O’Shea, who advises entrepreneurs on marketing challenges, offers the following five tips for a strong green marketing strategy.
1. Start with a great product
O’Shea says before you market a product as green, you have to be able to market it as great—excellent for what it does, separate from its environmental benefits.
He points to Kicking Horse Coffee as an example. The Canadian company markets its various coffees as organic, fair trade and sustainable, but is successful because, in O’Shea’s words, “their coffee is really good.”
2. Make sure green fits with your brand
Having a green product has to make sense coming from a company like yours.
“If you have a whole line of products that aren’t green, and your business operates very traditionally, then coming out with a single green product can make customers wonder if you’re really serious about it,” O’Shea says. “It may not compute with the rest of your brand.”
The more your business is built around being green, either based on what you sell or how you operate, the more authentic people will see you as being.
In a world based on social media reviews and Google searches, people will sniff out manipulative marketing ploys and expose greenwashing for what it is.
3. Do the math
Going green can add costs to your products. This is why organic and sustainable products are often more expensive than conventional alternatives.
Before you decide to take the green path with a product or service, you need to make sure the market will pay what you’ll need to charge to make a reasonable profit.
“As a business, you have to be able to recoup your costs,” O’Shea says. “If you’re selling an organic cleaning product, but customers really only want something cheap that gets the job done, you may have to find other ways to make the planet a better place.”
4. Use green to differentiate
Being sustainable and eco-friendly used to be something that made a company or product stand out. Now there are lots of businesses dedicated to being green.
“Think about innovative ways to be different than other green marketers in your space,” O’Shea says.
He points out that the Canadian apparel company Tentree built its business by planting 10 trees for every sale. In the years since, the marketplace has become saturated with companies that “give when they get”—making some kind of green donation for their sales.
“Tentree has been extremely successful,” O’Shea says. “If they were starting out today, they might do something completely different than tree planting to make sure their green offer stands out from the crowd.”
5. Be transparent
Most importantly, you have to be sincere and transparent as a business to be successfully green.
“Most environmentally conscious consumers do a lot of research before buying,” O’Shea says. “They will do searches on your products and company and ask social media contacts if they have any experience with you. If they find your product or service doesn’t live up to your claims, they will take you to task on social media.”
He says reputable third-party certifications can help reassure consumers and give you an edge over competitors. Just make sure the certification is coming from a credible organization and your products live up to the claims.
“And if there’s a problem with a product, if it isn’t living up to what you said it would do, acknowledge it, address it and move on,” O’Shea says. “Don’t hide from it. Instead, be transparent about what you are doing to improve. Your green buyers will appreciate that.”