Are green companies color blind? Are they too obsessed with their own plumage to recognize that, by itself, green may not attract the audiences they really need?
A few recent blog posts and articles inform the dilemma; top of the list is a must-read from Joel Makower. In it, he gives some great analysis on a study by marketing intelligence veterans Yankelovich, called "Going Green". Makower calls the report "at once fascinating and maddening."
That's because, according to Yakelovich, "The majority of consumers really don't care all that much about the environment. Green simply doesn't has not captured the public imagination."
Acoording to Yankelovich's study, 37% of consumers feel "highly concerned" about environmental issues, but only 25% feel "highly knowledgeable" about them. Simultaneously, a lonely 22% "feel they can make a difference when it comes to the environment."
Can that possibly be true? It seems so out of alignment with what we see and read in the media. We're in the middle of a green revolution, right?
Well, some green companies aren't waiting to find out. Last week the Wall Street Journal ran a story about an apparel maker on a serious sustainable mission trying to make inroads in mainstream retail. The angle was how the company, Indigenous Designs, downplays its green cred as a nice "bonus," choosing instead to emphasize the quality and stylings of its garments (thanks to Tom Monahan for the tip).
"This marketing strategy — having a do-good message but not beating people over the head with it — has helped Indigenous Designs to survive... while many of its green peers have languished in ecofriendly niches or gone out of business altogether," according to reporter Gwendolyn Bounds.
"Companies that lead with green and ecofriendliness are in very dangerous territory because they are often not competitive on fashion or function and ask the consumer to make a compromise," says George Rosenbaum, chairman of Leo J. Shapiro & Associates, a Chicago consumer-research firm. "Retailers want green, but they won't let green stay in the store for long if it's not as good."
That matches up perfectly with the Yankelovich study. But this should shouldn't come as a shock, as this post from Seth Godin reminds us: what's interesting to you is not always going to yank your customer's crank. Even agencies, who are supposed to know this, make this mistake (something many of us wrote about this time last year re: agency.com).
Clearly, there's a disconnect between our hearts, minds and consumption. It's what Yankelovich calls the "mushiness" index. And this, lads and lasses, is why we're here at this blog: companies with sustainable products and services need marketers and advertisers to turn the mushiness into something concrete.
The leaders know that the way to do this is pretty fundamental: tell a compelling story, engage, empower and entertain the audience; and, at the very, very least, make it easier for constituents to buy. And by the way, better make sure you have a remarkable product.
In today's market, that means it's not about you. Or your agenda. It's about them.
"People don't buy products. They buy solutions to problems," as Makower quotes Harvard Business School savant Ted Levitt. "But since most consumers don't see the environment as a problem, green marketers must take an extra step, helping them not just to understand the problem, but to actually care about it."
There's a lesson here: when it comes to marketing green, in an often indifferent marketplace, don't talk like a green company. Talk like a great company.
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