Green marketing: Seven ways to separate yourself from the pack

Now that Green is becoming commonplace, you'll want to use smart marketing techniqies to rise above the crowd.

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:

Hi Dan,

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
  • Information packages
  • Teleseminars
  • 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.

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.

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.