Green Marketing has passed its sell-bySeptember 22nd, 2011
Green marketing debate conclusions:-
It is far more relevant for B2B than for B2C.
Generic ‘green’ is not effective.
Movement from thinkers to doers through sustainable development.
At today’s Oomph Seminar we debated “Green Marketing has passed its sell-by date”. This seems even more timely since today’s Guardian Sustainable Business Blog by Sally Uren from Forum for the Future is on the same topic. So everyone is discussing and debating this.
We chose a debate format because there are very differing views on the future for green marketing. Dan Vivian proposed the motion and Andy Aston from HROC (also the hosts for the Oomph Seminar) opposed the motion. You can read both sides’ positions on a separate blog. The audience was then asked to come up with a couple of “killer questions” for both sides. This was then followed by a very lively and well informed debate.
Before the key points are summarised here is the definition of green marketing that both sides were asked to use – there are hundreds of definitions out there (perhaps indicative of part of the problem) but at least both started from the same point. “Green marketing is essentially a way to brand your marketing message in order to capture more of the market by appealing to people’s desire to choose products and services that are better for the environment.”
In summary the proposer, Dan, started by reiterating the definition and focussing us on a key part of it, which is the phrase “desire to choose…”. The presumption of green marketing is that this is a benefit. He went on to suggest that it is a feature and in most people’s eyes not in fact a benefit. Dan then showed us the weaknesses of green marketing against the traditional four Ps – product, price, place and promotion. In finishing Dan said “RIP Green Marketing – let’s move on from the dark scary corners into the mainstream. Finally to quote the Howies’ founder David Hieatt: ‘People buy great products not green products’ I would add not with green marketing but with great marketing.”
In opposing the motion, Andy Aston began by showing us the predicted global value of green marketing which is $3.5 trillion by 2017. Major corporations are embracing it and he said that investments are judged against sustainability performance. Major companies are showing turnover growth that can be attributed to green goods and services, such as HP with reported $12 billion in this area. Open and transparent communication and certification are now seen as crucial to support consumer facing messages. Andy finished by quoting Mark Twain – “Honesty is the best policy when there is money in it”.
There were two ‘killer questions’ that came back from the floor.
The first was “If Green marketing = more information and more information = better, more informed choices, how is that not a good thing?” In response to this Dan suggested that there is too much choice in the market place and what many consumers want are filters for the volume of information – this role is being increasingly performed by social media.
The second was “Does green marketing just appeal to an educated middle class?” Andy’s reply to this almost made the point for the motion by suggesting that green marketing needs to work throughout the spectrum of interests and its messages need to be aimed at specific audiences. Dan’s response reminded us that this segmentation of 15% deep green, 70% light green and 15% deniers has not shifted in twenty years. Thus implying that green marketing has not successfully changed consumer behaviour.
The Chair asked a further question, that was met by a short silence, “Can you sell operational efficiency? As many companies seek to save resources through improved efficiency which in turn saves money, how can this be part of green marketing?” The discussion suggested that this is often more pertinent in business-to-business marketing. Companies have taken differing approaches – Walmart for example have engaged their supply chain asking for efficiency savings first then price reduction, whereas Tesco has used the reverse tactics with suppliers.
Further areas were explored but one final notable debate surrounded the question of “How do you position green marketing within a brand proposition?” Andy answered by saying that the approach needed to be brand specific with the objective of making the brand more distinctive – generic solutions don’t work. Dan added that brands need to be concerned with risks as well as benefits. Brands are trusted because consumers assume, often with very little rational justification, that brands are behaving responsibly – so when they don’t it can be very damaging.
So what are the key lessons we learn from the debate and discussion?
One of the key points that emerges is that in business-to-consumer marketing, green marketing is only effective in particular niches. Conversely in the business-to-business (B2B) space green marketing does still have a role to play in allowing companies to qualify for projects or show the existence of various certifications. In the B2B arena it seems that the customer (procurer) needs to get more precise about their requirements for green credentials to avoid simple tick-box selection processes.
“Green” should not be considered simply to be a new product attribute, it needs to be fully embedded in how business is done. It can then provide impetus and perspective to develop genuinely compelling marketing propositions – rather than simply adding a globe or a flower to a product’s logo or packaging. Companies that ‘band-wagon’ won’t be allowed to get away with it for very long.
There is a shift in the way that “Green” is delivered – away from finger-wagging and pontification to demonstration and delivery of actual change and high performance which takes the business forward and not simply to slap on a logo.
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It is fantastic to leave a seminar feeling inspired and full of practical ideas. Thursday’s oomph seminar did exactly that, Ben and Dan are naturals at putting an audience at ease which meant real participation from the group. As environmental professionals often form a one person team, it is fantastic to share a room with like minded individuals from local businesses who have faced and tackled similar challenges and can offer insight and advice. Eagerly anticipating the next installment of Oomph!
Nicola Duffy, Environmental Co-ordinator at Highcross, Leicester
Thank you both for inviting us to today’s Oomph seminar. From our point of view, we found the stimulus material and subsequent debate insightful from a sustainability perspective, but also in a wider context applicable to the successful deployment of general business initiatives.
Participant at Oomph Seminar 30 June 2011
Really enjoyed this morning. I have attended very few seminars over the past two years simple because they are all too similar, often the the same speakers and follow the same theme. Today was most importantly enjoyable, interesting and got the brain cells working. I like small groups with variety of people and backgrounds.
Participant at first Oomph Seminar 30 June 2011