Green Copywriter Earns Dan Kennedy Copywriter for Info-Marketers Certification

Green Ink Copywriting is proud to announce that its principal, Anne Michelsen, has earned the designation of ‘Dan Kennedy Certified Copywriter for Info-Marketers’ through American Artists and Writers, Inc. (AWAI), a leading publisher of direct-response copywriting, travel writing, photography and graphic design courses.

Dan Kennedy copywriter certificationFOOSLAND, IL –  Green Ink Copywriting is proud to announce that its principal, Anne Michelsen, has earned the designation of ‘Dan Kennedy Certified Copywriter for Info-Marketers’ through American Artists and Writers, Inc. (AWAI), a leading publisher of direct-response copywriting, travel writing, photography and graphic design courses.

Dan Kennedy is one of the most sought-after marketing consultants in the country. He is widely credited as having been instrumental in the development of the information marketing industry as well as the use of inbound marketing to promote traditional businesses.  He developed his copywriter certification course in conjunction with AWAI, in order to help remedy a perceived shortage of copywriters equipped to handle the unique demands of info-marketing clients.

Info-marketing refers to the online or offline sale of information products such as traditional books, audio programs, videos, or DVDs; magazines; newsletters; e-books; membership websites and clubs; teleseminars and webinars; telecoaching programs; and seminars and conferences—and combinations thereof. The Dan Kennedy Copywriter for Info-Marketers Certification is awarded to professional copywriters who have successfully completed a course of study in preparation for such copywriting.

InfoMarketing Association President Robert Skrob applauds the program. “Dan Kennedy’s Copywriter Certification Program creates a key resource for growing information marketers, copywriters who understand the business. In the info-marketing business, there’s always copy to be written, call notices, conference promotions and product sales letters. Having a stable of certified copywriters who understand the info-marketing business is a terrific shortcut.”

Anne Michelsen founded Green Ink Copywriting in 2008. She provides revenue-boosting copywriting, PR, and social media services to corporations and nonprofits as well as info-marketers. Anne has special expertise in sustainability and green product promotion, and is one of the most knowledgeable copywriters in the country on FTC green marketing compliance. Her free monthly green marketing tips and e-course on how to identify and sell to the 6 types of green consumer are available at GreenInkCopywriting.com.

For more information, contact Green Ink Copywriting here.

 

 

7 Ways to Capture More of Those Trade Show Leads

Next time you exhibit, don’t make the mistake of letting the bulk of your leads sink into the cold depths of anonymity. Hook ’em instead with one of the trade show lead capture methods listed here.

Iceberg
photo credit: mariusz kluzniak via photopin cc

A group of trade show prospects is like an iceberg. The number of attendees at any given trade show who are actively looking for what you offer is (like the tip of the iceberg) dwarfed by the number of attendees who may not be in the market for your goods and services NOW, but have a reasonable chance of needing them in the future.

I’m always amazed at how many companies invest countless hours and thousands of dollars into appearing at trade shows, yet routinely let these potentially lucrative future sales sink into the abyss.

Not collecting contact information from those “bottom of the iceberg” prospects and getting their permission to stay in touch with them is just as wasteful to your company’s long-term sustainability as leaving your windows open to the winter winds.

Well, ok, maybe it won’t change your carbon footprint. But it will hurt your ability to stay in business. And if your company goes belly up, why then all your corporate championing of the environment goes with it. And you’ll be working for the competition.

So, with that in mind, let’s talk about how to get those potential future prospects interested enough in your company to give you (at least) their names and email addresses, so you can continue to market to them.

Trade Show Lead Magnets

Here are some proven methods for trade show lead generation:

  • Your newsletter – If you are demonstrating the value of what you offer, which you should absolutely be doing at a trade show, many people will happily sign up to your newsletter list IF you have a sign-up form readily available. (You DO have a company newsletter, don’t you?)  You can sweeten the deal by offering a coupon or useful information as a reward.
  • Drawings for prizes – you’ll likely get a lot of leads for a prize drawing, but they may be lower quality leads (i.e., a lot of people who are really not interested in your product, but who would like to win the prize.) Choose your prize carefully to appeal primarily to your best prospects.
  • Offer of useful information in return for their contact information – white paper, book, video, etc. You’ll probably get fewer leads this way than with a prize drawing, but because the information you’re offering is (hopefully) highly targeted, they’ll be of higher quality; i.e. more likely to be real prospects. By the way, nothing wrong with offering multiple info pieces, each targeted towards a different industry problem and/or subset of your customer base.
  • Item giveaways – A lot of companies give out promotional items, but most of these are a waste. Try to figure out a promotional item that will actually get used (so your brand gets a bit of exposure) and can result in lead capture. Example: a Frisbee (pen, tote bag, whatever)printed with an invitation to sign up for a monthly prize drawing on your website. (For ideas on finding eco-friendlier promotional items, see my article on the topic here.)
  • Surveys – A carefully constructed survey can reveal a lot about your prospects and how to market to them. Many people are curious about the results of the survey they take; ask for their contact information and promise to send them this information once it’s compiled. (Of course you will use this as another opportunity to present the benefts of what you offer. Right?)
  • Samples – have people sign up to receive a free or discounted product sample sent to them. This can work especially well when you will be launching a new product soon, as it creates buzz around the product.
  • Contests – Run a contest and allow people to enter it right at your trade booth. This has the added advantage of keeping them engaged after the event.

How much contact information is too much to ask for?

The more expensive your product and the longer the sales cycle, the more information you should ask for. Also, the better the “goodies” you’re offering, the more information you should ask for.

If your product is of mass appeal and relatively inexpensive, your best bet is to go for sheer number of contacts. This is especially true if your product is likely to be an impulse buy. In that case, ask for just the name and email (or the minimum amount of information you’ll need to contact them).

If it will cost you a fair amount to contact them (i.e. if you’re offering to mail them a book or free product samples), always ask for their full information, including mailing address, email, phone and fax (if applicable.)

It is a good idea to disclose that you’ll be sending them periodic information. This need not be a turn-off, and you can even position it as a bonus. Just treat them with respect, and make sure they can opt out of any email correspondence, and you’re good to go.

Next time you exhibit, don’t make the mistake of letting the bulk of your leads sink into the cold depths of anonymity. Hook ’em with one of the methods above. (Or one of your own. Got any suggestions? Post ’em below!)

And then – don’t forget to follow up, respectfully but assertively. More on that in a future post!

 

Not sure what to put on Pinterest? Handy infographic offers dozens of board ideas for your pinning pleasure

Do you have a business you know could benefit from exposure on Pinterest, but you’re not quite sure how to start? No worries. Just check out this fabulous infographic, courtesy of Pinterest expert Andrea Ayers, for dozens of great ideas sure to attract not just traffic, but customers targeted specifically for your business.

Pinterest logoDo you have a business you know could benefit from exposure on Pinterest, but you’re not quite sure how to start? No worries. Just check out this fabulous infographic, courtesy of Pinterest expert Andrea Ayers, for dozens of great ideas sure to attract not just traffic, but customers targeted specifically for your business.

Notice especially Andrea’s suggestions suitable for all entrepreneurs. How many of these items are ones you already have at your fingertips? Do you have a blog? Pin your posts! Already have case studies or success stories written up? Pin ’em! Same goes with press mentions, your social media profiles, and any free reports or brochures you distribute. And if you have a smart phone, get into the habit of snapping photos your customers will find interesting – both within your business and outside of it.

All these things will load your Pinterest boards with original content, which is the very best thing for attracting relevant traffic.

launchgrowjoy 142-Pinterest-board-ideas-infographic

Do you use Pinterest for business? Have a board you’re especially proud of? Please share below!

How to create a customer survey using Google Docs Forms

One of my clients wanted to create a survey to send to her customers, and asked me how I would recommend setting one up. I suggested using Google Docs.

Survey graphicOne of my clients wanted to create a survey to send to her customers, and asked me how I would recommend setting one up.

Since her budget is limited, I recommended going with something free. I know of at least two good free survey platforms, Survey Monkey and Google Docs. In this case, I steered her towards Google Docs, since Survey Monkey would have limited her to only ten questions, and she needed a longer survey for her purposes.

Don’t be put off by the fact Google Docs are free. You can create a very professional-looking survey with Google Forms.

Setting up a customer survey in Google Docs is easy. Here’s how, in x easy steps:

1. If you haven’t already, you’ll need to set up a free Google account. You can do this here.

2. Click on “Drive” in the menu bar at the top of the page.

(If you are accessing Drive from your Gmail or other Google account page, you can find it by clicking the little “Apps” grid in the upper left.)

3. In Google Drive, click on the “Create” button on the upper left.

4. From the drop down, choose “Form.”

5. This will pop up a window where you can type in the title of your survey and choose a theme for its appearance. (We chose “Purpleicious.”)

6.Click OK.

7. Now it’s time to fill in the questions for your survey. In addition to the question, it will allow you to select the type of question (multiple choice, text, etc.) and/or ask for information (date, etc.)


7. If you want more than one question, click “add item” to fill in the next one.

8. When you have entered all your questions, scroll down just a bit to select what your viewers will experience once they’ve finished the survey (Google forms lets you choose from several options – just click the box(es) to select your choice(s) ), and hit “Send Form” in the lower left.

9. You’ll get a pop up that offers you a link to your survey, as well as the option to share on your social networks and/or email your survey to your contacts.

10. Once you have copied the link and/or shared your survey, it will prompt you to create a new Google spreadsheet (or a new page in an existing spreadsheet.) You do this by going back into Drive clicking the “Create” button again as in Step 3, but this time you’ll want to select “Spreadsheet” rather than “Form.” Your customers’ responses will appear in this spreadsheet (which you can find listed in your Google Drive) when people start filling out your survey.

And that’s pretty much it! 🙂

Surveys are great for all sorts of applications. My client wanted hers to use as part of a free diagnostic service for new customers, but they’re also excellent for getting feedback from customers, testing marketability of a potential new product, etc.

Do you use surveys in your business? Do tell!

Could anti-child abuse ad backfire in the long run?

Child abuse is a serious problem, and needs to be addressed. And the ANAR ad is a well-executed, well-intentioned attempt to do so. But I’m concerned that in their short-term attempt to help solve the problem, the creators of this ad may well be exacerbating the problem long-term.

I recently wrote a post about a bad ad. This ad used a scene of attempted suicide to make a point about a product. Needless to say, it was  almost universally recognized as being tasteless. And of course it did nothing to improve the company’s image, let alone sales.

Anar child abuse poster
A Spanish anti-child abuse poster offers targeted messages to potential victims and perpetrators of abuse. But could it backfire in the end?

But there’s another ad out there that is receiving all kinds of applause. It is clever. It is well intentioned. It might even help save a life. And yet, I have grave reservations. I suspect that this ad, too, might actually do more harm than good.

The ad was created by the Spanish division of the Grey Group for the the ANAR foundation, a Spanish child advocacy organization. The outdoor poster is intended to combat child abuse by sending separate targeted messages to both children and their potential abusers. In order to do this, the ad incorporates lenticular printing, which allows different images to appear when viewed at different angles.

An adult viewing the poster sees a child’s face and the message, “Sometimes child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it.” However, when viewed from 4’3″ or lower, the child’s face appears bruised and the message changes to “If somebody hurts you, phone us and we’ll help you,” along with ANAR’s child abuse hotline number.

The concept is brilliant. And for older children, it could prove to be life-changing, if not life-saving.

As I said, though, I have reservations. The hotline portion of the ad is targeted at children ages 10 and under. But only about half of this population is even literate. Children under about 5 won’t get the all-important verbal message. All they’ll see is a child’s bruised face.

Think about that for a minute.

Pre-literate children are sensitive to the world in a way that you and I haven’t been for many, many years. They live in a world of images and sensations largely untempered by logic.

What will a four year old child think when he sees the bruised face of the boy in the ad?

I can think of a lot of possibilities, but none of them involve picking up the phone and calling for help.

If the child has not personally experienced abuse, perhaps he will assume that the boy fell off his bike. Or maybe he will mistake the bruising for jam.

But what if the child has himself been abused? What if he carries similar bruises on his own small body, or has seen them on his siblings or friends?

Don’t you think – in the absence of a verbal explanation – that the message he receives might be the very opposite of that which the ad is intended to convey?

Mightn’t the prominent public display of the image of an abused child serve as a validation in the child’s mind that the abuse he has experienced is normal?

The concept of the development of normative beliefs  – the formation of beliefs and world view based on what is perceived as usual or normal in an individual’s environment – is well documented. In a 2003 paper entitled Imitation and the Effects of Observing Media Violence on Behavior, University of Michigan Professor of Communication Studies & Psychology L. Rowell Huesmann writes:

Children’s own behaviors influence the normative beliefs that develop, but so do the children’s observation of the behaviors of those around them including those observed in the mass media…

…(T)he size of the correlation between media violence viewing in childhood and later adult aggression was …higher than the correlation between exposure to lead and IQ loss, between calcium intake and bone mass, between exposure to asbestos and laryngeal cancer, and exposure to passive smoking in the workplace and lung cancer.

Granted, Huesmann’s study focused on active media violence observed through video. However, he also mentions a phenomenon called “desensitization,” in which repeated exposure to blood, gore and violence (including images thereof) eventually negates the innate negative reactions to such things that most humans experience. People who have been desensitized to violence in this manner have been proven more likely to become perpetrators themselves.

Child abuse is a serious problem, and needs to be addressed. And the ANAR ad is a well-executed, well-intentioned attempt to do so. But I’m concerned that in their short-term attempt to help solve the problem, the creators of this ad may well be exacerbating the problem long-term.

I’m no psychologist (and I have no idea if the ad has been effective in its purpose), but doesn’t it seem like exposing young children to images of abused children could easily contribute to the desensitization of young (and older) children to the horrors of abuse, and to the formation of subconscious beliefs that child abuse is normal and acceptable?

Is this ad acceptable? Do its potential benefits outweigh its potential harm? How else could the message be relayed?

What do you think?

One Bad Ad: Hyundai’s unfortunate blunder

Every once in a while an ad catches my attention, either because it’s unusually clever – or unusually bad. Like the ad released last April in the UK by Hyundai Motors. To me, the story is doubly tragic. I’m saddened by the insensitive depiction of human tragedy for no other purpose than to promote a product. And I’m disheartened that the world’s first mass-produced, zero-emissions, hydrogen fuel cell vehicle’s marketplace debut had to be marred with such negative psychology.

hyundai-ix35-1
The Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell is the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen powered vehicle. Will it survive the negative press generated by its debut UK television ad?

I don’t always keep abreast of image advertising, since I’m more involved in the content marketing and direct response arenas. But every once in a while an ad catches my attention, either because it’s unusually clever – or unusually bad.

Sometimes, bad ads can be (painfully) fun to view. Sort of like watching an old Godzilla movie.

But others are just plain tasteless. Like the ad released last April in the UK by Hyundai Motors, depicting a man attempting to commit suicide by piping his exhaust fumes back into the passenger compartment of his car. At the end, he is unsuccessful because – ha, ha! he owns a Hyundai zero-emissions vehicle.

(I decided not to include the video in this post because I don’t want anything that crass on my blog, but if you really must see for yourself, you can do so here.)

Was Hyundai expecting their “clever ad” to go viral and result in blockbuster sales of zero-emissions cars to people wanting to protect their loved ones from suicide?

Or maybe the brand simply had a death wish. Because the ad did go viral, thanks in large part to Holly Brockwell. The U.K. copywriter wrote a tearful and outraged blog post raking Hyundai and its advertising agency, Innocean, over the coals for making her relive her father’s suicide using the same method depicted in the ad.

“I understand better than most people the need to do something newsworthy, something talkable, even something outrageous to get those all-important viewing figures,” Holly wrote. “What I don’t understand is why a group of strangers have just brought me to tears in order to sell me a car. Why I had to be reminded of the awful moment I knew I’d never see my dad again, and the moments since that he hasn’t been there.”

Why, indeed?

To me, the story is doubly tragic. I’m saddened by the insensitive depiction of human tragedy for no other purpose than to promote a product. And I’m disheartened that the world’s first mass-produced, zero-emissions, hydrogen fuel cell vehicle’s marketplace debut had to be marred with such negative psychology.

I’ve said it before, and this incident brings it home: harping on the negative does nothing to promote green products. People want to feel good about what they buy. Who can feel good about a car that conjures up images of attempted suicide?

There’s one more thing that has me scratching my head – Hyundai’s statement after pulling the ad:

The ad was created by an affiliate advertising agency, Innocean Europe, without Hyundai’s request or approval. It runs counter to our values as a company and as members of the community. We are very sorry for any offense or distress the video caused.

What? The ad was created and aired without Hyundai’s request or approval? Huh? I find it awfully hard to believe that Innocean could or would create and run a major television ad without at least a nod from its client. And if so, then shame on Hyundai.

Hyundai slipped up bad by allowing an ad agency that obviously doesn’t have a clue about green marketing psychology (nor, apparently, human decency) to represent their brand. And they slipped up again by neglecting to protect their own reputation and values, and then attempting to shift the blame.

I don’t mean to come down too hard on Hyundai. The company has an exemplary diversity policy, has donated millions to charitable causes, and is a pioneer in eco-aware vehicle manufacturing. I just want to point out that in green marketing, (and increasingly in all marketing), it’s so important to talk your walk as well as walk your talk.

Your (Customer’s) Brain on Computers, Part 3

Some of these online customer characteristics represent challenges from our point of view as marketers. However, keeping them in mind when we structure our online content can help us craft more effective messages. Here are some suggestions.

Ten (plus) tips to reach and retain the online customer

Cartoon - where is everybody?
Ever feel like that little fellow at the top? Follow these tips to capture your online customers’ attention – and encourage them to stay on your site!
photo credit: HikingArtist.com via photopin cc

Some of the characteristics of online customers represent challenges from our point of view as marketers. However, keeping them in mind when we structure our online content can help us craft more effective messages. Here are some suggestions for keeping the attention of your online visitors:

  1. Do your keyword research. The more closely your copy matches a customer’s exact concerns, the more likely he will be to pay close attention.
  2. Pay special attention to headlines and leads. Use powerful, compelling, benefit-driven headlines to draw your reader in. Get right to the point in your copy ; this doesn’t necessarily mean push for the sale right away, but you want to be sure to give the reader ample reason to stick with you.
  3. Use subheads, captions, bullets and graphics. Most web users are “power skimmers.” For max effect, use these elements to tell the outline of your story so a reader can get the gist of your message in a short amount of time.
  4. Avoid large blocks of text. These can intimidate the reader, and encourage him to click away.
  5. Provide excellent, useful information. The online reader won’t stick around if you’re not giving him something on value. He’d rather be on Facebook.
  6. Provide leadership in your copy and design. Have a clear idea of what you want your visitor to do, and include strong offers and calls to action in order to direct him there.
  7. Make it entertaining. Insert a bit of humor where appropriate. Rhyming text and alliterative language patterns are fun and can have a mesmerizing effect. (Just don’t overdo it!)
  8. Use clean, uncluttered design. Your customer is distracted enough without an overly busy web design adding to the mess.
  9. Encourage interaction. When the customer’s involved, he’s more likely to stay around.
  10. Hyperlink mindfully. Hyperlinking is very handy for providing credibility-building references and when you want to encourage the reader to visit a particular page. But hyperlinks can be dangerous, too. They can suck your reader right off your site. That’s why I use them sparingly and strategically. You might want to reserve them for internal links (say, to a landing page), and use footnotes for references as I did in parts 1 and 2 of this article. Why encourage attention deficit in your reader?
  11. Bonus! Type additional tips into the comment box below, and I’ll tweet them out. Be sure to include a link to your site!

<<Read Part 1             <Read Part 2

Your (Customer’s) Brain on Computers, Part 2

Visitors come to your website in a very different mental state than when they’re reading your brochure or speaking to a sales rep. Here are a few of the major characteristics of online customers:

Customer attention and memory retention: a guide to your customer’s brain on computers

Seriously. Wouldn’t you speak to this guy differently? Spending time online really does change the structure of the brain. Make sure your internet messaging reflects the fact!
photo credit: University of Maryland Press Releases via photopin cc

Visitors come to your website  in a very different mental state than when they’re reading your brochure or speaking to a sales rep.  Here are a few of the major characteristics of online customers:

  • Online customers tend to be flighty. The average time spent on a web page is well under a minute – much shorter than the amount of time a casual newspaper or periodical reader typically spends on a page. Web users are usually searching for something in particular, and unless the page they land on speaks exactly to their needs, they tend to buzz off rather quickly.
  • Web customers are multitaskers. When someone comes to your website, you’re competing with phone calls and texts, email and Skype notifications, and other webpages that your visitor has open at the same time (one study indicated that users have open an average of 3.2 browser tabs, with 25% of respondents keeping 11 or more open at a time). 1 Any of these distracting elements can interfere with the amount of time your customer spends on your site.
  •  Internet users will read your content if you capture your attention sufficiently.  A 2007 study found that once online readers settle into an article, nearly two thirds of them will read to completion.2
  • Internet use affects your customers’ memory. Research by Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow indicates that Internet users tend to either remember information they find online, or where to find the information, but not both.3

<Read Part 1          Read Part 3>

 

References:

  1. Open This Story in a New Tab, Slate.com, Dec. 6, 2010
  2. Web News Readers Have Greater Attention Span: Study, Reuters.com, March 31, 2007
  3. Study Finds That Memory Works Differently in the Age of Google, Columbia University blog, July 14, 2011

Your (Customer’s) Brain on Computers, Part 1

no matter how much we limit our own time online, the fact remains: our customers probably don’t. To put it bluntly, our biggest source of competition anymore may not be our competitors, but what’s going on in our customers’ heads! So we need to take special care to structure our messages to both capture and keep their attention despite any adverse effects their brains may be experiencing.

The internet is more than a way for customers to find you. It actually changes the structure of their brains. This series of articles reveals how – and offers tips on attracting and retaining online visitors.
photo credit: Saad Faruque via photopin cc

How much time do you spend online?

If you’re anywhere close to average, it’s somewhere  between 25 and 27 hours per week. 1

That’s right. We spend nearly a quarter of our waking hours plugged in, and that’s not including the time we spend on other electronic devices, including our cell phones and our kid’s handheld gaming devices (admit it!)

Now, hold onto your chair. When you surf the web, you’re accomplishing more than shopping for shoes or chatting up your Facebook friends. Behind the scenes, what you’re really doing is rewiring your brain.

It’s true.  And you may not want to hear what you’re doing to it – but I’m going to tell you anyway.

How the Internet affects our brains

Research on the Internet’s effect on brain activity indicates that it contributes to attention deficit, addictive behavior, scattered thinking, loss of focus, and reduced ability to read human emotions.  In some cases, the effects can be physically measured: one recent study of 18 college students found that excessive internet use actually resulted in atrophy of gray matter in the brain. 2

Clearly, this is a serious issue. Due to my occupation, I admit to spending far more than the average amount of time online, and I can personally attest to feeling some of the effects.  I am starting to take steps to limit my (and my kids’) time online, and I highly suggest that you consider doing so, too.

But no matter how much we limit our own time online, the fact remains: our customers probably don’t.  To put it bluntly, our biggest source of competition anymore may not be our competitors, but what’s going on in our customers’ heads!

So we need to take special care to structure our messages to both capture and keep their attention despite any adverse effects their brains may be experiencing.

>Read Part 2            >>Read Part 3

References:

  1. Millennials Up Their Time Online, MarketingCharts.com, Jan.21, 2013
  2. Does Life Online Give You ‘Popcorn Brain?’, CNN Health,  June 23, 2011

 

One Company’s Journey Towards Supply Chain Transparency: Interview with BuyGreen.com Founder Douglas Farquhar

No one knows the challenges of green product sourcing more than Douglas Farquar, founder of BuyGreen.com. Last month I had the pleasure of speaking with Doug about the Green Products Standard – his company’s proprietary green product rating system – and the rewards and challenges he and his team experienced in developing and implementing it.

stainless steel water bottles
Figuring out what’s “green” about these water bottles is hard enough, let alone comparing their environmental footprint to, say, a ream of copy paper.

What makes a “green” product green? A simple question, but not so easy to answer. Almost no product is “green” across the board – some features are greener than others, and one has to weigh the environmental pros and cons.

This, of course, is one of the biggest challenges faced by businesses trying to offer more responsible choices – and by consumers trying to make those choices.  The whole scene is confusing, and too often results in consumers just throwing up their hands and giving up – either blindly purchasing whatever “seems” like the best option, or walking away from responsible purchasing altogether.

One Company’s Journey Towards Transparency

No one knows the challenges of green product sourcing more than Douglas Farquhar, founder of BuyGreen.com. He launched his online business in 2007 with two goals:

  1. To create a one stop shop for eco friendly products, and
  2. To offer a way for consumers to intelligently compare products based on their environmental impact.

In order to meet the second goal, BuyGreen.com developed a comprehensive proprietary rating system – the Green Products Standard – for all products sold on their site. The Green Products Standard reviews and rates products based on their environmental impact in four key areas: source materials, manufacturing, materials and disposal.

Products are scored from 1-100 in each of these categories, plus each product is given an overall score. (It’s important to note that a positive score, even a low one, still indicates that a product is more environmentally friendly than typical products on the market.) This scoring method is notable because it enables consumers to compare all BuyGreen.com’s products at a glance – making it much easier to make informed environmental choices.

Last month I had the pleasure of speaking with Doug about the Green Products Standard, and the rewards and challenges he and his team experienced in developing and implementing it.

Anne Michelsen: What prompted you to implement the Green Products Standard?

Douglas Farquhar: At the time (that we launched BuyGreen.com), I wasn’t always able to understand objectively why & to what extent a product was green. There are a lot of certifying organizations, but they are mostly product or industry focused. For example, if I want to buy copy paper, I know the FSC certification is very good and I look for that. But if I want a water bottle, how do I make sure I’m making as good a decision?

We take trust very seriously – it’s even reflected in our tagline – and I think the Green Product Standard is a pillar of trust for our customers.

Anne: Please tell me about the process you went through to bring the Green Products Standard into being.

Doug: We started out taking it from a laymen’s perspective. Some of these certifications you need to be a PhD to make sense of them, your eyes kind of blur over. We wanted to put it in plain English and in layman’s terms, to make it accessible to the average Joe.

It’s really a part of our product selection process. The initial part of identifying products is not particularly scientific. It’s a gut reaction – “oh, that one looks really good.” That’s how our product selection starts. Then we get samples of the product itself. We want to know that it’s something of quality, that it will last longer than the warranty. We also use the products make sure our customers will have a good experience.

We then ask the supplier to participate in an online questionnaire. There’s often some back and forth communication to make sure we understand the information they supply, and they understand what we’re looking for. We use an algorithm to come up with a rating. Once we accept a product, at the bottom of the product page there’s a link to a full 2 page report for each product.

Once we got the basic framework worked out, we ran it by a number of people for feedback – sustainability consultants in different areas. Our basic theory was, the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. We took that approach and threw it against the wall to get people thinking.

I shudder to think back on it – it’s involved several thousand ratings. It was – is ― a huge endeavor.

Anne: What has been the reaction from suppliers?

Doug: We’ve had varying reactions. Some are happy to complete the product questionnaires, some do it grudgingly.

Our merit rating is 0 -99 (it’s technically impossible to reach 100.) One supplier – her products rated in the 60’s – only met the threshold for two of the four basic components. She was fixated on the fact that her product rated a 68, and applied it to her academic experience – “my product is not a D+ product.” What I couldn’t seem to get across to her was that we only apply the standard to products we’ve already identified as green. By virtue of being rated, you’re several steps ahead of most; a 68 actually puts you in the top quartile. But she opted not to go further.

We’ve had some manufacturers, though, who got a rating and said, “what can we do to get a better rating?”

I look at this whole thing as a journey, a marathon rather than a sprint.  Whether it’s the consumer changing their purchasing habits, or the manufacturers changing their products, we’re still moving along for a greener world.

Having a number is a good place to start a conversation. Scores are something people are familiar with and have a good understanding of. Especially in the e-commerce world, we’re all familiar with comparison shopping. A rating system like ours allows customers to have an apples-to-apples comparison to, say, the water bottle and the copy paper.

Anne: And that’s great, especially if they’re looking for a gift and need to compare two very unlike things.  How have customers responded?

Doug: Historically, our light green customers have taken more of a blind approach. They just want to know it’s “green.”  Our dark green customers often have a very specific belief – all things from China are horrible, all plastic is bad.

Of the green buyers, some really like the Green Product Standard a lot and some are oblivious.

With the poor economy the greenwashing situation has become a bigger problem. (We’ve noticed that) more traditional manufacturers and suppliers are trying to put a new spin on their products, and are seeing green as an opportunity to, if not grow, then at least maintain their business. You certainly have traditional stores that suggest that (a product is) green, but it’s often a complete mystery why it’s “green.”

A lot of times the info as to why and to what extent a product is green, is nowhere near the product. You have to go search for it. Or, you’ve found the accreditation and now you’ve got to go find the product.

(Both) transparency and easy access to information are important considerations if you’re trying to avoid greenwashing. Most people don’t have the time or interest in doing the research. They just want to know it’s safe and eco friendly, so they can buy it and move on. (Our program) gives consumers easy access to reliable information they can base their decisions on.

Anne: It’s interesting to hear you make the distinction between different types of consumers. Can you elaborate? Do you have an idea what percentage of your customer base you’d describe as “light” vs. “dark” green?

Doug: No, not really. We get approached from all sorts of different angles.

When we started we were somewhat confused by the LOHAS consumer. We thought people would want to vote with their wallets. Clearly there are consumers out there that do that with some regularity, but regrettably they are the minority. I think it’s somewhat exacerbated by the economy.

Personal safety and health are often the biggest motivators, and by the way, if it’s softer on the planet that’s icing on the cake.

I think we’re starting to see a bit of a change. Selfishness continues to be a motivating factor, but over the last 12 months with some of these weather conditions and gas prices you’re starting to see some of the non LOHAS consumers turning the lights on in their heads. With Sandy, we started selling solar powered flashlights, etc. That motivation was more necessity, but it seemed to come along with a realization that green has merit.

(Interest in going green) comes from all sorts of different places. Sometimes it’s just awareness. Like, “I didn’t know there’s a solar powered flashlight, or biodegradable garbage bags.”

I think we’re facing both a challenge and an opportunity. Ask 100 people if they’re interested in going green, and most will say yes, but there’s a big gap between saying and doing.  Any time we can bridge that gap, whether it’s simple education or making a personal connection, it makes a difference.

Anne: Are you aware of anyone else who’s doing this? Wal Mart comes to mind with their sustainability index – do you know of any others?

Doug: WalMart has some areas where it has a bit of a black eye. As the largest retailer in the world they have an unbelievable opportunity, but I think they’re backed off lately. For them it was more this conceptual effort, where it was going to get pushed down through the supply chain.

The Good Guide is a really good resource, although they were just bought by Underwriters Laboratory – I don’t know what effect that will have. I think they’ve done a good job. But they wouldn’t talk with the manufacturers, they just pulled publicly available information. And they have more of a social focus.

Anne: Tell me about your new website, AskGreen.com.

Doug: From a business model, we hope to have a portfolio of green business websites.  We’re developing GreenCouture.com, we’ve got PrettyHealthy.com in the works, etc. We were going to develop blogs for each one, and thought maybe there was something we could do that would apply to all our ecommerce websites.

And hopefully something interactive. Every time we do a show or something, a person waltzes up and looks at a water bottle or something and asks questions.

AskGreen.com is very new – we’re still working on the questions and answers section. But we hope to offer something of value. To get instant answers, obviously, Google & other search engines provide answers, but sometimes there are things that can’t be answered in a Google search. We’re hoping to offer a place where people can come with their green product questions and get them answered.

Anne: Linked In just dumped their Answers section – are you thinking of jumping in and filling the gap here for green topics, inviting lots of interaction, or will it be more set up as an authority site?

Doug: We’re going to let the interest and demand dictate what direction it will take.

Anne: Thank you, Doug – it’s been a real pleasure speaking to you!

Doug: You’re very welcome!

Please enter your comments and questions about Douglas Farquhar’s insights and/or the Green Products Standard below!

 

 Anne Michelsen was not paid for this article.