.
So if we accept these definitions, my question is: How much value do these movements have in the greater marketing scheme?
I would suggest that, at this time, these movements have strategic importance but not global importance. Here’s what I mean.
First, it’s important to separate personal feelings about the acts of “being green” and “supporting sustainability” from their effectiveness as marketing strategies. Though a person may feel strongly about either or both, their expectations from a company’s marketing may have little or nothing to do with those feelings.
Case in point: A couple with three young children is in the market for a new vehicle. They consider themselves environmentally responsible. They recycle, recently insulated their attic, installed a low-flow showerhead and have a small garden in their back yard. They are receptive to the idea of a hybrid vehicle because of its eco-friendly image. So the question is: What did they purchase?
The answer is: A Toyota Sienna minivan. Why? Zero percent financing. Remember, they are a young couple with three kids. So when they saw a television ad promoting 0% financing, they were impressed by how much money they could save. Do they still consider themselves “green”? I’m sure they do. Were they exposed to “green” marketing? Sure. But practicality won the day. Environmental considerations were a strategic factor, but other elements affected their global determination more.
The expectation among many is that “green marketing” and “sustainable marketing” play like some kind of trump card. And for a small percentage of the population, I’m sure that’s true. But for most of us, it’s just another factor to consider along with brand reputation, price, proximity and many other issues. For most, “green” does not equate to anything purely magical.
So, what’s a smart marketer to do? Here are a few general suggestions:
1. Develop your “green” and “sustainable” positions for your brand. No matter what you have to sell, there is some position relative to environmental impact. First, figure out what that is right now. Then try to extrapolate the future path. Maybe the footprint is small now, but you see a scenario where it becomes more important down the line. That’s a marketing story. Maybe it’s s position relative to your competition or your industry in total. But even if you don’t think there’s a story, try to develop one. You might be surprised at the results.
2. Decide where your enviro-strategy fits into your total marketing effort. You might have a great strategy, but it might only be 5% of your marketing emphasis due to several factors. Or you might take a small sliver of a story and parlay that into a brand-changing message. Of course, you have to develop it first (see #1). But you can’t decide how and where it fits in if you don’t figure out what it is. Once your story is part of your plan, it can be adjusted but it won’t be forgotten.
3. Engage your customers. In the age of the Internet and social media, there are plenty of ways to get your customers’ collective pulse on the issue of environmental friendliness. Allow them to give you feedback on its relative importance and how it might affect them and how they perceive your brand. The stories won’t all be good, but you’ll know where you stand. However, if you don’t ask you will never know.
4. Engage the “green” community. Don’t get caught up in an “us and them” mindset when it comes to these issues. If there are responsible groups that police or comment on your industry, talk to them. Share your concerns. Ask questions. Be proactive. It’s much harder for them to react negatively to you if they are part of the conversation. And chances are you will learn a few things in the process. Don’t you think Nestle wishes it had a better rapport with the “green” community right about now?
5. Assign responsibility. In a large company, there are entire departments dedicated to sustainability. If that doesn’t fit in your footprint, just be sure that someone is responsibility for keeping up with it as it pertains to your brand, your products, your market, your industry and your competition. And this person should be responsible for both internal and external education. This makes it clear to both your company and your public that sustainability issues mean something to you.
Environmental impact responsibility is not a fad. It’s also not the only factor in a grand marketing scheme. But somewhere in between there is a way for companies to own their own issues, engage their public and be aware of what their footprint is now and what it can be in the future.
What are some of the ways you have seen companies deal with the issues of “green marketing” and “sustainable marketing”?