I attended the State of Green Business Forum 2010 last week in Chicago, organized by Greener World Media. One panel explored the topic of green marketing in the age of transparency and shared many insights.
No such thing as a green consumer
There are many motivations for purchasing more eco-friendly products, and not all of them involve saving the planet, so it is nearly impossible to create a profile for this consumer group. This varies even more when considering different categories of consumer goods. Some folks may buy energy efficient appliances to save money, while others may pay a premium for natural cosmetics because they are perceived as safer than conventional products. Although perhaps about 7 percent of consumers are motivated by altruism, the majority are motivated because they see the product as better in some way for themselves (such as health, lower energy cost, or safety). In many cases, the green product is the tiebreaker or the cherry on top, thus green consumers must see the product as the same, or better, than the competition.
Most rely on the packaging for information
According to the consumer study, Eco Pulse 2009, by the Shelton Group, product labels are more important than advertising for finding out about green products. Of course untruthful labels can be illegal by breaking Fair Trade Commission Standards or considered to be greenwashing by consumers, so creating an affective label can be a tricky task.
“There is a lack of trust in the marketplace,” says Chris Nelson. For this reason, he considers the creation of standards to be particularly important. UL Environment is currently creating standards for green building products that will assist the LEED building certification process.
Make green purchasing easy
“Consumers don’t want to work hard,” says Amy Hebard. “They don’t want to be mini scientists.” Although some of us may use iPhone applications like GoodGuide, most don’t want to have to work so hard to make purchasing decisions.
Shelton gave the example of Walmart selling only highly concentrated laundry detergent. “Walmart is making it hard to not make a green choice.”
Avoid negative or preachy marketing messages
Purchasing is an emotional decision, rarely a logical one. Consumer decisions are made because a product is perceived to have a higher value to them. Consider the question, “What’s in it for me?”
“It’s better to sell deeper human benefits,” says Suzanne Shelton. “How do they market beer? By promising you are going to get laid.”
This concept doesn’t necessarily apply to business-to-business purchases however, where specifications and the cost of ownership data often trump emotions. Joel Makower pointed out that this is often due to the large volume purchases. For example, if 2,000 computers are inefficient, it will make a much bigger impact on the bottom line than a personal purchase of just one computer.
Sarah Lozanova is the director of marketing for Bubble Train Toys and is passionate about the new green economy and is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Natural Home & Garden, Energy International Quarterly, Triple Pundit, Green Business Quarterly, Renewable Energy World, and Green Business Quarterly. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and is a co-founder of Trees Across the Miles, an urban reforestation initiative.