Honest-to-God Green: How to Sell “Green” and Cultivate Consumer Trust
It’s cool to be crunchy, and marketers have picked up on this growing trend towards healthier, eco-friendly products. It’s a must — today’s customers are savvier than ever when it comes to the high-fructose corn syrup in their bread and the BPA in their plastic water bottles.
As a result, the market has flooded with a deluge of products claiming to be “healthy,” “all-natural” and free from the scary flavor-of-the-month ingredient. If your brand’s customers use the Internet, watch TV or shop at the supermarket, they’ve already been inundated with hundreds of messages about what’s good, what’s green and what they should be buying to save the earth. Here are some tips for cultivating a truly “green” reputation for your brand and distinguishing your products from “green-washers” in the marketplace:
Avoid Meaningless Ad-Words
Thanks to the massive public awareness generated by films like “Food Inc.,” today’s green consumer is sensitive to words that are, quite frankly, meaningless. The old trick of slapping the word “natural” in front of a product name doesn’t fool savvy shoppers. The proof is on the back of the label, and customers are reading ingredient lists now more than ever. If you do choose to use words like “natural,” the product should support the claims on the front of the package with the hard facts on the back.
If your product is indeed very eco-friendly and ethically produced, you may have to work extra hard to get it to stand out against green-washing imposter brands. A good example is eggs at the supermarket. The sunny farm and red barn visuals have been mainstays of agricultural marketing for decades. Add in labels like “all natural,” “free range” and “cage free,” and the result is a recipe for consumer confusion and label fatigue. When in doubt if customers will misunderstand the meaning of your claims, then clarify.
If your brand is trying to retool its public perception as a “green brand,” it’s important to pay attention to all aspects of the product, packaging and lifecycle. The customer who’s willing to pay $2 extra for organic coffee might cringe at a container made from virgin plastic. Keep in mind that many health-conscious customers and “green” consumers are one and the same. Green shoppers know plastic is bad for the environment, and it has few chances for a “second life” after recycling. Say your product switches to biodegradable packaging. What is the product itself made of? How can the consumer recycle it after its lifetime? Consistency across the board is of paramount importance when trying to cultivate a reputation as a “green brand.”
Even some of the most socially responsible brands may have a few intimidating and chemical-sounding ingredients listed on the back of their packages. Most consumers understand the need for preservatives to extend the shelf life of a product, but the environmentally conscious are wary of ingredients they can’t pronounce.
This is where corporate transparency is extremely valuable. Provide a list of product ingredients on the company website explaining what each ingredient is and the derived source. If a product uses an ingredient your company isn’t comfortable explaining, you should probably rethink trying to position the company as a “green brand.”
Also helpful is a “frequently asked questions” section. If your company is aware of its own products’ shortcomings, this is a good place to address it. Is R&D still stumped trying to find a natural alternative to a red food coloring that holds up during processing? Then say so. Consumers are receptive to genuine, honest explanations when they know you are working to address a problem.
Use Clear Labels
If you produce a lotion free of parabens or an antiperspirant without aluminum, people will buy it. In fact, savvy consumers are already on the lookout for certain labels on products they buy at the store.
However, the consumer must be able to identify your product from the dozens of others crowding supermarket shelves without pulling out a pair of reading glasses. Don’t be afraid of sacrificing aesthetic appeal by enlarging the USDA organic seal or making a “phthalate free” or “BPA free” label highly visible.
Make Packaging Easy Identifiable
While some devoted eco-warriors may take the time to scour the shelves for a product that is a “greener alternative,” many will not pick up an earth-friendly product if it is not clearly identified as such. Color palettes and package design help make point-of-purchase decisions easier by telling the consumer, “this product is for me.” Big green letters aren’t necessarily a must anymore, but a softer color pallet or even just a different label can help identify the earth-friendly version of a favorite laundry detergent.
Another trend in eco-friendly package design is nostalgia. Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, Bob’s Red Mill and Upton’s Naturals all use benevolently retro branding elements that remind consumers of a simpler time before chemicals and dangerous ingredients were a consumer issue.
Brands that position themselves as a healthier, greener alternatives are prime targets for skeptics and competitors to air their dirty laundry. In the age of overnight social media scandals, unethical corporate practices don’t stay secret for long. If your brand treats the earth well, it’s good to make sure everyone and everything involved in the production process is treated well, too.
Tarah Benner is the associate editor of The Agency Post, where she edits content, researches new technology and writes on industry trends. She's a runner, rower and avid blogger who enjoys curling up on the couch with good pizza and a movie. Her experience includes copywriting, content marketing, digital publishing and writing for the web. You can connect with her on Twitter @TarahBenner or on LinkedIn.