Marketing Green: The New Rules

A Review of Ottman’s Latest Book

Jacquelyn A. Ottman’s The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools, and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding(Berrett-Koehler and Greenleaf, 2011) is so rich, it’s hard to believe the question ‘is green marketing dead?’ came up in 2011.

In fact, it seems that in its new incarnation, green marketing is just getting underway: the former eco-fringe niche has now swelled to a $290 billion market encompassing everything from organic food to hybrid cars. Covering a spectrum of green manufacturing, service and purchasing shifts–in product design, innovation, partnering, communicating, and avoiding greenwash–Ottman makes a strong case for why companies can no longer afford to market conventionally.

Everyone’s Green

Indeed, now we’re all green–one shade or another–so even thinking about how to sell to “consumers with lifestyles” is a remnant of the corporate past, she reports in her fourth book.

Green is “mainstream,” with over 90 percent of adults now aware of ‘global warming;’ nearly that number familiar with ‘biodegradable’ products; and over three quarters having heard of ‘renewable resources’. Hence, companies need to approach “people with lives,” Ottman notes in her chart on “The new green marketing paradigm.”

Female Factor

How did we get here?

A big factor is women. Since the “green consumer revolution” was spawned in the 1970s, it has been “led by women aged between 30 and 49 with children and with better-than-average education…motivated by a desire to keep their loved ones free from harm and to secure their future,” Ottman writes.

“That women have historically been in the forefront of green purchasing cannot be underestimated. They still do most of the shopping and make most of the brand purchasing decisions,” she continues.

“Poll after poll shows that women weigh environmental and social criteria more heavily in their purchasing decisions than do men.”

With their influence on daughters–and sons–women traditionally have led the rest of the population toward greater green demand, so that succeeding generations expect products that aren’t just green in name, but also deliver results–and don’t cost more.

Thankfully, Ottman reports, with the advances in technology, “people” can now shop for green products that, unlike some of their predecessors, also compete on price and performance.

Paradigm Shift

The new paradigm, Ottman writes, requires “new strategies with a holistic point of view and eco-innovative product and service offering.”

One big innovation: offering a product as part of a larger service, as well as providing the service electronically. Such strategies have been part of new business models pioneered by companies like Zipcar, the car-sharing service, and Netflix, offering rental films online, along with DVDs sent by mail.

In addition to considering people vs consumers, the new business paradigm also includes thinking about: ‘cradle-to-cradle’ vs ‘cradle-to-grave’ products; ‘values’ vs ‘product-end benefits’; and corporate transparency vs secrecy.

In fact, these days, to appeal to an increasingly curious and demanding green audience, companies have to be pro-active in promoting their products, pointing out their added value, including benefits of better health, superior performance, good taste and cost-effectiveness.

Me First

Still, while these days everyone’s green, to get the end-customer on board, companies have to address people’s self-interest, Ottman insists. Even as consumers demand green products and investigate green company claims, everyone must see ‘something in it for me.’

Indeed, the main reason consumers will pay to save the planet isn’t to save it, but themselves, Ottman notes, highlighting that the number one reason they buy green is “to protect their own health.”

So, to effectively communicate, companies would do well to “integrate relevant environmental and social benefits within your brand’s already established market positioning,” with those responsible benefits featured as ‘extra,’ to complement a ‘me first’ attitude. Underscoring the point, products “closely aligned with health are growing the fastest,” Ottman notes.

What’s more, to help consumers feel “empowered” by their choices, “Invite consumer participation through simple actions and the prospect of a better future,” both physical and financial, Ottman advises, adding that, with the advent of social media, community engagement is more critical than ever. “Acknowledge the consumer’s new role as co-creator of your brand.”

All the Rest of Us…

As if it weren’t hard enough to engage the real person at the core of each consumer and invite them into the creation process, now business must not only beware sending a green message without credible back-up–but also stay on the look-out for new stakeholders, hatched all the time, it seems.

Gone are the days when business could aim to please just those with direct interest in the company, such as employees, investors, consumers and the like. Under the “new rules,” everyone’s potentially got a stake, including kids looking ahead to their future, as well as bloggers and so-called citizen journalists, who weren’t even on the scene when green products came to life decades ago.

That means engaging youth and families in special programs and making sure any media campaigns are designed to involve the general public, at least partly through the Internet, Ottman advises.

In the end, it all boils down to backing up any marketing message with the genuine article–products and services that really deliver the goods.

In other words, take care of business first.

And take a look at Ottman’s book. It’s the sort of marketing guide you’ll likely want to refer to again, almost an encyclopedia of trends, tips, tales, and–given her past record–likely spot-on predictions.

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