“We are now entering a phase where the consumers have a lot more access to information than they have ever had in the past,” says Scot Case, vice president of TerraChoice, in an interview with Greenbiz.com. “I think the marketing departments haven’t quite realized what strong demand there is for that kind of transparency.”
By conducting an early review of its Green Guides, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is clearly backing that position. The FTC hopes to provide more clarity in its guidelines, ensure relevancy and efficacy, and one would assume that the punishment for those failing to heed the new guidelines is sure to get stiffer.
Going forward, green messaging can be a slippery slope for the marketer. The marketing message has to be clear and not subject to interpretation. The FTC looks at all advertising from the consumer’s perspective. In other words, what message does the advertising actually convey to customers? For environmental claims that the Green Guides do not address specifically, the FTC requires substantiation for all reasonable interpretations of an ad. Sometimes it may be necessary to do research to determine how consumers interpret an ad.
To carry weight with consumers, green messaging also needs to be relevant and matter to your customers in relation to what you do as a business. Another way to add credibility to claims is through the use of co-branding. If your message is supported via a marketing piece from a well-known supplier, or even through a local trade association, it may help to validate the message in the minds of consumers.
Most important, there has to be consistency in your message in every phase of customer interaction. Put on your “green” glasses and take a long, hard look at your company from the inside out. What more can you do to lessen your environmental impact? Are you sending any confusing messages to your customers?
The Halo Effect
Done correctly, green marketing should carry some weight with customers and result in some positives. This type of marketing is still considered fairly new by mainstream or mass-market consumers who likely perceive green messaging much differently than so-called LOHAS consumers and are less likely to scrutinize you as closely.
Like all types of marketing, green messaging will have a stronger impact on certain segments of your customers. The data seem to indicate that no more than 40 percent of customers are currently influenced in their purchase decisions by a green marketing message, and many analysts believe the number is substantially less.
That means green marketing isn’t likely to be the silver bullet for building business at your company. Nevertheless, the perception of your brand is likely to improve with mainstream customers, whether your green efforts are large or small. This halo effect can be seen in how the Prius has affected the perception of Toyota as a whole. One solid green effort by Toyota lifted the entire company’s green attributes above the rest of the automotive industry.
This type of halo effect extends to customers whose personal experience with your brand is reinforced simply by feeling like they have made their own small contribution to the environment by choosing your products or services. Some environmentalists and marketing analysts believe that green marketing is merely a way of tapping into people’s desire to feel like they’re saving the earth, but without having to sacrifice their lifestyle. There may be some truth to that.
The bottom line is the positive impact of green marketing on your business should outweigh the negative, but only if you don’t accidentally damage perceptions due to inconsistent practices and halfhearted efforts that are not thought through.
Brad Simonis is a principal with Metro International, a carwash consulting firm and distributor. The company offers expertise in site selection, layout, design, construction, operation and marketing of high-volume carwashes. To reach him, call 866.463.8723; visit www.metro-intl.net.