New Report: Green Marketing Brings in the Dough

Green forest
Many direct response marketers report that Green messaging is effective.

How effective is Green marketing, really?

That’s what the authors of Green Marketing: What Works; What Doesn’t – A Marketing Study Of Practitioners asked in a recent study by Watershed Publishing.  The report summarizes the real-life results of Green marketing by the audiences of five industry publications.

Some of the findings were predictable.  For instance, the most popular medium used was overwhelmingly the Internet.  No surprise, since online messages eliminate the need to generate the solid waste associated with print media, and because of the strong growth of online marketing overall.

Does Size make a Difference?

Perhaps it wasn’t particularly surprising that large and small companies (defined as having marketing budgets above $10 million and below $250,000, respectively) displayed differences in their attitudes toward and implementation of Green marketing.  Small companies were more likely to target consumers directly with Green messages, while larger companies tended to direct their Green messages to their own employees.

Smaller companies in general were far more likely to report that their Green marketing was effective.  (Does this have anything to do with the fact that small companies spent an average of 26% of their marketing budget on Green marketing, vs. 6% for the largest (over $50 million) companies?)

The Surprising Results

Other findings surprised even the researchers:

“The indication that green marketing is likely not a fad, frankly, surprised us.  When staff from the various participating publications – especially those hailing from ad agency backgrounds – opted to poke into the subject of green marketing, most felt a certain amount of cynicism, expecting to see similarly cynical opinions among the surveyed marketers. With that in mind, we set up the survey with certain “traps” built into the questions, to see if the industry would reveal the skepticism some of us felt.

That we didn’t see the level of cynicism we expected surprised and intrigued us.”

A respectable 28% of marketers reported that they thought Green marketing was more effective than other types of messages, vs. only 6% who thought it was less effective.

Great Green Returns

But wait – there’s more.  The numbers swing strongly in favor of Green messaging when you ask marketers who are really on top of things – that is, the ones actually bothering to monitor their results by using trackable methods.  Amongst direct-response marketers, a whopping 48% reported their Green marketing had increased response.  Those using the Internet, too, reported that Green messages were more or much more effective (43%.)

And here’s another tidbit that should perk up the ears of any marketer wishing to maximize profits: marketers using trackable methods were also much more likely (42-46%) to believe that consumers would pay more for Green.

Have you tested Green vs. conventional in your marketing messages?  What were your results?

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.

How is marketing solar like pushing a rock?

Lowering a solar panel to a rooftop in Wisconsin
Installing a solar panel. I believe scenes like this will become increasingly common over the coming decade.

As a market force, solar is moving out of its infancy.   It’s been interesting to watch its growth spurt  over the past couple years.  Based on my experience with my own and others’ companies, from following industry conversations on social media like LinkedIn, and from attending educational events such as the Good & Green Marketing conference held last November in Chicago, here is a simple equation describing the solar industry in the U.S.:

Massive public curiosity and interest…

The public has developed a tremendous interest in solar and other clean energy technology.  It’s moved from a fringe, “hippy” thing to a mainstream, albeit cutting-edge, phenomenon.

+ general public ignorance
The public is amazingly ignorant about solar and about energy efficiency in general.

For instance, after attending the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair last June as a solar thermal vendor, my company received a large number of calls from individuals concerned about their high heat bills.  They were hoping to knock them down with solar.  We had to explain to them that, while solar thermal is amazing technology and can be a cost-effective home heating solution, it’s not usually a good way to combat high heating expenses.  Solar is powerful but it’s not fossil fuel.  It needs to be used in conjunction with energy conservation.  Air seal and insulate first, then think about solar.  (In fact, this experience caused us to reevaluate the entire focus of our business.  We have since added Home Performance with Energy Star evaluations and air sealing and insulation services to our offerings for a more wholistic, vertically integrated approach.)

That’s just one example.  For another one, here’s an experiment you can try for yourself:  When solar comes up in a mainstream conversation, try injecting the word “PV” and watch the confused expressions.  (For the uninitiated, PV is commonly-used shorthand for “photovoltaics” amongst those in the solar industry)

= huge potential for growth
Taking the above points into account, I believe there is massive potential for expansion in the solar market.  I like to think of it as potential energy – like a boulder (public interest) teetering at the edge of a cliff, held back by a number of obstacles at its base.  All it will take is the removal of a few stones to unleash the energy that will allow the boulder to fall.

However, many of these obstacles are significant.  As I see it, some of the major ones are:

  1. Cost – My company happens to be located in Wisconsin, where there are some pretty nice incentives programs. Even so, solar is a big investment and a lot of people still see it as beyond their means.  Even with incentives, the payback on PV is too long for the typical mainstream person to consider it.  I am optimistic that technological improvements will shorten the payback in the future (and certain that rising energy prices will, too), but for now it’s a major barrier.
  2. Ignorance – Despite its rising popularity, solar is still not on the  radar screen for the majority of the population. Many more are interested but confused, as in my example above.  Also there’s a lot of confusion between solar thermal (which has a relatively fast payback) and PV.
  3. Skepticism – based on ignorance and sometimes reality.  Comments like these are common:  “Can solar really work in the winter in Wisconsin?”  (Answer: Yes!)   “You’ll never see a payback from solar.” (Answer:  It depends on the system.  For off grid PV?  Maybe not.  For the typical solar domestic hot water system?  Absolutely you will, typically in 7 to ten years but it could be less depending on your hot water usage.)
  4. Fear – of shoddy or incompetent work (happened a lot back in the 80’s and I’m afraid we’re seeing signs of it now as out-of-work contractors and electricians jump on the solar bandwagon); fear of not getting their money’s worth if they sell the property before payoff;  fear of the unknown.

What are the solutions?  Here are a few:

  • Better incentives and rebates – Government seems to be working on this, although it varies a lot by state.
  • Financing options – either through installing companies, banks, specialized clean energy financing companies, or municipal programs like PACE (Property-Assessed Clean Energy) financing, in which communities lend money to residents and the payments are added to property taxes.  (This also addresses the objection of not wanting to make major investments in a home that one might sell before payback is reached.)
  • Education – by schools, churches, and especially business.  I personally believe that education should be a major component of any businesses’ marketing plan, but especially when it comes to renewable energy.  We need to listen to and dialogue with the public.  We especially need to make ourselves aware of questions and objections and answer them truthfully and honestly.  We also need to answer in terms our customers can understand and relate to.
  • Collaboration – We need to frame our information according to the worldview of whatever segment of the population we’re dealing with.  Often the best way to do this is to work together with other non-business entities.  For instance, I just attended (as a vendor) an eco-spirituality forum hosted by a local Catholic church and led by a Franciscan sister.  That woman was able to speak to the people present in words that resonated deeply with them.  I could have gotten up and given them the same information about how important is is to save energy, but she was able to do it so much more successfully than I could have because she framed it in terms of their faith.  Churches and other community groups are starting to speak up for the environment and I think any renewable energy business that doesn’t tap into this is missing a very powerful alliance.  (I say this very respectfully, by the way.)

Marketing solar is an important and exciting field, and one I’m proud to be part of.  I’m sure there are plenty more good ideas and insights out there.  What are some of yours?

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.

Sarah Palin: Green Spokeswoman???!!

Sarah Palin shows off more than her legs. She's sporting a low-impact natural fiber, eco-friendly jacket from the New Zealand sportswear company Icebreaker.

Who’da thunk it?

The woman Greenpeace cites as having “the most anti-environment records of any governor in the US”  appeared on the cover of Newsweek sporting a jacket made by the New Zealand company Icebreaker.

Icebreaker belongs to the category of companies I like to call “Earth-Friendly.”  These are companies whose sole purpose is to manufacture or supply Green or sustainable products or services such as organic goods or household energy-saving devices.

Icebreaker’s natural wool active gear provides a low-impact alternative to petroleum-based synthetic sportswear.  But more than that – their innovative “Baacode” program is an ideal example of transparency in marketing.  Each Icebreaker item comes with a unique code which purchasers can enter into a special search box on the Icebreaker website.  The site then traces the garment to the very sheep station that produced the wool, and presents a video, photos and quote from and about the ranchers who raised the wool.  (You can try the Baacode out for yourself on Icebreaker’s website, which conveniently includes a demo Baacode generator.)

So has Palin had a change of heart?  Is she renouncing her oil-loving, wolf-shooting ways and rushing to become the next sustainability poster child?

More likely she doesn’t have a clue.

But, there’s a lesson to be learned here about marketing Green and sustainable products.

Green is going mainstream.

It’s everywhere.  It’s being embraced by major corporations and governments as well as small companies and individuals.  And it’s crossing political and socio-economic borders.

According to Holly Helene Jarrell of GfK Customer Research, consumer recessionary spending habits underscore the fact that Green is no longer a fringe or fad phenomenon.  “The recession did not submerge Green,” she remarked during her keynote speech at the recent Good & Green marketing conference in Chicago.

Kudos to Icebreaker, by the way, for seizing the opportunity for great free publicity and connection with celebrity status – however dubious.  They lost no time in getting the word out about their appearance with Newsweek’s cover girl.

And the controversy surrounding the cover photo itself?  All the more exposure for Icebreaker!

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.

Going Good and Green

My dad always used to say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”

Having to stay home from the copywriting conference a couple weeks ago was disappointing. But I got over it – and promptly registered for the Good and Green marketing conference in Chicago this week.  I’ll be driving down tomorrow in my Civic hybrid – and I can’t wait!

There’ll be sessions on how to how to motivate mainstream consumers to choose Green and what consumers really are looking for from companies, as well as new research on the role of women in making sustainable consumer choices, and marketing Green in a down economy.  Plus case studies and all sorts of good stuff.  And of course it’ll be fun to meet new people.  (I’m going there without knowing a soul – which is always an adventure!)

I’ll keep you posted!

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.

Sorting Through the Kaleidoscope of Green Consumers

While it seems everyone says they’re interested in going green, the word means widely different things to different people – or sometimes different things to the same person in different situations.

I’m a painter as well as a writer, and it’s always seemed to me there are more shades of green than any other color.  Not only that, but shades of green vary more in their psychological impact than other colors.  Think about how you react to a deep forest green versus olive, grass green, sage, mint or shocking lime.

So when I read the recent blog post by Jane Tabachnick on the incredible diversity of Green consumers, I found myself nodding my head.  She compares them to shades of green paint – an apt description indeed.

“Green” has become such a trendy hot button  it’s hard to put your finger on it.  While it seems everyone says they’re interested in going green, the word means widely different things to different people – or sometimes different things to the same person in different situations.

For example, my hybrid Honda Civic gets 50 miles per gallon.   So when I’m comparing my gas consumption to my friends’  I feel pretty good about it.  But after all, I’m still burning fossil fuel when I drive it.  And if I ever find myself driving when I could have ridden my bike, it really gets the guilt gears grinding in my head.

Same product.  Same consumer.  Different situation = different conclusion.

It all depends on the context. And that’s what copywriters need to be aware of when writing copy for green products.

You’ve got to figure out what shade of green your particular prospect is wearing, and tint your copy to complement it.  If you’re writing to hard core Greenies like myself, be sure you’re not saying something that’ll trip the guilt line in their heads.  Or worse, anything that sets off the humbug alarm.

But for a more mainstream audience just beginning to think green, you’ll want to make sure your product doesn’t come off as too far out.  (Honda knew this back in the early 2000’s when they first came out with their hybrid.  Their tagline was, “You don’t plug it in.”  Kept it within the realm of the known.)

Bottom line:  do your research, and know your prospect!

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.