4 pitfalls to avoid in green marketing

4 pitfalls to avoid in green marketing

[Editor's note: Public opinion polls are a key tool for green marketing, but also bring some challenges that can lead companies astray. This article evaluates a recent poll from The Washington Post and discusses what it reveals about four common consumer mindsets -- and how marketers can target those groups to sell green products more effectively.]

Public opinion about the environment shifts constantly; it’s tough to calibrate your green marketing efforts when each new opinion poll reports different results. For example, a recent Washington Post survey asked,

“Thinking ahead to 10 or so years from now, do you think the natural environment in the world will be better, worse, or about the same?”

The results were:

Better

Worse

Same

Unsure

19%

40%

38%

3%

 

You may agree or disagree with the opinions in this poll. You may feel shocked or validated by their results. Either way, it’s important to remember that how you feel about the results is only part of the bigger picture. What polls like this reveal is that public opinion about the environment can be broken down roughly into three groups. Each of your green marketing campaigns must specifically address one of them. The problem is that perils lurk in those percentages…but we don’t mean peril in the literal sense. Instead, we mean that each one of these groups can present pitfalls that you need to consider when delivering your green marketing message.

“Better”

Whether or not you agree with the “better” camp of environmental opinion – that the environment is improving, or that any specific aspect of it is getting better—you have to recognize the challenges your green marketing message may encounter. When marketing to the “better” camp of opinion, the risk is that people may view your green marketing message as unnecessary or superfluous. Members of this camp can range from the crotchety old-timer who claims that in his or her day they dumped glowing toxic waste straight into the rivers and we’re all just fine, to the optimistic front-line environmentalist who believes that things are improving and will continue to improve.

How do you speak to this audience? Your methods may vary. Here are some possible approaches:

  • The "in-your-face" emotional reality check
  • A clean, straightforward presentation of the facts, with a strong call to action
  • Downplay the question, instead focusing on product benefits and including "green" as a perk
  • Agree with their position, subtly attributing environmental improvement to products like yours

 

“Worse”

Some members of the “worse” opinion camp are sufferers of what you might call "falling sky syndrome." Even if their critical estimations are correct, they’re sometimes cynical, pessimistic or fatalistic by disposition. These people may see your green marketing offering as just another hoax. They may also believe that small improvements you’ve made are ‘too little, too late’, and downplay or disregard even larger accomplishments.

Here are some possible approaches for communicating with this audience:

  • Focus on presenting clear evidence of your green marketing message as a solution; reduce emphasis on explaining environmental problems
  • Don’t overstate your offering’s environmental impact; you don’t want to accidentally set off their "BS-detector."
  • Neutralize their cynicism by relating to matters like family, health or other strongly held core beliefs.
  • Present a hopeful, “we’re in this together” message.

“Same”

The world is in constant flux; change is constant. Difficulty accepting this reality might be the difficulty faced by many in this opinion camp. This may reflect an attachment to the status quo, a detachment from reality or a sense of hopelessness regarding the possibility of change.

Possible approaches for communicating with this audience can be a mix of the approach for the other two camps. Here are some possibilities:

  • Discuss examples of how their own lives may have changed, such as increasing gas prices, severe local weather, or recent community events.
  • Use imaginative writing and imagery to compare the realms of past, present and future.
  • Neutralize the element of ‘danger’ or fear with undertones of adventure, challenge and communal action.

“Unsure”

It’s good to be aware of what you don’t know. Take it as a positive that this group is willing to admit that they do not know everything. Your green marketing challenge with this group might be ignorance, indecisiveness, or apathy. Start from square one here: present the issues, present the benefits you bring to the table, and insert emotion and imagination to make your position compelling. Often, they will move into one of the other 3 camps; from there, you can market to them more efficiently.

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Green marketers need to find a balance between changing someone’s mind and reaching them within the framework of their beliefs.

This piece originally ran on the website of Pollen Brands, a green branding agency in NYC.

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