Mar 032010

Make it about the consumer…
That is one of the first lessons of any marketing text or class. You don’t sell the drill, you sell the holes. It’s the sizzle, not the steak (sorry fellow vegans). Sell on advantages rather than features.

When it comes to marketing green building methods, sustainable products, high performance homes, organic foods, natural products, or any of a whole host of green services, it all comes down to this basic truism of marketing–“It” must be about the consumer.

Too many green business owners approach their customers with the assumption that people will buy their product or service just because doing so is the responsible thing to do. Even if your product is the best option for the environment, is the most socially responsible of the marketplace, or the healthiest for the planet, you still must frame your marketing efforts, packaging and positioning efforts around the effects each of these advantages has on the person who must pull out their wallet and make the final buying decision

With the exception of the relatively few deep green consumers who are the most committed to social and environmental choices, relying primarily on the altruistic nature of your green product or service will not make a successful marketing program.

Identify what you can do for your customer first.
If you offer low VOC painting services, forget about the ground-level ozone prevention, market on the safety the products offer to a family through healthier indoor air quality. If you sell organic food, put nitrate reduction in the ground water on the back burner–talk about food without carcinogenic chemicals and petrochemical fertilizers. Make “it” about the consumer’s own life and you have a marketing message that works.

The Toyota Prius Example
Of the growing list of gas-electric hybrid vehicles, the king of the lot remains the Toyota Prius. Sales numbers for the little car are in the range of 1.5 million units, the vast majority delivered to the United States. No other hybrid model has come remotely close to matching the success of the Prius in market acceptance, though other manufacturers continue to try to find the Prius killer. The problem that most hybrid car manufacturers have ignored is that they have not attempted to compete against the Prius by matching its primary market strength–its uniqueness and image.

The Prius is a highly fuel efficient mid-sized car with reasonable creature comforts, cargo room, and handling. Other manufacturers have created hybrid cars with many of the same features (though no like car has matched the Prius in fuel efficiency). The mistake that other manufacturers have made is that they used existing car platforms and body styles to convert to a gas-electric hybrid drive system. Aside from hybrid badging, there was no aspect of these competing designs that identified them as environmentally unique. (The one exception to this lack of uniqueness was the now retired original Honda Insight design, which suffered from bizarre styling, zero cargo room, and only two cramped seats.)

Driving a hybrid makes a certain statement about the choices that driver has made. The Prius is about responsible decisions, concerns for the world beyond one’s own life, environmental stewardship, and an optimism about technology and our ability to deal with our current environmental issues. Driving a Honda Civic Hybrid makes none of those statements because the car looks like any of a dozen other econo-box vehicles. Driving a Civic may be the to invisibility you can get.

With the reintroduction of the new five-door Insight, Honda may have finally noted the way to compete with Toyota in the hybrid car market. The new Insight makes the clear statement that it is a unique solution to an environmental and economic problem, while adding to the mix all of the practicality that the original Insight lacked.

Both Toyota and now Honda are marketing a product that deals with the consumer’s interest first–the desire to take action against the concern and the guilt of global climate change while publicly taking credit for their actions.

In the case of the Prius, it helps that Toyota has built a truly great little car. This product meets the needs of a great number of people, does so economically, and reliably. It also appeals to consumers in a way that has made a great many of them pull out their checkbooks.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should reveal that I own two Prius hybrids. Dang, that Toyota marketing department is good.

Now, how can you make the marketing messages for your green products or services more about your consumers?

David Arthur is a USGBC LEED-AP and is the editor of, a site dedicated to supporting the sustainable small business owner and green entrepreneur.

Author: David Arthur
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David Arthur

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