10 Ways to Make Your Message Resonate with Green Consumers

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Seems like every business says it wants to be green—but too few understand how to focus their messaging to pull in eager green consumers.

Effective green messaging successfully combines education with marketing. For the consumer who is already green-aware, it provides proof that your company is "walking the walk" in going green. But for the consumer who may not yet be fully aware of all the ramifications, you must play an educational role. Your messaging has to show why the points you raise are important, what they mean for sustainability, and how consumers can feel part of the solution by choosing you.

Here are 10 "guideposts" on formulating those dual-purpose messages. If you need help beyond what's here, feel free to contact me directly: shel@greenandprofitable.com.

1. Combine Appeal to Consumer Self-Interest with Appeal to a Higher Good

Consumers feel really great about supporting companies that not only have a social and environmental mission, but also deliver the goods: low prices, high quality, better health, or other benefits. Here are two examples from completely different industries:

Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's uses packaging, advertising, its website, and pretty much every other communication channel to combine a message of superior product quality with social and environmental messaging, starting right from its very public mission statement.

Household paper manufacturer Marcal is also very good at this. At http://www.marcalsmallsteps.com/, you can see an emphasis on the environment, starting with saving one million trees…recognition that the company switched to recycled fibers all the way back in 1950…and plenty of information about consumer-focused features like hypoallergenic qualities, non-chlorine whitening, and "just the right combination of strength, absorbency and softness to handle every job."

This message would be even stronger if retooled to focus not on the features, but on the benefits. For instance, non-chlorine whitening reduces both water pollution and skin irritation.

2. Acknowledge—and EXPLAIN—Your Green Certifications

Have you taken the time, trouble and expense to get Fair Trade and/or organic certification? Is your building LEED-certified? Do you use Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper? Do you have some other seals of approval from recognized authorities, or endorsements from famous environmentalists? Be sure to mention these achievements in your messaging—and take a moment to say what they mean and why they're important.

3. Stand Tall with Your Values

The person who said "nice guys finish last" was a liar! Don't hide your light. Caring about the planet, about ethical business practices, about your customers' and stakeholders' well-being is good for your integrity, and also good for your bottom line. Tell your story honestly and well, and the market will reward you.

4. Embrace the Big Picture

If your business is forward-looking and moving on big-picture issues like zero waste/cradle-to-cradle, or if you've installed solar or wind and slashed your carbon generation by 80 percent, help build consciousness about why you took those steps, and why that commitment makes you an excellent choice. Don't underestimate your audience; a big chunk of them will be eager to know what you're doing. Get some ideas from carpet giant Interface.

5. Make Sure Your Messages Use Environmentally Friendly Media and Packaging

I once received a book of green tips from a well-known financial guru. The tips were good, but the book jarred me. It used extensive full-color printing throughout the book, and was obviously done in a very large run. I couldn't help wondering just how green this book really was, even if it was printed on recycled paper.

If you're creating a full-color marketing piece such as a brochure, consider distributing it as a PDF. It's cheaper for you, much better for the environment, and consistent with the green message you want to convey. If you're trying to build sustainability cred, don't wrap each part individually, then bag the whole thing, then box the bag, then shrinkwrap the box.

6. Know Your Market

Take the time to find out what's important to your customers, and how you can advance their goals. Survey, observe, or just plain ask. And commit to implementing changes based on the responses.

7. Engage Your Customer

Once a one-way street called "push," marketing is now much more effective when it creates dialogue, participation, and engagement. Social media, user feedback sites, campaigns for social and environmental agendas are just a few ways to get your customers talking to you—and eventually talking about you, very positively.

8. Consider Cause Marketing Partnerships

Working with the right charity partners can advance everyone's goals. You can funnel money toward a deserving cause, get promoted actively to their contact list, and use your commitment to generate all sorts of benefits from free media attention to customer goodwill.

9. Meet Challenges the Right Way

Too many companies are so afraid of criticism that they engage in cover-ups…and do they ever get criticism when they're found out! Much better to learn from British department store chain Marks & Spencer, which took criticism of its environmental practices as a challenge to do better, and now measures its progress, publicly, on 100 different sustainability indices.

10. Be Honest…Don't Greenwash

All the green messaging in the world won't build your credibility unless it's true. If you say you're using nuclear power (a very un-green technology) to avoid burning fossil fuels, you've lost any shred of respect among those who've studied the issue. If you're an oil company that claims to be "beyond petroleum" and then you kill 11 people on a defective oil rig that spews vast quantities of goo into the water for the next four months, don't expect the marketplace to cut you any slack.

Want to market green products and services to green AND non-green audiences? Marketing consultant, syndicated columnist, and copywriter Shel Horowitz shows you how to “reach Green, socially conscious consumers with marketing that has THEM calling YOU.” He specializes in Green and ethical marketing strategies and materials for businesses and organizations. The primary author of the category bestseller Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet (John Wiley & Sons, 2010), Shel writes the monthly column Green And Profitable. His website is http://greenandprofitable.com.


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