Green Is Not Enough: How to Make an Earth Friendly Brand Stand Out

Deceptive "green washing" claims aside, this is a business trend that is unequivocally good: it's good for the environment, it's good for the consumer, and there is a growing consensus that it's good for business.
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In recent years there has been a dynamic shift in brands marketing themselves as "green." Within the decade, annual sales grew from $8.4 billion to $31.5 billion from products merely labeled "organic." It is estimated the marketplace for green services and products in the U.S. is as high as $500 billion dollars annually. Target recently announced their inventory expansion of "natural, organic and sustainable" goods to meet consumer demand. In fact, they are introducing over 120 new "green" products in 2014.

But you don't need a consumer research study to tell you we are shopping in a sea of green brands. Walking down the grocery store aisle, catching commercials, or taking a glance at print ads can make you feel as if you are under a tsunami of "green" marketing.

Does Being Green Move Products?

Deceptive "green washing" claims aside, this is a business trend that is unequivocally good: it's good for the environment, it's good for the consumer, and there is a growing consensus that it's good for business. But in an ever-rising sea of green, putting the focus on green attributes isn't enough for brands to stand out anymore.

In the '70s and '80s when "ecopreneurs" like Whole Foods, Burt's Bees and Ben & Jerry's appeared on the market it was easy to use environmentally friendly messaging to stand out amongst competing brands. But we live in a different time. Big corporations are making the same claims niche eco startups in the '80s once had the corner on. For example, the green cleaning product producer Seventh Generation is now in competition with Clorox's eco brand Green Works. Founding eco startups became immensely successful, so much so that they were bought by corporate competitors - for instance, Tom's of Maine was purchased by Colgate. Today, going "green" is a market-driven trend with a major bandwagon effect - however, these players with big marketing spending have yet to be successful.

In this context, putting your eco-attributes first will not set your brand apart. If practically every other brand parallels this "unique" strategy you're just going to wind up looking like your competitors - the same.

To Stand Out, Lead With Your Brand's Unique Differentiator, And Support With Green Messaging.

To successfully differentiate your brand and reach the mass-market consumer, don't focus on simply being green. Here are three examples of brands that have successfully balanced key differentiators with green messages:

With its cool, luxury, high-performance image, Tesla also embodies and upholds a lifestyle choice in its consumers. The brand's emphasis on performance and design, backed by being good for the environment, has helped clearly differentiate it from other brands -- nobody would confuse a Tesla with a Volt. In many markets, Tesla is able to compete with luxury sports cars like Porsche. Tesla has truly transformed the EV faux pas fear into innovative luxury - proving that electric vehicles are awesome (if James Bond drove an EV, it would probably be a Tesla).

Amsterdam-based Mud Jeans are beyond ecological: they're made from organic cotton; produced under fair working conditions; packaged using recycled materials; and even the labels are made out of waste-cotton and printed with ecological ink. What makes Mud Jeans unique is their flexible leasing model, taking away from typical consumerism. By allowing consumers to lease jeans for a year at under six dollars a month, Mud can recycle materials and use them for new fashion items and cut down on resources - all while helping their customers express their unique values and style as part of a larger share economy.

An eco-pioneer, Earth Friendly Products was one of the very first to manufacture home cleaners without toxins, petrochemicals, bleach, ammonia and phosphates. In most cases these eco-attributes add up to one thing in the consumer's mind: expensive. Earth Friendly Products has stood out in the green marketplace by making natural "green" products accessible and affordable. In terms of cost, Earth Friendly Products promotes safe welfare to families from all walks of life. In many categories, Earth Friendly Products is less expensive than conventional products in the same category. This position has helped the brand become a category leader, and has enabled the family-owned company distribution in major retail giants such as Walmart.

How To Make An Eco Brand Stand Out.

Here are three tips that can help you determine your brand's unique differentiator beyond its green attributes.

Tell a story: Decide on the big idea you want your brand to have in the consumer's mind beyond its green attributes, and tell that story first.

Be authentic: Why does your brand exist? What are you trying to accomplish? What is your brand's true value? You can often locate your brand's most successful differentiator by being honest and authentic with the consumer about your true intentions.

Engage consumers: Everyone knows social media is a great way to connect with customers. But the real goal is to engage consumers by creating a community where people can talk about your brand with unfiltered reviews, and you can openly respond to their feedback with transparency.

Put the focus on what makes your brand unique beyond its green values. Not only will you help sustain the environment, but your brand will be sustainable too.

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