Carolyn Parrs

 

It was Super Bowl Sunday 2004 when Sesame Street’s beloved Kermit the frog declared “It’s Easy Being Green” in a TV commercial for Ford’s new hybrid, the Escape. Life was good, and green was growing at super speed. You couldn’t pick up a magazine or browse a bookstore without seeing a marketing message such as “Go Green in Five Easy Steps.” Then it happened: the 2008 economic nosedive. I remember seeing the fear in faces of the green business owners at a conference in San Francisco. Would green go south? Or was Advertising Age right when it said green business “defies the economic downturn?”

Sorry to say that Ad Age was a bit too optimistic. Our industry did take a hit. However, smart green marketers that were savvy to the motivations of their customers shifted their marketing messages from saving the planet to saving the people. Joel Makower of GreenBiz.com called the shift “Me first, planet later.” Boy, did that create a rift in the green biz community.

The truth is, if you want to “greenstream” your product or service, you need to go beyond the choir and bring your message from the planetary to the personal. That means, if you want to reach mainstream America, you need to dig deep into their real motivations for going green. And it’s rarely about saving the polar bears.

 

Know Your Tribe

Before developing your marketing strategy, first you have to know to whom you are selling. What’s your target market and what are their values and motivations? This may seem like a duh, but I can’t tell you how often I see misplaced marketing messages. So let’s start here…

The consumer base is made up of what I call Shades of Green. Deep Greens (19 percent of US population) are the most environmentally active segment of the market. They are the most willing to pay a premium for green products and are more forgiving when it comes to efficacy. Medium Greens (33 percent) embrace environmentalism, but more slowly. They are practical and like to see the results of what they do, so are more likely to buy green products that make sense in the long run. Light Greens (16 percent) are generally unconcerned about environmental issues. They have a wait and see attitude and will only buy green products if they are economically equal, or better yet, less than conventional products and services. After all, shouldn’t green cost less if you are using fewer ingredients/supplies/parts?

Knowing your target market will go a long way in understanding how to craft meaningful messages to reach them. It is important to ask, “Who are you really talking to? How much do they know? What’s important to them?” Positive Energy Solar, a leading solar installer in New Mexico, did their branding homework and found that there remains a perception amongst NM consumers that solar is too expensive and too complicated to be easily implemented. In spite of their new, highly competitive financing options, this perception of a price-barrier lingered amongst potential clients. With a segmented market serving five very distinct geographic locations—Santa Fe, Taos, Los Alamos, Albuquerque and Las Cruces—we knew the ad campaign and media strategy would need to be diverse, but also highly focused. We cut to the heart of the matter with the branding campaign and tag line: “It Pays to be Positive” and created a series of print advertisements and digital communications such as “See the Light!” and “Get the Sun Without the Burn.”

 

Reframe Your Message

My cardinal rule for all green marketing is to bring your message down to earth. It is imperative to make your messages relevant to the lives of your potential customers.Most consumers require a mix of the three Es of Green: Ecology, Economy and Efficacy in order to make a green purchase. Gone are the days where green is a significant differentiator in the marketplace. Your product or service can’t just be green. It has to be great. That means it’s got to work as well or better than a conventional product. And if it’s competitively priced, all the better. So it is important to ask: “Where does my product/service land on this landscape?”

Growstone, an Albuquerque company, developed a breakthrough horticulture product, and their story couldn’t be better. They take the discarded glass from landfills (beer bottles, wine bottles, soda bottles, you name it), crush it, mill it and bake it into “sheets” that look like brownies. Then they break the sheets into small “stones” in various sizes. These highly porous particles become Growstones. They are 100 percent recycled and American made. What’s more, the company uses no water in the production of their product and Growstones help prevent the destructive strip-mining that is commonly practiced by their competition. How’s that for an environmental story?

 

Well, all of that is well and good, but for growers, if the growing medium doesn’t work, who cares? We learned this firsthand by interviewing hydroponic retail storeowners. It was no surprise that product performance was Number One – but right behind that was the fact that Growstones are made from recycled glass. That combination, ecology and efficacy (roots love Growstones), made the product a winner and inspired us to create a testimonial campaign using the very words of the growers. In one year, Growstones sales increased over 400 percent, their Facebook page exceed 10,000 fans, and today they are a major player in the growing hydroponic and gardening market.

 

Go Beyond the Choir

Ten years ago, a Roper Green Gauge study found that 51 percent of Americans would “go green” if they only knew how. Sadly, after all these years, consumers are still not getting it. In another green confidence study, GreenBiz.com found that only 45 percent of consumers felt like they had enough information to make the right decisions about the products they buy. Educating your customer is a vital aspect of marketing your green product.

For Bioshield, a manufacturer of non-toxic, zero-VOC paints and finishes, we knew that people buy paint first to beautify their home. The fact that their paints are non-toxic makes them even better. The dilemma was that most consumers do not know the toxic load in everyday paints and home décor products, so we developed an ad campaign around the question “Did you know?” and built in scientific elements to educate the customer.

  • Did you know that indoor air pollution is two-to-five times worse than outdoor air pollution, even if you live in a heavily industrialized city? (Source: EPA)
  • Did you know a baby crawling on conventional carpet inhales the equivalent of four cigarettes a day?” (Source: Scientific American)
  • Did you know that conventional paints, stains and finishes off-gas dangerous toxins into the air you breathe?

We redesigned their consumer catalog, sprinkled some of these “eco-wake-up calls” into it and called the campaign “Beauty Without the Beast.” This branding line assured customers that they could beautify their home without sacrificing the health of their family or the planet at large. Sales increased 63 percent.

 

Green to Gold

Knowing your tribe, reframing your message and going beyond the choir can surely turn your green product to gold. That being said, green is beyond a marketing claim. It’s a big rethink of how we live on this big, beautiful planet we’ve been given. The trick is to communicate that in a way that meets the market we’re going for, so ultimately we all get it. So instead of standing on our planetary pulpit, let’s all get down to earth and remember, we’re all in this together. That’s the real gold.

Carolyn Parrs is the CEO of Mind Over Markets, a dedicated Santa Fe-based green marketing communications and design company. For over 10 years, she has helped businesses and organizations succeed in the growing green market. Parrs is also board president of the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce. 505.989.4004, www.mindovermarkets.com
 
 

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