Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series examining the marketing of environmentally friendly products and services.
In Part 1 of this article we looked at the value of green marketing, its benefits as a marketing tool, and the potential pitfalls. We came to the conclusion that, when done correctly, green marketing was worth integrating into your overriding marketing initiatives. This time, we want to take a more in-depth look at how to implement your own green marketing campaign by examining a series of exercises designed to help you think through the process and steer clear of legal dangers.
You may recall that we introduced the concept of taking a self-inventory of your business to identify where green opportunities exist. We encouraged marketers to put on their “green” glasses and take a hard look at all phases of their company.
In actuality, this isn’t something that should be done by a single individual within the organization but by a group of employees representing a cross-section of your operations. Let’s call them the Green Team.
The goal is to literally have a brainstorming session or series of sessions. Let the ideas fly; feed off of each other’s thoughts. Ideally, you should consider including a couple of customers, suppliers or other stakeholders from outside the company who have an interest or interaction in your business.
Part of the reasoning behind the self-inventory is to avoid missing obvious opportunities that would diminish the value of your new marketing campaign. A self-storage that claims to recycle its water while allowing faucets to drip in the bathroom sends a damaging mixed message. Similarly, claiming to use recycled materials while failing to provide recycling containers is shortsighted and counterintuitive for customers.
The self-inventory also provides a good foundation from which to build a track to run on. As we have learned, green marketing is a widely used term, but it’s difficult to find a single definition because of so many green marketing claims used by marketers keen on expanding their eco-friendly horizons. Thus, creating a site-specific definition for your location and leveraging a green marketing campaign for your business is not necessarily an easy task.
There likely will be two broad categories of results that come out of your brainstorming: areas in which valid claims can be made immediately, and parts of the business that represent opportunities to re-engineer a product or process in order to make a green claim in the future.
Keep in mind that green opportunities can relate to more than just products and services; they are often related to what goes into those products and services, including a company’s processes, operations, manufacturing, packaging and even building materials.
As you brainstorm, ideas will flow simultaneously from both an identification of opportunities to market and how to market it, namely the message, the media, the location of the message, etc. Remember, the most important thing is to keep ideas rolling; everything goes up on the board and nothing should be judged or debated at this point. In the next step, you will come back and apply rules to your marketing ideas to see if they’re valid.
If you have included customers, vendors and other outside stakeholders on your Green Team (and we strongly urge that you do), you will find that the internal and external views of the company will co-mingle, and that’s OK. Good ideas from employees and customers will cross-pollinate to form additional ideas. There’s no need to keep them separate. The goal is to make sure you have examined your green marketing opportunities from an inside point of view, as well as an outside (customer) perspective.
By the end of the brainstorming session, you’ll have created a long list of current and potential opportunities. The second phase of the process is when you judge the list for validity and whittle it down to the most important and relevant claims.
After the initial brainstorming, your green marketing team should be narrowed to employees (and potentially suppliers) because this is when the real work begins, and it can be difficult to accomplish the next tasks with too large of a group. However, when the entire green marketing process is completed, it can be a good idea to reassemble the original brainstorming Green Team to review the results.
The Green Team is now charged with forming and executing a green strategy. The group should examine the narrowed list of ideas to determine whether each entry is an existing or potential opportunity. If it currently exists, what are the best message and method to communicate it? If it is a potential opportunity, what action steps are needed to make it a reality?
Next is the true marketing phase. At this point, your Green Team needs to develop a marketing plan that ensures all green messaging follows legal guidelines and solid strategies. Let’s start with the legal.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has published a list of rules for green marketing claims (known popularly as the Green Guides) that you can use to cross reference a typical self-storage facility’s products and processes. These include:
- General claims, e.g. “eco-friendly”
- Eco-seals, seals-of-approval and certifications
- Biodegradable claims
- Recyclable claims/please recycle claims
- Recycled content claims
- Source reduction claims
- Ozone safe/ozone friendly and no CFCs claims
Legally and ethically, the Green Team is charged with making sure all claims avoid any potential “greenwashing,” which is to make a false or erroneous claim of an environmental benefit. If the group is certain of the facts behind a claim, it still must make sure that the wording of the claim will be clearly understood by the consumer.
Remember, the first rule the FTC uses in judging validity of a green claim is how the marketing message is perceived by the customer. The gap between what consumers take a green message to mean versus the truth behind the claim must be avoided through clarity and specificity. But that alone will not be enough to stay on the right side of the law.
The Marketing Message
Once the Green Team has validated a claim using the FTC’s guidelines, it will be ready to craft the marketing message. Of course the FTC has some things to say about that as well. There are a couple of key points to consider under the General Principles section of the Green Guides:
Qualifications and disclosures. “Any qualifications or disclosures ... should be sufficiently clear, prominent and understandable to prevent deception,” the FTC’s guidelines say. “Clarity of language, relative type size and proximity to the claim being qualified, and an absence of contrary claims that could undercut effectiveness, will maximize the likelihood that the qualifications and disclosures are appropriately clear and prominent.”
Overstatement of environmental attribute. “An environmental marketing claim should not be presented in a manner that overstates the environmental attribute or benefit, expressly or by implication,” the FTC advises. “Marketers should avoid implications of significant environmental benefits if the benefit is in fact negligible.”
In layman’s terms, the basis for a claim must be displayed prominently in a legible typeface, as close as possible to the claim. The message needs to be specific and relevant. Most of this is simple common sense. Do not make any broad claims that cannot be substantiated or that might be misleading or irrelevant.
If the legalese and rules feel constraining and stifle creativity as your Green Team begins to formulate its green marketing messages, keep in mind that the guidelines represent a set of checks and balances. Cross-referencing ideas with the FTC guidelines will actually keep your team on track to craft messages that are effective and meet legal criteria.
Credibility and Relevancy
Jacquelyn Ottman, a leading expert and consultant in green marketing, outlined some key initiatives in her keynote speech at the Sustainable Brands ’08 Conference. Ottman recommends marketers first focus on primary benefits. Make your message clear and relevant without overstating the environmental benefits. In her speech, she cited a March 2008 Gallup Poll that showed the environment trailing only health care and the economy as being consumers’ top concern.
Her advice is to try to link your green benefits to health issues or how they might positively affect your customer’s pocketbook. Winning messages are those that are relevant to your customers. To be convincing, Ottman also believes in transparency, a topic we have emphasized already.
Credibility and relevancy to your customers are critical factors in effective green marketing. Your green claims or benefits should be in addition to your core marketing messages regarding your products and services. Integrating the two marketing strategies tells customers that your green talking points are simply a part of your overall marketing message and quality of service and practice, not simply a standalone message on which you’re trying to bank.
Another potential source of credibility comes from co-branding opportunities with suppliers. However, be sure you are comfortable with the messaging and claims being made and that they do not counter the FTC guidelines.
As a final confirmation that your Green Team is on the right track, have the group test its messages against TerraChoice Environmental Marketing’s six green marketing sins discussed in part one of this series. This test should help weed out any accidental misstatements and ensure the validity of your claims.
Through brainstorming and message development, your Green Team will create a long list of current and potential claims. Even as you whittle the list down to work on the most important and relevant claims, don’t necessarily throw out the baby with the bathwater.
You may be able to use some of the additional ideas later, such as on a marketing poster in your lobby demonstrating the 101 things you are doing to help the environment. Remember that little things can add up, from selling greeting cards printed on recycled paper to asking customers if they need a receipt before you print it.
Supporting such practices with facts about the bigger picture can round out your messaging. Take receipts as an example. According to The Green Book by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen, “ATM receipts are one of the top sources of litter on the planet. If everyone in the United States left their receipts in the machine, it would save a roll of paper more than 2 billion feet long, or enough to circle the equator 15 times.”
That’s the sort of nugget that makes a tiny green idea seem pretty big. It tells the customer that you are doing a lot more than just using recycled products. It shows you’ve thought it through, done your homework and are thoroughly committed to going green. That just might give you a leg up on your competitor.
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.