From the category archives:

Documenting Sustainability

Gift with purchase, that is how I use to describe green marketing when I began working with new business partners.  I took this approach as it supported the widely held belief that the main-stream American consumer is not going to sacrifice product performance and is unwilling to pay any significant premium for a more sustainable product or service.  Witness the SunChips compostable, but noisy packaging disaster from just 2 years ago. Hence, I thought of green product benefits as a “gift with purchase,” a free bonus for choosing one product over another, but not something that can represent a trade off.  I had wanted my partners to think of green as the “tie-breaker”, allowing their brands to win the toss-up.

Today, I want to officially call B.S. on this logic.

The fatal flaw in this idea is that it assumes consumers are taking the time to full evaluate primary product benefits, make the determination that they are equal, and then move on to the secondary benefits.  I don’t buy it.  Focused and singular communications are the most impactful.  Cluttered multi-benefit messages get lost and consumers’ quickly lose interest trying to wade through it all.  If you have not seen the video below depicting the result of Microsoft designing the iPod box, it is a great example of this effect and worth a quick view.  Just imagine how many eco-logos could be slapped on there today!

So if green is not a secondary communication tie-breaker, and it is not a primary product benefit communication for the general market, where does that leave sustainability and green marketing?  I think it leaves green marketers promoting more sustainable products in a tremendous position, because let’s face it, being a tie-breaker is not that enviable of a position.

Inspiration recently came to me at the wine store as I reached for the “The Big Green Box” by Pepperwood Grove, a brand from Don Sebastiani & Sons.

The story I told myself as I bought the Big Green Box was that I wanted the very functional benefit common to all boxed wines, the ability to enjoy a glass or two at night without leaving half a bottle in the fridge, becoming slightly oxidized overnight and losing the tastiest aspects of the wine.  Most bag-in-the-box wines allow you to enjoy the wine over 4 weeks from when you initially open it with no oxidation.  While a nice benefit, the real reason I have recently adopted bag-in-box wines is not an increase in functionality – after all the original box wine, Franzia, has had an identical benefit for the last 25 years.  Heck they even trademarked it with WineTap(R).  Rather, it is the signal of quality and sophistication that a boxed wine positioned as a more sustainable and greener alternative tells me as the consumer, “you can trust me, I’ll taste good, look how enlightened I am in my eco-conscious packaging.”

I want to make the case that it is these higher order emotional benefits that are the real opportunity for green marketing to shine.  Just as a higher price can be a signal of quality, so too can green benefits.

Besides box wine I have another example closer to my work at Johnson & Johnson, that of reprocessed single-use surgical devices.  In this category the main functional benefit for hospital customers is significant savings, in many cases up to 50% versus purchasing new devices.  And while that is a compelling case for any resource constrained hospital, it seems that the emotional benefit of reducing waste going to landfills and contributing to more sustainable operations is what wins hospitals’ hearts and minds, as evidenced by the category leader Styker Sustainability Solution’s current marketing, website and blog.

With appropriate customer targeting, a green message can allow brands to strike emotional gold.

What categories have you seen where green has or could be used to signal quality and help deliver an emotional benefit for customers?

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Partner Enabled Recycling Programs

by Keith on January 2, 2012 · 2 comments

Dell surpassed Johnson & Johnson by a mere 0.1 on a 100-point scale in the 2011 Newsweek Rankings of America’s Greenest Companies, edging my company out of the top 5.   It is probably in part because of efforts like the Reconnect Program in partnership with Goodwill, to refurbish and recycle computers and other electronics, that helped them in the Newsweek rankings.

I recently had the opportunity to use the Reconnect Program while back in Cincinnati for Christmas.  Amy and I rented a car for our trip and since we had use of a car, always a novelty for us, we decided it was a great opportunity to go through our closets and gather up our donations, add them to the trunk, and drop them off while we were in Cincinnati, which has a number of convenient Goodwill Reconnect locations.

Our electronic donations included three cable modems, after Comcast successfully convinced me that my intermittent Skype issues were related to my out-of-date modem and not the speed of my connection.[1] The drop off process at the Goodwill located at 10600 Springfield Pike, Cincinnati, OH 45215, was extremely convenient, with a manned pull-up drop off point and clear Dell Reconnect signs.  After taking our donations and providing a receipt, we were in and out in less than 5 minutes and all for free.  Other electronic recycling programs can carry a small fee, but the partnership with Goodwill is brilliant in a number of ways:

  • Goodwill has the infrastructure to handle direct consumer collections, refurbishment and resale,
  • Goodwill has a large footprint with more than 2,600 locations nationwide, while Dell is largely an online retailer, and
  • The Reconnect program has created a significant impact by recycling more than 230 million pounds of end-of-life computer equipment since its inception in 2004.

We need more efforts to create these strategic partnerships across industries to solve problems for consumers, like how to easily recycle electronics at the end of life.


[1] As a quick note, Comcast was right; my Skype calls are much more clear now with a new modem: the Motorola SB6121 SURFboard DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem– $83.49 at Amazon.com

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Thermostats: CoolTech?

by Keith on October 25, 2011 · 4 comments

Let’s get one thing straight: I am a total sucker for technology.  Even as a marketer who knows many of the tricks and persuasion tactics, I love to be convinced that I need the latest and greatest new gadget. And while I just barely resisted the urge to buy the new 4GS iPhone, I was not as restrained when the need arose to replace our thermostat.  For the record, I did just equate a thermostat with a new iPhone.  Let me explain.

Sub-metering for our condo building is having the expected impact.  In fact, this summer when I was working from home and running the AC all day, we had some pretty steep electric bills, much bigger than the monthly decrease in our condo fees.  When the buttons on our current thermostat started to stick and become unresponsive, I realized that we needed to get a new one to avoid even higher bills.  So it was off to a home improvement store.  I am not sure if the saving energy commercial below drove me to Home Depot, or if it just happened to be the store we passed while out on other errands.  Either way, I found myself at the shelf of thermostats trying to make a decision.  Let me walk you though my decision process.

The first step was eliminating the cheap but “dumb” thermostats that only allow you to set it and forget it.  I knew I wanted a programmable version.  It quickly became clear that there were still plenty of programmable options to sort through.

The next step was to evaluate the price range of the programmable options. They spanned from $49-$99, quite the range.  At first glance there seemed to be little difference.  An extra $20 got you the ability to program every day vs. just weekend or weekday.  Nice, but not super meaningful. I was just about to walk out with a $49 model when the last thermostat in the row caught my eye with one line:

All it took to get me to pick up the most expensive model priced at $99 was wifi.   My immediate reaction was: How does it use wifi?  Touchscreen, that means no buttons! After picking up the package I found out that it connects to my home wifi network allowing me to adjust all functions of the thermostat from any internet device, including my iPhone. Sold!

3m Filtrete 3M-50 Thermostat

When I got home and got it installed I realized that this was so worth the 100% premium I paid vs. the other base level programmable thermostat for two reasons:

1. What I hate about programming a programmable thermostat is that the keys and user interface usually suck. The directions look like hieroglyphics and you have to hit what seems like 25 buttons to program a single day.  The new thermostat solves that elegantly.  There is a web interface that allows me to program the entire week in about 2 minutes and then upload it to the thermostat, over wifi.  This alone is worth the price of admission. Also note the “Reset to Energy Star Recommendations” button, which makes it even easier to save money.

3M Filtrete 3M-50

2. The ability to control all of the thermostat’s functionality remotely is very slick.  On a recent trip to Dallas I got a call from Amy.  She wanted to know how to turn on the AC as she had not used the new thermostat yet.  Instead of trying to walk her through it I just opened the app and turned on the AC, from my hotel room in Dallas. Now all I need to do is get the app installed on her new 4GS iPhone.

What I took away from this experience is that while it has become clear that consumers are unlikely to pay a premium, of any level, for a greener product, I am more than willing to pay a 100% premium for a product that makes my ability to save energy, and be greener, even easier and in some ways fun.  The big idea is not to just deliver a greener product with the same benefits, but delight the consumer to be able to command a premium price.

As a note my cousin Justin recently called my attention to an even cooler thermostat, the Nest Learning Thermostat.  This one also has wifi connectivity, but it learns your preferences to more efficiently reduce energy consumption. This new technology removes all of the barriers for saving energy and in turn money.  You can even have it professionally installed. Maybe I should have waited for this one? Then again, at $249, maybe not.  The payback on my current thermostat is already close to 2 years.

On a final note I do wonder if these companies are collecting usage data as these devices are internet enabled. A collective dollars or kilowatt hours saved would be pretty compelling.  Just a suggestion.

Product Details: 3M Filtrete 7-Day Touchscreen WiFi-Enabled Programmable Thermostat

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