3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course on a blogging series about “sustainable marketing.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.
By Zach Sharpe
Many budding environmentalist-entrepreneurs are overly optimistic about the success of their ventures, believing that because their cause is noble, mainstream America should be willing to pay a premium for earth-friendly products. While their cause has resonated with the loyal LOHAS sector of the population (70 million +), it has failed to catch on with the majority of Americans. These companies continue to spend huge amounts of time and resources developing new ways of proving their “green-ness,” when in reality, they are just regurgitating the same old environmental messages to an audience that isn’t listening.
The fact is, for the truly successful sustainable companies, it’s not about being "green;" it’s about a superior product and a smarter message. It is about beating their mainstream competitors at their own game by concentrating on the elements of their offering that can improve the customer experience. While saving the polar ice caps is a strong selling point, if the product doesn’t directly increase user satisfaction, it’s going nowhere. Method Products has done an outstanding job of appealing to customers without relying on traditional doom and gloom sustainable marketing techniques. In fact, Method hardly even advertises that their bottles are made from 100% recycled plastic, and that they offset their carbon footprint. Instead, they promote the features that are relevant to their users.
In 2007, Method launched the “Detox Your Home” marketing campaign that showcased their biodegradable cleaning products. However, instead of focusing on the fact that biodegradable soaps are good for the planet, they restructured the message to focus on healthier homes. Whether you are a tree-hugger or a climate change denier, a healthier home is something that everyone wants. With the simple message of “rid your home of toxic chemicals,” they implied that their competition relies on harmful substances while positioning themselves as the correct choice for humans. Through this customer-focused campaign, they brought the benefits of sustainability right into their customers’ daily lives, without being overly “green” about it.
Beyond that, Method brings a fresh face to a market entrenched in practicality and normalcy. Their sleek and modern bottle designs make their competition look old fashion. Their product often enhances the appearance of the bathroom, something that many interior designers and homemakers find crucially important.
This combination of superior products and a better message caused quite a stir in the market. Not only did Method gain market share, they started to force the competition to play their game. Soon, huge companies like Clorox and Arm & Hammer came out with their own “green” lines, believing that this had been the key to Method’s success. While these brands, like Green Works, were successful for a while, they didn’t offer more benefits than just being “green.” When our economy hit hard times, customers quickly dropped their attachment to sustainability, and thus, these brands.
However, consumers didn’t drop products that brought them real value. Last year, Method experienced double-digit growth, while Green Works revenue fell by 40% and many other brands were discontinued. This just goes to show that it doesn’t matter how large your budget is – or how green your product is: it is about building a product and message that speaks to your customer.
Zach Sharpe is an 2012 MBA candidate in Sustainable Management at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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