The Problems with Green Marketing -- and How to Solve Them

Recently I sat down to discuss the state of green marketing with Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries. Along with her father and business partner, Al Ries, they are two of the world's best-known marketing consultants and authors of such classics as Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind and most recently, War in the Boardroom.

Claudia Girrbach: What's wrong with a green message and brand position?

Laura Ries: Just being green is not enough.

The purists look for green products. But the majority of people don't make decisions purely on green. Although many consumers think green is nice, when given a choice they select the brand they like or the lowest-priced product.

For many green brands that leaves them nowhere, since they are not the cheapest and own a weaker brand position.

CG: Why does the consumer find green a weaker offering?

LR: Consumers perceive that green is not as good as the regular stuff.

It is the same problem when "diet" is put on a product. The brand owners want consumers to think of diet products as healthier and with fewer calories. But people instantly think the diet product must taste disgusting.

With a "green" label, consumers think that the product is over-priced, that it's not going to work, or doesn't taste as good.

That is a huge problem facing green products. For a green product to move beyond the green enthusiasts and cross-over to the mainstream, the consumer will need to think of the brand in a different way. To do that, work green into the message, but also remember to build a strong brand.

CG: Should green marketers provide a stronger case about the environmental impact?

LR: Selling green on the hard data sounds very logical to left-brained management, engineers and sustainability practitioners. The facts even appeal to consumers when asked about their concern about the environment and desire to buy green.

Then consumers go into the store and leave their logical brain behind. Consumers buy with their emotional side -- based on a gut decision. They are not considering facts and figures when buying a bar of soap.

CG: If green alone is not a good position, what's a more workable solution?

LR: In a crowded category, just remaking the product into something that is green is unlikely to be compelling. A better approach is to create a new category.

No one wanted a better soap that killed more germs, but a new category of hand sanitizers was a big hit.

Potential new categories should combine green with another strong attribute.

Green + convenience -- With our busy lives, convenience is sought out.

Green + highest performance -- You may want to spend even more to make your green product the premium category.

Green + costs savings -- Consumers like to save money. Energy saving products made inroads.

Green + feel-good -- Most consumers are not just self-centered. They want to put some green into their life, if easy.

People are a bit hesitant on green. So provide that extra motivating factor, that extra push into green.

CG: So how should a company launch a green product?

LR: Early adopters in most categories want to show off. In the case of green, many want to show other people how green they are. They aren't necessarily doing it just for the environment, but to make a statement.