A Call to Green Marketers to Unite and Vanquish Consumer Confusion

A Call to Green Marketers to Unite and Vanquish Consumer Confusion

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Jeff Kubina. http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/1386979654/

J. Walter Thompson (JWT), the global advertising agency, in its recent green consumer study ("The Recession and its Impact on the Environment") found that "... some of the terms we use to talk about being green ... are not clear to consumers, or even defined at all." JWT cites, for example, significant confusion over the terms environmental, going green and sustainability.

JWT in turn counsels marketers to "Drop the buzzwords.Talk to consumers about tangible benefits in realistic terms to avoid seeming disconnected … "

That's good advice. It certainly is wise to avoid using terms that confuse customers. But for how long? Indefinitely? Should we simply throw up our hands and resign ourselves to being perpetually unable to use the term sustainability in an advertisement? We shouldn't. And here's why.

Our goal as marketers is to access, elicit and channel the deeper motivations of consumers. A critical means of doing this is to dialogue with consumers. Nomenclature -- a clear, precise set of terms -- facilitates dialogue. And terms that are confusing and imprecise stifle dialogue.

Not using green terms certainly is a reasonable stopgap measure for addressing consumer confusion. But it severely limits our dialogue with consumers. Thus, the most effective long-term measure is to take the bull by the horns and clarify green terminology for consumers.

Therefore, I propose that we, the green marketing community, unite to develop a set of clearly defined, universally accepted green terms. And we should supplement those terms with context. We should explain, for example, that the 1987 Brundtland Commission report is the progenitor of both the modern concept of sustainability and the notion that environmental sustainability is integrally connected to social and economic sustainability. And that these concepts have driven the broadening of the definition of green, the diffusion of the corporate social responsibility movement, and the use of the triple bottom line measure of company performance.

Once we define green terms, we then should educate the consumer about them by means of public relations campaigns, news media coverage, program content and advertising.

It is in our self-interest as marketers of green products to take these actions. However, it is also altruistic. Because if these actions result in greater sales of sustainable products we will be improving our planet for future generations.

Who's with me on this?

Michael Mercier is president of Deeper Insights, a market research and consulting firm, and can be reached at [email protected]

Images CC licensed by Flickr user
Jeff Kubina.