Sustainability is never a brand extension
I see and hear it all the time. “Our eco product just doesn’t sell as well as our normal brands” and “people are just not that into buying eco products”.
Comments like this just confirm that the marketer (and the company) are treating eco brands as ‘brand extensions’ the way Coke treats it’s Zero and Diet products. But eco, green or ethical products cannot be treated in this way. Coke’s eco plastic bottles still contain a beverage with a long list of health impacts – and people looking for healthy, sustainable alternatives will never reach for a bottled soft drink.
Consumers who buy green products invest heavily in the brand and product and do not want to be associated with (what they view) to be negative brands.
Look at the companies that are getting it right. Electric vehicle company Tesla posted presales of more than 20,000 and has more than 50 showrooms worldwide. Patagonia is enjoying record profits while donating tens of millions of dollars to environmental groups. Lush Cosmetics has grown year on year, and now has more than 900 stores in 52 countries. These companies are not just keeping their heads afloat, they are thriving and driving real change in their categories.
So let me tell you how they (and you) should market sustainability products.
The first step is a strategic step – and the most significant. You must ask yourself: can the product development team confirm the eco credentials of your product? And does your organisation want to claim these eco-credentials? If so, there are major strategic implications for your organisation. Will you cease to produce any products that produce negative impact on people or the environment? Will you become a sustainable company? If the answer is ‘no’ or ‘not sure’, then think very carefully before progressing.
The second step is to do your research. Turn the spotlight on consumers, competitors, supply chains, staff and stakeholders. Try to understand if consumers think you would be a credible source. What are your competitors doing in this space? Is there an example of your corporate or supply chain behaviour that could come back to haunt you? Do you have the support of staff, management and the board? Remember, just because people say they will buy a sustainable product, doesn’t mean they will buy yours.
Next, educate your staff, consumers, stakeholders and supply chain about sustainability, packaging, materiality and waste. Investigate product third-party certification, accreditation or reporting processes so that you can establish a transparent relationship with all your stakeholders.
Then develop your marketing strategy. It’s not just about being ‘eco’, but also about meeting the three clear motivation values that make people buy:
Is the product functional? For example, does the ecostore washing detergent get your clothes as clean as the non-eco brand? Consumers need to see that this product is of value.
Does the product speak to the consumer on an emotional level? Does using the product make me feel better about choosing it? Am I a better parent or person for using this product?
And finally, is there the social status or social value attached to using this product? There will be a certain status attached to the first owners of Tesla cars, just as there were for the first Toyota Prius drivers. Your product choice says something about you – and even more so if your choice is an eco-product.
These are deeply driven values that impact how we see ourselves, and how we want others to see us. These insights are what marketers must understand if they are to effectively engage with their target market. These values often have very little to do with ‘saving the world’, which can be disappointing for the company’s sustainability manager, and more to do with ‘what buying this product says about me’. In this way, marketing an eco-product is no different to all other marketing. Success still lies in understanding your target, their perceptions, hopes and fears.
So, marketers, I call on you to take back the marketing process and treat sustainability just like any other product attribute. Align all the key values as you would any other successful product. Reject the idea that sustainability is all about ‘just doing good’ or even worse, dressing an existing product in a green package.
And next time you jump into your Toyota Prius to go to the organic farmers’ market in your organic hemp t-shirt while drinking a coconut water, just nod knowingly at the other members of your tribe.
Tania Crosbie is a CPM and Fellow of the Australian Marketing Institute and runs a sustainability marketing, communications, engagement, training and research firm (www.thecrosbiecollective.com). Tania also consults as a ‘sustainability whisperer’ and educates marketers and agencies on the dos and don’ts of sustainability in marketing and advertising.