How to make the most of your green credentials and sell the sustainability message – a workshop for small business
How to make my green credentials and win sales is a question many brand managers and small company owners are asking themselves, and a question I was keen to find answers to when I attended a workshop last week organised by Exeter Chamber of Commerce.
The workshop promised to provide participants with “the knowledge needed to increase their sales through green messaging”. So, with a promise as tangible as that, I was naturally expecting to come away from the session with a convenient marketing methodology that would enable my business to make the most of my green credentials and win more business.
Informal and formal approaches to green credentials
Alastair Mumford began the session by citing surveys which recorded high percentages of purchases from respondents who had been positively influenced by green and environmentally responsible messaging. Surveys also found that companies with an emphasis on environmental consumption found it easier to recruit and retain staff.
Mumford provided helpful insights into how companies can market themselves either informally via the creation of an environmental policy statement, made easy for small businesses online, or more formally through standards and awards such as ISO 14001 or EMAS. To round this part of the workshop off, attendees analysed and critiqued a company policy statement, which showed that it’s not what you write about yourself as a business that defines how green your credentials are, it’s your ability to walk the walk and share the evidence.
The key to green branding: you show customers you are different
The next speaker, Jonathan Alder, a branding expert, agreed awards and standards can be helpful, but only for as long as they are unique. His point being that a branding program should be designed to differentiate a cow from all the other cattle in the field, even when the cattle in the field look alike. Alder’s branding framework for helping business teams define their brand is a helpful and practical methodology.
Trust underpins all branding efforts
The third and final speaker, Cathy Debenham, director of YouGen, based her presentation around the direct learnings she gained whilst establishing and running her renewable energy supplier review website, making it clear to all attendees that trust in a brand is built, first and foremost, on the business’ ability to provide a consistent positive customer experience, rather than labels, awards or standards.
Does green matter to your customers?
After a workshop like this, it’s important to go back to the ranch, reappraise and consider carefully, whether or not ones customers will react positively to new marketing messages about responsible consumption.
According to the Coop Ethical Consumerism Report 2011 brands in the food, drink, clothing, transport and financial services sectors, muster more clout via green messaging than other sectors, but even so, one question remains: do their customers really understand what they are actually doing when they label their products as “ethically sourced”, “Fairtrade” or “green”?
How valid are consumer surveys anyway?
Furthermore, do attitudes expressed by supposed green consumers in surveys reflect their true behaviour? In stark contrast to the surveys cited in the workshop, there are studies about environmentally responsible consumption that show the existence of a wide Attitude – Behaviour gap. To this end, Environmental Management reports on one study, which found that 98 per cent of students agreed that individuals had a responsibility to help protect the environment. But nearly half those students were found to regularly throw items they could be recycling into non-recycle bins. Findings like these suggest that what businesses need most to succeed with their green messaging is an understanding of “how people think”, not “what they think”.
Brands succeed in their communications when they know “how” consumers think
This explains why the green car ads in the sunday newspaper supplement prefer emotive messaging to rational messaging as a means to spur the consumption of new supposedly “green” cars. These big corporates stress the guilt free delights of a squeaky clean new “green” car driving experience, which trumps any rational benefit you and I might see as good reason to keep our old car, which is probably, in many cases, the more environmentally friendly choice.
The risk of doing nothing
One aspect of the green marketing agenda the workshop did not address is the downside risk of doing nothing. But that will be for another time.
Final word: sentiment with big “S”
My own takeaway from the workshop was that branding is not what you say you are, it is in fact the sum total of what consumers say you are. In this sense your brand’s true identity lies in its perception. And this has never been truer than in todays digital age, when user generated content in the form or blogs, tweets, likes, dislikes, comments, ratings and reviews gets shared and amplified with greater resonance and impact than any corporate messaging. But that might also be the subject of a future workshop. So if that is of interest, let us know in your comments or contact us here