Green marketing comes into its own at last
In the late 1980's brand marketers were just beginning to understand the implications of 'green marketing' and, since then, the green concept has shifted, adapted, and split into whole new disciplines. This is a concept that is here to stay, according to an article by Jacquelyn Ottman of J. Ottman Consulting, published in Harvard's 'Leading Green' blog in July.
Today there is a wealth of green marketing conferences, green marketing associations and best practices, and most serious consumer brands are involved somehow.
In Ottman's article (click here for the original) she observed that, at the Sustainable Brands '09 conference in Monterey, she couldn't help noticing how far green marketing has come since she started her consulting business in 1989.
The shift during the past two decades reflects the fact that the target demographic for green marketing is not in fact the "educated women, aged 30-49, with children" of yesteryear, but one of many possible segments of a dynamic consumer base that now embraces 66% of all US adults.
Twenty years ago, many of the green adverts seen by consumers featured daisies, babies, or images of the Earth from space. Thankfully, those have all but vanished. Take the cleaning category as an example; In the US, Method pitches its soap to hip twenty-somethings. With a combination of arty package design, contemporary scents and green certifications, the brand tries to convince usually sceptical consumers that this dishwashing liquid is not like the one their mother uses.
And where marketers used to throw all "green customers" together into one indistinguishable (possibly "hippy-like") group, today's green-savvy marketers focus on differentiating among many shades of eco-minded buyer.
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, green brands were one dimensional. A product made news if it had even one green attribute. For example, Procter & Gamble's Downy fabric softener refill made marketing headlines. Many of the products that were touted as "environmentally superior" were actually familiar mainstream brands that had been made a little big greener (for example, by using bottles or packaging made of recycled materials, or the product simply being labelled 'biodegradable'.)
But today's consumers are more demanding. With green marketers of the past having sullied their images with all manner of 'greenwashing', today's communications are likely to be accompanied by one or more of the 299 eco-labels offered by trusted third parties (which include NGOs, environmental groups, retailers, and government agencies), or even self declarations by the brand.
For example, Clorox has achieved recognition by the US EPA's Design for Environment eco-label programme, as well as an endorsement from the Sierra Club. Its competitor S.C. Johnson has also gone to the length of publishing a list of ingredients for many of its brands. Simple product labels and ingredient lists, however, are no longer enough for consumers who really care about the impact on the environment of the products they choose to use.
While green marketing has moved well beyond brands that appeal to the "deep green" niche, the relationship-building tools of social media now allow marketers to tap into a goldmine of passionately green customers for market research.
For example, the green cleaning brand Seventh Generation has an 'Inspired Protagonist' blog and a 'Seventh Generation Nation' social network on its web site, with thousands of members providing feedback and suggesting new product ideas. Method also has its own Facebook page, complete with a wall of comments from many of its 6,000+ fans, as well as a Twitter following of 2,000+ users. That's not bad for soap.
Where green cleaners had once gathered dust on health store shelves, today's sustainable branders are finding an exciting new market opportunity in mainstream retail. Looking again at the cleaning category, it's hard to get more mainstream than Clorox, but the brand's Greenworks line is being fuelled as much by its well-known brand name as it is by the same natural ingredients that characterise so many other green brands on the shelves.
Indeed, as proof that green marketing has come such a long way, a Clorox spokesperson at the conference in Monterey reported that sales and market share was increasing even in the face of the recession, with Greenworks now claiming 45% of the natural cleaning category.