Green Marketing and the Simultaneous Pursuit of Growth and Reputation EnhancementThis is a look at how companies can use green marketing strategies to grow their businesses and enhance their reputations.

by Eric Lowitt

A company that I admire shared a story that highlights a green marketing conundrum faced by a growing number of companies. The story, told by a progressive drink distributor, went something like this:

The company held an off-site with the salesforce dedicated to one of their key accounts. The company invited executives from the key account to present ways the company could increase sales through the account. Nestled among the usual suspects was “prove that you are a sustainability leader.”

The company was surprised, not because they doubted that green features were helpful to sales; rather because they regularly are recognized for their progressive actions. The feedback from this key account suggested that their sustainability leadership position was not communicated throughout the company’s organization in a way that resonated; an opportunity to evaluate their approach to green marketing had presented itself.

Knowing that the global community actively watches their advertising to detect signs of greenwash, especially promotions targeting the individual consumer market, this company has adopted a conservative approach to marketing.  The feedback suggested the company needed to find a way to preserve their external modesty while ramping up the sustainability dialogue internally. The company has since developed green marketing engagement strategies for their key accounts.

This story should serve as a wake-up call for all companies that serve both individual and institutional customers, and are chasing a course of green action. Your company might be sacrificing growth opportunities in the institutional market for the sake of mitigating the risk of greenwash accusation. So how can companies simultaneously be ‘quiet on the outside, and loud on the inside’? By taking these five steps:

1.    Ensure the launch and execution of your green marketing campaign is informed by the latest thinking in the greenwash arena. One way to do this is to develop a database of greenwash infractions, as noted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and/or Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority.

2.    Vet advertising campaigns with internal and external observers before launch. Since the FTC doesn’t prescreen ads for greenwashing claims, companies should consider forming an internal marketing governance committee and leverage their NGO partnerships to cast a skeptical eye towards new campaigns.

3.    Prime consumers to connect with your green campaign. Companies are employing one or more of the following three approaches to achieve this. Some are communicating their green qualities through visible clues, such as minimal packaging. Others are working with their industry peers to develop standard eco labels. And various companies are connecting with green product devotees through social media (see Jacquelyn Ottman’s recent HBR Leading Green Blog post, Green Marketing Really Has Gone Mainstream, for some great examples of this approach in action).

4.    Step up efforts to communicate green selling points to your salesforce. Companies in industries as diverse as financial services and high tech are holding teach-ins, seminars, and other events to raise their sales teams’ knowledge of their company’s green efforts. They’re supporting these efforts by producing sales collateral that explains their green messages in terms that are meaningful, not ethereal, to their salesforce.

5.    Develop targeted key account environmental sustainability marketing messages that clearly map your green efforts to your key accounts’ green focal points. Companies like the one highlighted in the above story are taking the time to map out each of their key account’s green efforts, to identify common points that are then used to develop specific engagement strategies.

In today’s growth constrained economy, every little bit counts. Now is the time to employ your green strategy as a growth strategy.

© 2010, Eric Lowitt. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Eric Lowitt (1 Articles)

Eric Lowitt is a sustainability thought leader, most recently with Accenture. His sustainability research has been published by Forbes.com, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Business Strategy Review, and the Journal of Corporate Governance, as well as news wires, industry publications and other media outlets. He can be contacted at eric.lowitt@gmail.com.