Green building is on a roll. TimeBusiness recently identified green construction as one of the top 10 fastest growing industries in America, with an average annual growth of 28.9% from 2002 – 2012, and sustained growth of 22.8% projected through 2017.
Now that green initiatives are included in over 25% of all new constrution, has it become too mundane to interest the press?
Not at all, says Joan Stewart, a.k.a. the Publicity Hound. A former newspaper editor, Stewart is a publicity expert par excellence. Hers is one of the few email newsletters that I can really recommend as being worth following. (And she doesn’t pay me to say that, either! You can sign up for her newsletter on her blog.)
The key word there, I believe, is “how,” and I would also add “why.” Just the fact that you’re building green no longer makes you stand out from the crowd (with the possible exception of the higher levels of LEED certification.) But nearly every green material or initiative represents innovative problem solving. If you can tell a story about your green building that illustrates how you’re solving a problem or introducing a benefit to your community, you’re well on your way to piquing the interest of the media.
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This question from a gentleman in the building industry came my way a couple of weeks ago:
“Now that everyone is building green, how do you separate yourself from the pack? What does it take to sell green to the homeowner?”
It’s a good question and one that is relevant to many businesses outside construction as well. Here is a (slightly edited) recap of my reply:
Thanks for your query. Here are some thoughts on your question.
1. In most cases, don’t use Green as your front-line benefit. You’re absolutely right. There’s nothing unique about green any more. In most cases, green shouldn’t be your front-line benefit. However it does play a great supporting role. I like to keep up with green marketing research as much as I can, and every survey I’ve read recently indicates that Americans are continuing to shift more towards Green products. Even the recession hasn’t put a dent in Green spending.
On the other hand, there’s an exception to every rule, and you definitely want to get a good handle on what’s important to your clientele. If you’re selectively marketing to the very environmentally conscious, you might very well want to position your product as a solution to your customers’ environmental concerns. For example, say you’re a solar PV installer in Wisconsin. A recent survey of Wisconsin homeowners who installed solar electric systems indicates that their top two reasons for purchasing were to protect the environment and to reduce their personal carbon footprint. In this case you’d definitely want to highlight the environmental benefits of your product, as well as target your marketing efforts towards the environmentally concerned.
2. Highlight savings, build value. Especially in this economy, saving money is a huge incentive for most people. People are starting to catch on that greener choices often result in savings. Even if your product is more expensive, see if you can show your customer that it’s a better value and will save them money in the long run.
3. Find your prospects’ emotional hot buttons. Many green products also carry other, often related but more personal benefits which may resonate more strongly with your prospects. For instance, they can contribute to more comfortable, healthier homes or be more aesthetically pleasing. Figure out which emotional hot buttons appeal to your customers and show them how your Green products can make them healthier, happier, etc.
4. Keep up with available perks. If you’re a contractor or installer, or sell high-efficiency appliances, make sure you keep up to date with all the federal, state and local incentives available to your customers. These can often tip the balance in your favor. (If you’re a builder or installer, or have implemented green practices in your own business, you may qualify for some extra perks,too! Check out Business.gov’s posts on Green Tax Incentives and Save Money Through Energy Efficiency Laws. )
5. Segment your customer base. Realize that not everybody thinks about green the same way. You can split the population up into a number of categories based on their green buying behaviors and understanding of sustainability issues. Try marketing in different ways to the various segments of your customer base. Referring back to my first point, it’s crucial to understand what’s important to your customers. As a Green builder, you may find that some of the products you offer – say, energy-efficiency products – appeal to people for different reasons, and/or appeal to different people, than others (such as low-VOC paint or reclaimed or recycled building materials.) Although you may spend a little more to develop different campaigns for each segment of your market, you’re likely to greatly increase your ROI by doing so.
6. Educate, educate, educate! Education is really important. A lot of people don’t even have green on their radar screen yet. Many more are interested, but don’t know where to start. You may find they’re looking to you to help them. Do a good job, and they’re likely to spread the word to their friends.
A few ways to generate sales and leads through education:
In your monthly newsletter or e-zine
On your website or blog
Video – on You tube, on your website or given to the customer on CD
Giving classes and workshops
Contributing articles to newspapers and magazines
Public speaking to local groups, hosting your own radio show, etc.
7.Get involved. Precious few companies – even ones promoting themselves as Green – actually seek out comunity involvement. If you want to reach the die-hard green crowd (not a large portion of the population but a very influential one), or any other niche that’s important to your business, get involved in their causes. Does your community have a sustainability group or committee? Join! Green Drinks (informal nights out at local watering holes) are another good place to network. How about lending a hand to community projects or charitable causes?
If you decide to go this route, though, be authentic about it. You have to truly believe in the cause and be prepared to pitch in with the group’s agenda. If you’re phony and just there to get sales they’ll know it. But if you stick with it, it will likely pay off very well over time – not just in terms of networking and sales, but socially and spiritually as well.
These are just a few ideas. I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are you doing to promote your own green business?
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.