by: David Wigder

Green brand research conducted by Landor Associates indicates that a majority of consumers are “not interested” in green brands. (“The Power of Green Brands”, June 2006). While this is somewhat discouraging news, this study offers powerful lessons for marketing to the healthy 42% of consumers that are either “green motivated” (17%) or “green interested” (25%).

Green brands must clearly articulate their brand promise and support this promise with deeds rather than just words. Tell consumers what they should expect from the company and illustrate by drawing distinctions with competitors. Then, exceed those expectations.

Consumers are somewhat confused and mislead by claims of being green. Consumers do not have a clear definition of what it means to be green, with most equating natural or organic ingredients or environmentally-friendly technologies with being good for the environment (rather than actual environmental impact). This is a clear sign that consumers need to be more fully informed regarding what it means to be green. Moreover, without having a clear basis for comparison, consumers find it difficult to judge how genuinely “green” a product really is. Consumer education, clear standards and credible endorsements would go along way here.

For good or for bad, consumers may equate brand expression with being green. Consumer misperceptions have apparently created accidental green brands whereby consumers have misinterpreted packaging, labeling or logos as signs of being green. One example cited is Subway - a brand perceived by consumers as green based on its logo and healthy menu, rather than its brand promise. This is worrisome for marketers: brands that are not eco-friendly may take advantage of this, while green brands may find the impact of their brand expression eroded over time.

Purchasing behavior by individual consumers is not consistently green across all categories. Research indicates that “green motivated” consumers “favor green brands within the grocery, beauty and personal care categories but will purchase brands that are not considered green in the fast food and petroleum categories”. As such, marketers must be careful to apply learnings across categories before retesting in market.

Products that appeal to niche markets can impact the entire category. Green marketing should draw distinctions between brands based on green issues. While messaging may initially appeal only to those that are “green motivated”, effective differentiation may compel other companies in the category to respond. One classic example is The Body Shop. When the company positioned itself as animal-friendly – that is, it did not use animal testing for any of its products – bad PR compelled other major cosmetic companies were obliged to follow suit. These products are now sold in mainstream markets to all consumers – whether they are “green interested” or not.

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