Green Marketing: Are You Selling Your Soul?

 

A few months back I published a post about a market study entitled Green Marketing: What Works; What Doesn’t – A Marketing Study Of Practitioners.  In the study, a significant percentage of marketers who tracked their responses reported an increase in effectiveness when they used Green messaging in their campaigns.

Quite frankly, I wasn’t intending this post to be particularly insightful. I was simply reporting on some interesting research. I thought the results of the study indicated a heartening trend – that Americans are finally concerned enough about sustainability issues that “green” messaging is actually getting through to them.

However, my little article touched off some intense emotional responses.   One man in particular brought up an issue which needs to be addressed, because it touches on the heart not only of responsible marketing but of our very chances of achieving sustainability in our modern world:

Perhaps you should step back and take a look at what you call green marketing… (followed by a lengthy discourse on the environmental consequences of the coal and nuclear plants which power the Internet and make modern commerce possible.)

Green is a self-aggrandizing rationalization that people use to assert that they are living well for the common good of their fellow man and the planet earth. Sorry folks, this posture ended with Plato’s Republic.

He also sent me a scathing private email ending with:

“Do you really believe in what you write? Or, are you selling your soul for the sake of money?”

Wow.  Talk about a soul-searching question.

Here was my response:

Yes, you’re right.

Marketing is not green. The entire military-industrial-corporate society we live in is completely unsustainable. But I think one has to start somewhere. There are companies and organizations out there that are working to change it for the better. I’m privileged to work with some of them.

Whether or not the messages in question were honest and worthwhile, or whether it was all greenwashing, and whether it’s even ethical to use green messaging is beyond the scope of this post – good topics for another day, for sure.

Yes I know the whole issue of marketing and business and how it relates to the environment is a sticky one at best. It’s amazingly complex and there are few if any straight answers. I welcome your thoughts.
Privately, I went on to explain that I choose to work with forward-thinking companies so that I can put my talents to their highest and best use: promoting the shift towards a sustainable world.  Many of my clients are start-ups, nonprofits and small-scale entrepreneurs.  Quite probably I could make substantially more money working with larger, more established companies.  (On the other hand, like everyone else, I do have bills to pay and kids on a collision course with college, so offering my services free is just not realistic no matter how much good it may do the planet!)  I pointed out that the vast majority of Green initiatives he himself champions can only exist if they’re capable of feeding the hands that drive them.
The next email I got from him was much calmer.  “Sorry I came out with my guns ablazing. At the very least, communicating via the internet saves some trees and diesel fuel pollution.”  He ended by inviting me to review a feasibility study for his green business!

The Irony of Marketing Green

To be sure, it’s easy to get downhearted trying to be sustainable in an unsustainable society.  It’s easy to see “green marketing” as an oxymoron when we think about how many resources we’re still consuming even when we try to cut down on our consumption.  But we have to start somewhere.  And despite all the greenwashing, if you look at the change in public consciousness in the past five years alone, you’ll realize that collectively, we are making a difference. Personally, I think business and marketing can exist and thrive within a sustainable society.  In fact, it has to. Just as sustainability in Nature depends on the flow of energy or life, so economic sustainability depends on the flow of profits.  However, achieving such a goal will result in a radically different business climate than we may be used to.  We’re going to have to change from a linear to a circular understanding of the flow of both products and profits.  Which for many of us will require a radical shift in our physical, mental and spiritual relationship to and understanding of the world we live in.

And what about selling one’s soul?

Well, you could look at it another way.

Sell, baby, sell

Most entrepreneurs I know pour their heart and soul into their businesses.  If your soul is truly aligned with your purpose in life, and if your life’s purpose is in harmony with the greater universe, then you should sell your soul.  You should promote and sell the heck out of it.  Because the more people begin to buy it, the more value – and harmony – you will bring into the world.

I know scores of people who are burning with purpose and are taking real action to make the world a better place.  They’re running nonprofits, starting businesses which offer sustainable alternatives to conventional products and services, and working with school districts and government agencies.  They’re opening people’s minds and instituting new opportunities and infrastructure that support a sustainable future.

Each one of these people – even if they’re unaware of it – is engaged wholeheartedly and unabashedly in the act of selling.

The trick is to be brutally honest with yourself.  Is your reality truly aligned with your ideals? If not, what can you do to bring them closer together?  And if they are, are you doing it justice with your sales?

Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer who helps Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.

Subscribe to Anne’s bi-weekly tips and insights into Green marketing and sales writing, and get a complimentary copy of her Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.

The Chrome Scrotum

It's not just a motorcycle...

Right after we got married, my husband Dan and I flew out to Oregon with two touring bikes, eight panniers, and as much lightweight camping gear as we could pack in them.  After landing in Portland, we pedaled over the Cascades, dipped our back tires into the Pacific and turned around and headed across America.

You don’t survive 4,000 miles of saddle sores and extreme weather with someone without developing a few inside jokes.  One we got a lot of mileage out of (sorry, can’t resist the pun) was the “third testicle.”

You see, one of the great things about bicycle touring is the silence.  It’s just you and the wind, and the little crunch of gravel under your tires.  You can hear the cows mooing, and the birds singing…

Until some great big hairy guy on a Harley comes roaring out of nowhere, shattering one’s peaceful reverie into a bazillion ear-splitting exhaust-laden slivers.

It’s not like you can’t buy a motorcycle that’s quiet.  It’s like these guys have to prove their manhood with their machines.

Same thing with pickup trucks…

And snowmobiles and 4 wheelers and jet skis…

The Third Testicle

So we jokingly started to refer to anything with souped-up horsepower as a “third testicle.”  Got low testosterone?  Just rev your engine.  Who needs Viagra?

That was almost 17 years ago.  The joke has gradually faded from our repertoire.  But just this morning I saw something which brought it sharply back to mind.  In fact, I almost snorted my beverage up my nose when I saw it.

There , dangling under and a little behind the towing ball on the pickup truck in front of me, was – unmistakably – a scrotum.  Made of chrome.  Swaying realistically side to side with the movement of the vehicle.

It’s that Sex Appeal thing

The guy who bought that pickup truck may have needed a work truck – but just as likely he could have gotten away with a high-milage sedan, saving money on gas as well as the original purchase.   He bought the vehicle that made him feel powerful. He may be just a lackey at work (or even unemployed), his wife might not look up from the TV when he comes in the door, but by golly getting behind the wheel of that truck transforms him into an alpha male.

The quest for power is a natural survival instinct in all animals, including humans.  And it’s tied to biological reality.  In general, the fitter, more powerful you are the easier time you’ll have attracting a mate and passing your genes on to the next generation.

The challenge we face in attempting to replace fossil fuel isn’t just one of replacing infrastructure.  It goes much deeper than that, into the primitive recesses of our brains and egos.   Fossil fuel represents power.  Plain and simple.  There’s something about it that gives us that alpha rush.  (Even I have to admit that as pleased as I am to get 50 mpg driving our diesel Jetta, I also seriously enjoy the car’s powerful, responsive engine that eats up hills and allows me to pass at will, which of course proves my dominance on the road.)  (Sorry, can’t help it.  It’s that primitive brain of mine. )

It has nothing to do with logic.

Logic: Necessary but not Sufficient

Of course, people need logical reasons to buy.   But if we want to convince people to give up their muscle cars, chemical cleaners, and other unsustainable products in favor of our greener, more responsible products, we have to dig deep and figure out what it is they really want, on a primal, animal level  – and then present our offerings in such a way that they light up those hot buttons in people’s heads.

A product like the Tesla Roadster Sport makes the process easy.  With its sleek lines and slam-you-back –in-your-seat acceleration of 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds, it’s just plain sexy.  Only a real Neanderthal would miss the noise and exhaust.

But any product worth bringing to market is bound to resonate with someone’s “hot button.”  (It doesn’t have to be sex, although that’s a powerful one.  It could be security, comfort, pleasure, greed…any of a number of motivations linked to our primal emotions.)

The challenge is twofold: to identify the primal urges that drive our prospects, and to present our products in such a way as to strike that hot button in their soul.

I’ll discuss ways to do the latter in future posts.  In the meantime, though, I have an assignment for you.  Be on the lookout for “chrome scrotums”- telltale clues people unwittingly reveal about their deepest , darkest desires.  Post ’em below when you discover them!

Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer specializing in helping Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.

Subscribe to Anne’s bi-weekly tips and insights into marketing, sales writing and sustainability, and get a complimentary copy of her Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.

Greening Your Marketing…or Not?

McDonalds changing their background to green
McDonalds is literally painting themselves Green in Europe. Wise move...or not?

Are you starting to get the feeling you’ve entered the Emerald City?

The color green has begun to dominate the packaging, ads and websites of companies proud of their new-found committment to sustainability.  Even McDonalds is changing the background of their Golden Arches logo from Red to Green in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Problem is, it doesn’t always have the desired effect.

Sustainability is a complex and confusing issue.  Even those of us who make it our business to learn as much as we can about it often run into surprises and are forced to reevaluate our opinions.

It’s also an issue that hits the passion button for a lot of people –  in varying and often unpredictable ways.

Complexity, confusion and raw emotion.  It’s a recipe for risk.

Are you ready to go under the magnifying glass?

By default, whenever you call attention to your Green activities, you also invite  inspection of your entire operation.  And the greener the flag you wave, the closer you’ll be scrutinized.

For some companies, the risk may be worth it.  Take McDonalds.  Remember back in the 80’s when McDonald’s reputation as nemesis to environmental causes was second only to that of Exxon-Mobil?

The company has put quite a few sustainability initiatives in place since then, according to their 2009 Best of Green Report.  Whether or not McDonalds really is as green as they claim is still up for debate, but they’re obviously willing to argue their own case.  And they’re betting on the old adage that any publicity is good publicity.

While McDonald’s new color scheme may seem audacious considering the fact that they’re still one of the world’s biggest generators of waste packaging, my guess is that they’re targeting the large “middle sector” of Green consumers who want to go greener, but aren’t ready to give up conveniences such as quick hot food to go.  And McDonalds will likely succeed with their approach.

On the other hand, waving the green flag will only be effective for those companies willing to toe the line environmentally ever after.  According to market research firm  Shelton Group,

If you misrepresent a product’s green-ness — even unwittingly — consumers will clobber you. Our Eco Pulse study revealed that 40% of the population would stop buying a product if it had been advertised as green and the manufacturer was found guilty of environmental infractions.  And 36% would not only stop buying the product, they’d also lobby their friends and family to stop buying the product — which is a 31% increase over last year’s answer.

So should you highlight Green in your marketing?  That’s up to you to decide.

Consumers want to go green.  Many look to companies as leaders to help them along.  So if you choose to highlight sustainability as a major part of your marketing, realize that it’s a calculated risk.  And do it as any good leader would:  consciously and above all, with integrity.

Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer specializing in helping Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.

Subscribe to Anne’s bi-weekly tips and insights into marketing, sales writing and sustainability, and get a complimentary copy of her Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.

Let's Kill Kermit the Frog

Kermit the frog in circle and slashOn a whim, I just typed “It’s Easy Being Green” into Google.

It came up with 91,100,000 results.

Compare that to “horses” at 84,800,000; “Super Bowl” at 36,500,000 and “sexy babes” at 13,300,000.  It even outpulled “Barack Obama” (74,700,000.)

Today’s marketing scene is like an overgrown jungle populated by troops of monkeys all parodying Kermit the Frog at the top of their lungs.  “We’re Green!” might have cut it 10 years ago, but not today.

Being boring is the cardinal sin of advertising.  How many times can you hear references to  “It’s Not Easy Being Green” before you want to strangle the monkeys that uttered them?  Same goes for insipid statements like “XYZ company cares about the environment.”

Big deal.  It’s time to kill Kermit and focus on stuff that really speaks to your customers – or at least entertains them!

Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer specializing in helping Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.

Subscribe to Anne’s bi-weekly tips and insights into marketing, sales writing and sustainability, and get a complimentary copy of her Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.

Marketing with a medium as old as dirt (and as clean)

Dirt and water usually lead to nothing but mud. But for clients of the Dutch advertising company Green Graffiti, mixing the two could be a recipe for profit. Whether or not you can ever see yourself hiring Green Graffiti to blast your logo onto sooty sidewalks, it’s food for thought. Many people are critical of advertising efforts as a waste of resources. What other creative ideas can we come up with that get the message across without leaving dirty footprints?

GreenGraffiti
With Green Graffiti, a business can spray their logo around while performing a public service.

Dirt and water usually lead to nothing but mud.  But for clients of the Dutch advertising company Green Graffiti, mixing the two could prove to be a recipe for profit.

Green Graffiti uses pressurized water to blast logos and simple ads onto dirty city sidewalks.  The result is an attention-getting message with minimal environmental impact.  In fact, it actually makes the sidewalk cleaner.

The company’s been around since 2006 but is just beginning to make waves in the U.S.  Earlier this month, Domino’s Pizza had their logos sprayed on the sidewalks of New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.  They even turned the event into an interactive experience:  the first 250 people who turned in photos of the logos won a $15 gift certificate for a pizza.  (A challenge for you – and for me:  How can we take our next great marketing idea and make it even better?)

Whether or not you can ever see yourself hiring Green Graffiti to blast your logo onto sooty sidewalks, it’s food for thought.   Many people are critical of advertising efforts as a waste of resources.  What other creative ideas can we come up with that get the message across without leaving dirty footprints?

Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer specializing in helping Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.

Subscribe to Anne’s bi-weekly tips and insights into marketing, sales writing and sustainability, and get a complimentary copy of her Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.