Most ecopreneurs are familiar with the tenets of running a sustainable business — People, Planet, Profit, and, most importantly, in equal priority. Building a sustainable and eco-focused business is based upon a commitment to the welfare of society — and the environment — with the same emphasis as earning a profit. This turns traditional business on its axis by making the betterment of the planet as important as the bottom line. But some of the greatest returns can be generated by also doing a 180 on traditional marketing efforts.
‘Green Marketing,’ however, is still very much a gray area lacking in clearly defined guidelines around what it means to be a green product — or even a green company, for that matter. Everything from sustainable packaging to ecolabeling to green advertising falls under the umbrella, making it an opportunity, as well as a challenge, to engage in activities designed to enhance your positioning and elevate your value proposition in a memorable, scalable — and socially responsible — way. But, if harnessed effectively, it can yield significant brand equity and enough social capital to ignite growth and spark change.
Apart from no brainer solutions like using soy-based printing alternatives for marketing materials and reducing waste around the water cooler, let’s take a look at some strategically sound– and environmentally efficient — tactics for greening your marketing. And you don’t necessarily need to have a green product to demonstrate an actionable commitment to green business through your branding and communications initiatives.
Underscore Your [Green] Mission and Values in all Communications – Even if you don’t have a product that is going to revolutionize renewable energy, it doesn’t mean that your efforts won’t have a positive impact on the planet, so it’s still important to communicate your mission to your customers. You can include it in advertising, email campaigns, etc. and should have a section on your website where users can learn more about your sustainable businesss practices, and the part you’re taking in helping the planet — internally and externally. The culture of a company, and what they represent, is just as important to customers as the product or service itself, and this will help to align your brand with the environment, strenthening you as a key player in the market, and expanding your universe to those highly coveted green and eco-savvy consumers.
Foster Goodwill – Sponsoring charitable initiatives and giving back to the community are also critical elements to solidifying your image as a people and planet-centric company with whom customers will want to do business. Take advantage of PR angles such as press releases and resulting news coverage to use as marketing tools for growing your customer base and building your brand. In an oversaturated market where products and services have little distinction from competitors, demonstrating a conscious choice to use profits responsibly in contrbuting to the environment could make the critical difference in leading customers to a buying conclusion [that they can feel good about].
Create Feedback Channels – The old paradigm of marketing one-way at customers is over. Instead, use two-way communication channels and social media vehicles to facilitate feedback, giving your current — and potential customers — a voice in making a contribution as well. In doing so, you will afford them a sense of ownership in your product or service, and hence, create brand ambassadors and loyalists who will help spread your message in the market. This can be as simple as a survey on your website around what environmental issues are important to them or opening up a forum for ideas around how to eco-enhance your products. Green consumers are savvier than most, giving you a viable vehicle through which you can garner actionable market research and key insights to drive the development and evolution of your products.
Develop Your Local Community – You can’t save the entire planet if your own backyard is unkempt, so take advantage of grass roots opportunities within your own local area to build relationships and create a deep, personal connection with your community. Give your sustainable business a face by inviting members of the community to your offices or having a physical presence at local events, through which you can meaningfully interact with attendees. Focus on creating initiatives that stimulate your local economy and invest in the welfare of your community. Demonstrating a commitment to your roots with visible — and tangible –impact will kickstart your penetration into other areas, and highlight what’s possible across the markets you serve, as well as for the environment itself. Start small so that you can grow big.
Feature Measurable Goals – One of the best ways to get exposure for your company, product or service, is to show how your efforts are making a real difference. Create goals around reducing your carbon footprint by an achievable percentage, for example, and feature the results. This will show that your marketing words have weight and that you are not just greenwashing or paying lipservice to your environmental intentions. By highlighting the results of your sustainable business practices, you garner trust in the market and benefit from the halo effects of your customers’ participation in that change through purchase of your products or services. People want to make a difference, and your marketing should highlight how they can be a critical part of that process by supporting a sustainable business such as yours.
Identify Equitable Alliance Partners – One of the challenges for small businesses is the lack of top of mind brand awareness and share in the market. By identiifying high profile strategic alliance partners with similar goals and objectives, you can benefit from their existing brand equity and increase your market presence by tapping into a base of customers who are pre-disposed to your product or service, and with whom your messaging will resonate, giving you access to qualified and highly targeted leads. This also helps to reduce overhead, internal expenses and waste by partnering with businesses who can shoulder the load and share in development costs and the like.
Think Proprietarily – This depends on your vertical, but a big component of marketing is identifying your key points of differentiation and unique selling proposition for purposes of distinguishing yourself in the market. And sometimes, you need to create those differences. If you’re in the consumer packaged goods industry, for example, developing proprietary sustainable packaging methods could serve to effectively differentiate your brand while furthering your commitment to sustainability. It will also serve to attract new customers who opt to purchase products that better help and protect the environment. Consider your product or service and what proprietary sustainable processes you could develop to more significantly impact the environment and position your business for maximum share of a green-motivated market. Make this an inherent part of your business model — not just a marketing additive.
Implement Loyalty Programs – Effective marketing boils down to relationships, and by investing in cultivating mutually beneficial ones, you set yourself up for long-term success — not only by increasing sales amongst your existing user base but by expanding your market through brand evangelists who will proliferate your message across the space. One of the supreme benefits in running a green business is that you are already armed with an intimate understanding of the key drivers of your audience, and what is most important to them — helping the environment. Use those insights to create loyalty programs that honor their wants/needs, and give them a vehicle for communicating their specific desires. Seems like Marketing 101, but listen to your audience and deliver on it. By doing so, you fulfill your brand promise and support the underlying tenets of your business — traits which will ensure loyalty, repeat business and successful outcomes. It will also help with stimulating widespread adoption of eco-centric products and services by creating additional ways through which green benefits everyone.
Be Creative – These are just a few ways in which you can think strategically when it comes to marketing your sustainable business, product or service. What other opportunities can you harness in spurring the sales cycle and feeding that revenue back into the environment — and the community at large? Be creative and listen to your customers. Identify trends in the market to stay ahead of the curve. And immerse yourself in a category that is overflowing with resources and information to equip you for success. Remember that if your business isn’t profitable, you won’t be able to impact the planet as you’ve set out to do, so develop programs with that end goal in mind, and tailor your initiatives accordingly.
Above all, operate under the belief that change is possible, and that authenticity will shine through in all of your business communications.