Several weeks back (this post has been percolating for a while), I received or interacted with three different examples of "green marketing" in a 24-hour period. 

The first was a banner ad from The Home Depot, which promoted two eco-friendly products, encouraging shoppers to "Go Green & Save." 

The second was a catalog from Design Within Reach, which cleverly asked "What is Green?" on its cover and featured, again, eco-friendly products, many manufactured from reclaimed materials. 

The last was a direct mail piece from The Container Store, which featured green products from Umbra, a brand I really like.  

As an eco-conscious consumer, I appreciate any company's genuine efforts to go green.  Ideally, this transformation should start with the company's selection of materials, suppliers, and manufacturing processes, so I'm a bit skeptical when I see green marketing without having any knowledge of the company's environmental track record.  Green marketing elicits a Pavlovian response from many consumers, so the lure of easy money makes me wary of "greenwashing" campaigns.  And I'm not alone.  Just Google "greenwashing" and take your pick of websites dedicated to blowing the whistle on companies that stretch the truth on their environmental resumes.

As a professional working within the word of mouth marketing industry, it struck me that green marketing represents a rare, macro-level opportunity for rapidly building or destroying credibility with a very large number of consumers.  I'm creating terminology on the fly here, so bear with me (BTW, I consulted WOMMA's Terminology Framework but didn't find terminology that describes the "why" of word of mouth). 

I think of micro-level word of mouth as something that companies can create for themselves by developing fantastic products, delivering fantastic service, and doing the right things in their advertising, sales, support, etc. to be memorable to consumers, somewhat independent of the external business and consumer environment (never completely independent, but relatively-speaking).  

Green marketing represents a very different opportunity, because the green trend is an externality.  Virtually every company has an opportunity (not all equal, of course) to benefit from increasing consumer sensitivity to the environmental practices of the companies they do business with, directly and indirectly.  To use a metaphor, green marketing is a big wave that everyone gets a chance to surf.  Some will surf it beautifully (authentically), while others will eat sand, and the majority of those in the latter category probably had no business surfing it in the first place.  Which are you, honestly?   

Coincidentally, the day I decided to write this post, eMarketer's "How Green is the Online Environment?" article appeared in my inbox.  It mentions new green marketing-focused research studies from DoubleClick and eMarketer, which may be worth a read if you are planning a green marketing campaign.  Just this morning, eMarketer followed up with another email newsletter article on green consumer demographics.  In summary, there is a strong positive correlation between environmental sensitivity and online engagement, especially among younger consumers.  "Green teens" indexed well above their non-green peers in multiple forms of engagement, from e-commerce and mobile content sites to using digital photo services and participating in chat rooms.  

Clearly, the green segment is a valuable one to target both online and off.  But before doing so, marketers should get comfortable with complete transparency.  The reputation risk of less than authentic green marketing is high, and as we've seen too many times in the recent past, today's online consumer is very adept at uncovering the truth in just a few Google searches.  On the flip side, if your brand has long upheld the green values that mainstream consumers are only now beginning to appreciate, you should absolutely consider using word of mouth marketing tactics to reach new consumers through the experiences, opinions, and recommendations of your satisfied customers.  

6 Responses to “Green Marketing & The Importance of Authenticity”

  1. Just to reinforce Brant’s message. In 2005 I wrote a book called Authentic Business. The main finding of the research that I did for the book is that authentic businesses get up to 5 times more out of each marketing dollar than their conventional counterparts. Not only that but the same ratio of 5:1 also applies to savings in staff recruitment and motivation as well.

    The result is that businesses that are run authentically are profitable at sizes and in markets where conventional rivals struggle. For many of these businesses environmental issues are a part of their purpose, not just a marketing add on. For US examples of authentically green businesses see Interface Carpets and Patagonia.

  2. Just to reinforce Brant’s message. In 2005 I wrote a book called Authentic Business. The main finding of the research that I did for the book is that authentic businesses get up to 5 times more out of each marketing dollar than their conventional counterparts. Not only that but the same ratio of 5:1 also applies to savings in staff recruitment and motivation as well.

    The result is that businesses that are run authentically are profitable at sizes and in markets where conventional rivals struggle. For many of these businesses environmental issues are a part of their purpose, not just a marketing add on. For US examples of authentically green businesses see Interface Carpets and Patagonia.

  3. Brett Hurt

    I like Jeff Bezos’ recent quote in a WSJ article interview I read (from the D3 conference – http://tinyurl.com/6a66a6 and http://allthingsd.com/d/) about how shopping online is more green. His point was that when driving to a store to shop, you take an inefficient route (your home -> each store). Add up the many consumers doing that, and those are many highly inefficient routes, consuming a great deal of gas. Compare this to UPS or FedEx delivery where they take highly efficient routes to homes, daily. I don’t have any hard facts on this – just his quote. But it intuitive enough.

    I was also struck by Wired’s recent article (http://tinyurl.com/6fevrr) where they argue that living in cities is more efficient (for similar reasons).

    And I’m hoping that the article in this month’s Wired about a global-warming solution has some real merit (http://tinyurl.com/6hnlre).

  4. Brett Hurt

    I like Jeff Bezos’ recent quote in a WSJ article interview I read (from the D3 conference – http://tinyurl.com/6a66a6 and http://allthingsd.com/d/) about how shopping online is more green. His point was that when driving to a store to shop, you take an inefficient route (your home -> each store). Add up the many consumers doing that, and those are many highly inefficient routes, consuming a great deal of gas. Compare this to UPS or FedEx delivery where they take highly efficient routes to homes, daily. I don’t have any hard facts on this – just his quote. But it intuitive enough.

    I was also struck by Wired’s recent article (http://tinyurl.com/6fevrr) where they argue that living in cities is more efficient (for similar reasons).

    And I’m hoping that the article in this month’s Wired about a global-warming solution has some real merit (http://tinyurl.com/6hnlre).

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>