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Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day: How are your customers celebrating?

Consumers love an environmentally-friendly offer.  But with a nasty recession very fresh in their memories (and with gasoline at roughly $4 per gallon), the cost of going “green” is making consumers feel conflicted.  That’s the essence of this story from today’s New York Times (click to link).

Implications:   Some interesting points are made by this story.  One of them, which I wish could have been explored further:  Companies (like Proctor and Gamble) who simply layered-on an additional “green” product offering (like Green Works) were not having as much success as those niche players whose product line is “green.”  Could that be because—just like consumers—corporations cut back during the recession, spending less to market their environmental upstarts than they did on their more mature, core product line?  While that was happening, could it be that those companies who have only an environmental story tend to stay true to course, and tell that story better?

But that wasn’t the only take-away from the NY Times article.

As an avid, hands-on conservationist, I love it when companies employ sustainable practices or launch eco-friendly products.  But passion, alone, is not enough; while any of us would love to save the planet, we would also like to make ends meet until the next paycheck comes in.  Sometimes, needs that are urgent displace matters of importance. 

It can be hard for the consumer to justify paying a premium when the product rationale can seem more ethereal than tangible.  A high-mileage car is saving the planet because it uses less gas, but it also saves the consumer money on their commute; they can see, feel and understand the environmental benefit.  For the typical consumer, connecting the dots on a specially formulated cleaning product might not be so easy. 

The bar has been raised since the first Earth Day was celebrated.  For as long as household economies are feeling strained, green products will have to provide more than the “novelty” of being environmentally friendly.  They will also have to be competitive in terms of dollar-for-dollar value delivered, and their environmental benefit must be made easier for the consumer to understand and appreciate.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

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