Navigating Green Marketing’s Changing Landscape

Yes, consumer skepticism regarding green claims is at an all-time high.

But consider this: Consumer skepticism regarding advertising in general is at an all-time high.

And when you consider that the average consumer is being bombarded by thousands of advertising messages every single day, it's no wonder more and more have learned to spot hype coming from a mile away.

Healthy skepticism is a good thing. It not only protects the buyer, it makes for a more vibrant marketplace as companies are forced to adapt to the changing needs of their customers.

The popularity of social media and the success of content marketing reflect this -- instead of focusing solely on the brand, both put the consumer front and center.

The green marketplace is no different.

We have to come to terms with the fact that we’ve passed out of green’s infancy and are now entering the teenage years.

And as the market begins to mature, consumers are rebelling from all the hype and businesses must respond.

But that doesn’t mean avoiding all mention of sustainability altogether. On the contrary, as green marketing evolves, the companies that take the lead -- in the right way -- will find themselves coming out on top.

So if you’ve been holding back, here are 4 tips that will help you avoid the pitfalls and reap the rewards of the new green marketing.

Avoid generalizations

While some consumers are incredibly savvy when it comes to green claims, the majority are not. Therefore, the broader the language, the more likely some will make erroneous assumptions -- assumptions that could come back to haunt you.

So avoid generalizations like “environmentally friendly” or “recyclable.” Instead, focus on specific, quantifiable descriptions that leave no room for interpretation.

For example, if only a portion of your product is truly recyclable, make sure that’s the only component listed as such.

Avoid exaggeration

Don’t try to mislead consumers by overstating the environmental benefits of your products, services, or practices.

Advertising that your production facility has increased its use of renewable energy by 50% in the last year may look good on paper, but if actual usage has increased only 1% over last year’s 2%, you’re just creating a false impression of environmental stewardship.

If your company has made only small strides in a particular area, using creative math to spin the truth will only tarnish your reputation and hurt your business.

Strive for honesty and transparency

According to the 2011 Cone Trend Tracker study, Americans value honesty over perfection in environmental marketing, and 71% would stop buying a product if they felt misled by environmental claims.

These findings underscore how important it is to make honesty and transparency company watchwords.

And be proactive with this.

Communicate honestly any shortcomings you may have and the steps you’re taking to improve (like the 1% increase in renewable energy usage mentioned in the above example).

The more open you are, the more consumers will trust you, so making information regarding your corporate practices easily accessible is also a good idea.

Use scientific and third party evidence

When making green claims about products or services, make sure you have the science to back them up.

When in doubt, consult appropriate resources, such as the FTC Green Guides, which make clear the distinction between acceptable and deceptive uses of such terms as “biodegradable” and “post-consumer content.”

Also look into obtaining relevant endorsements from reliable third party sources, for they lend additional credibility to your environmental statements.

Yes, change has indeed come to green marketing.

No longer an anything goes arena, companies that once enjoyed carte blanche to say whatever they pleased are now being challenged to respond to consumers’ growing sophistication.

And the world of environmental marketing is now being held up to the same scrutiny that other, more established markets have faced for years.

But instead of shrinking from the spotlight and throwing sustainability efforts out the window, the key here is to keep moving forward.

So keep a copy of the FTC Green Guides on hand for easy reference, review additional EPA or international guidelines when needed, and be sure to bring in a qualified attorney when in doubt regarding any especially tricky areas.

By proceeding in both a cautious and ethical manner, you will ensure your company’s continued leadership in the new green marketplace.

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