While going green may be a popular trend, consumers who are watching their wallets in this tough economy may be more reluctant to purchase environmentally friendly products that come with a higher price tag. Tight finances and inaccessibility are just two of the challenges that spell difficulty for marketers of green products as they try to convince consumers to budge.
Jeff Dubin, a Princeton resident and businessman, has studied green marketing strategies, runs his own green marketing firm, and now has written a book, “Dear Green Marketer: Fresh Ideas for Marketing Green Products to a Public that Doesn’t Seem to Care,” geared toward helping these marketers entice more customers to spend their green on green. The book is available for sale online at Amazon.com.
Dubin’s move into green marketing was not accidental. “I’ve been interested in the environment ever since I was a little kid and worried about the environment,” he says.
But he also picked up a deeper knowledge of public issues from his father’s work. While his father was a general counsel in Philadelphia for a publicly traded company by day, he was also a local politician. His mother was a secretary at the Bryn Mawr School of Social Work. Dubin earned his undergraduate degree from Yale and his MBA from Columbia. “It really raised my awareness of my world outside of my immediate life,” he says.
In 2009, when he saw a quick rise in the number of green products being introduced into the market, Dubin — who works in pharmaceuticals by day — decided to combine the experience he gained from his marketing background with his concern for the environment and jump into green marketing.
Now, a few years later, “green’s not gone into a deep freeze, but the initial enthusiasm of the past three years has worn off a little as the economy” has continued to impact consumer decisions, Dubin says.
But there isn’t reason to think that consumers are not interested in the products. Rather, green marketers must plan their strategies with consumer challenges in mind.
“I think deep down [consumers] do care,” says Dubin, who in 2009 founded Green Meridian, a marketing firm that helps companies develop marketing strategies for manufactures of green products (www.greenmeridian.com).
“If you just look at their behavior, it seems like they don’t care,” says Dubin. “There is a segment of consumers who don’t seem to care who really do care about the environment and are worried about it, but there are just too many barriers in their way. I think that’s good news for green marketers.”
Understanding Your Audience. In any marketing strategy, it is easy to make assumptions about your potential customers, and Dubin admits he began his foray into green marketing with a pre-conceived notion — that customers who purchase green products are usually more liberal. But from his research, he found that liberals don’t necessarily buy more green products than those who are more conservative.
“They don’t always intend to buy green products,” he said. “They may talk about the need to be green, but it’s not always borne out in their behavior.”
Green marketers must also understand what will drive their customers’ purchases. As part of the process in writing the book, Dubin surveyed more than 600 women to determine their familiarity with green products and the barriers to getting them to purchase more of them.
“Only 35 percent of the women surveyed were able to name even just one green household brand off the top of their heads,” he writes in his book. “The situation is even more discouraging for green personal care products, with just 18 percent of women successfully naming one green personal care product without any prompting.”
Another important factor to understand about potential customers is their access to the products. Potential customers who really want to be greener are, to some extent, cut off from some green products. “They don’t necessarily have a Whole Foods down the block,” Dubin says. “They’re not as plugged in as people in the areas like the Northeast.”
So how can green marketers still reach out to potential new customers? Look to big chain stores like Wal-Mart or Target, where an influx of green products has begun. “They obviously see a market for it,” he says.
Return to marketing basics. Even if a green marketer targets big-chain stores or other places where these products may be available, the marketer still has to convince customers to buy in — and telling them that the product is green may not be enough.
“It’s really about old-fashioned marketing, making people aware of the products and making them accessible so they can get to them easily,” Dubin says. “For some people they need to be convinced that green products work.”
For example, when it comes to green products, customers might believe that the product smells good and might be a little bit healthier for them as well as the environment, but they might not be convinced the product is going to get the job done.
“I urge green marketers to return to marketing basics,” he says. “You’re using a product to do a job — first and foremost. You have to convince people it can do the job, otherwise the environmental benefit is just window-dressing.”
Finding an appropriate balance between emphasizing the environmental benefits and focusing on the product’s ability to do the job may be difficult, but Dubin says the ideal place is the middle ground.
“You don’t necessarily have to show you’re better than the other products, but if you can show you’re a parity, you can open up the discussion about the product being more green,” he says.
Don’t forget to make it personal. Once the marketer establishes that the product is successful in achieving its intended use, Dubin strongly believes the campaign must link a personal benefit to the customer, including its health benefits.
For example, some green marketers may address fears that parents or customers with respiratory conditions might have. Of course, these strategies will have to be used without running afoul of regulations set by authorities. “You can’t claim something for which you don’t have evidence,” Dubin says.
But some marketers can point to studies showing dangers from more conventional household cleaners. “Certainly, they have ingredients that have proven to be harmful,” he says.
Another idea may be to approach doctors and share the results of the studies and educating them on the benefits their healthier products can offer, with the hope that physicians will recommend their products to patients.
Despite the current tough climate for green marketing, Dubin is optimistic about the future for green marketing — especially since the desire on the part of consumers is already there.
“Despite missteps, the number of green brands continues to grow,” he says in his book. “And corporate behemoths like Wal-Mart have taken up the green banner. Most important, there is so much more makers of sustainable products can do to engage people’s environmental concerns and execute on marketing basics more effectively by making people aware of firms’ eco-friendly offerings and convincing people they work and are reasonably priced.”