Too many green business owners approach their customers with the assumption that people will buy their product or service just because doing so is the responsible thing to do. Good marketing efforts, whether for LOHAS consumers or not, must always start by putting the personal interests of the buyer first.

That is one of the first lessons of any marketing text or class. You
don’t sell the drill, you sell the holes. It’s the sizzle, not the
steak (sorry fellow vegans). Sell on advantages rather than features.

When it comes to marketing green building methods, sustainable
products, high performance homes, organic foods, natural products, or
any of a whole host of green services, it all comes down to this basic
truism of marketing–“It” must be about the consumer.

Too many green
business owners approach their customers with the assumption that
people will buy their product or service just because doing so is the
responsible thing to do. Even if your product is the best option for
the environment, is the most socially responsible of the marketplace,
or the healthiest for the planet, you still must frame your marketing
efforts, packaging and positioning efforts around the effects each of
these advantages has on the person who must pull out their wallet and
make the final buying decision

With the exception of the relatively few deep green consumers who are
the most committed to social and environmental choices, relying
primarily on the altruistic nature of your green product or service
will not make a successful marketing program.

Identify what you can do for your
customer first.

If you offer low VOC painting services, forget about the ground-level
ozone prevention, market on the safety the products offer to a family
through healthier indoor air quality. If you sell organic food, put
nitrate reduction in the ground water on the back burner–talk about
food without carcinogenic chemicals and petrochemical fertilizers. Make
“it” about the consumer’s own life and you have a marketing message
that works.

The Toyota Prius Example
Of the growing list of gas-electric hybrid vehicles, the king of the
lot remains the Toyota Prius. Sales numbers for the little car are in
the range of 1.5 million units, the vast majority delivered to the
United States. No other hybrid model has come remotely close to
matching the success of the Prius in market  acceptance,
though other manufacturers continue to try to find the Prius killer.
The problem that most hybrid car manufacturers have ignored is that
they have not attempted to compete against the Prius by matching its
primary market strength–its uniqueness and image.

The Prius is a highly fuel efficient mid-sized car with reasonable
creature comforts, cargo room, and handling. Other manufacturers have
created hybrid cars with many of the same features (though no like car
has matched the Prius in fuel efficiency). The mistake that other
manufacturers have made is that they used existing car platforms and
body styles to convert to a gas-electric hybrid drive system. Aside
from hybrid badging, there was no aspect of these competing designs
that identified them as environmentally unique. (The one exception to this lack
of uniqueness was the now retired original Honda Insight design, which
suffered from bizarre styling, zero cargo room, and only two cramped
seats.)

Driving a hybrid makes a certain statement about the choices that
driver has made. The Prius is about responsible decisions, concerns for
the world beyond one’s own life, environmental stewardship, and an
optimism about technology and our ability to deal with our current
environmental issues. Driving a Honda Civic Hybrid makes none of those
statements because the car looks like any of a dozen other econo-box
vehicles. Driving a Civic may be the to invisibility you can get.

With the reintroduction of the new five-door Insight, Honda may have
finally noted the way to compete with Toyota in the hybrid car market.
The new Insight makes the clear statement that it is a unique solution
to an environmental and economic problem, while adding to the mix all
of the practicality that the original Insight lacked.

Both Toyota and now Honda are marketing a product that deals with the
consumer’s interest first–the desire to take action against the concern
and the guilt of global climate change while publicly taking credit for
their actions.

In the case of the Prius, it helps that Toyota has built a truly great
little car. This product meets the needs of a great number of people,
does so economically, and reliably. It also appeals to consumers in a
way that has made a great many of them pull out their checkbooks.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should reveal that I own two
Prius hybrids. Dang, that Toyota marketing department is good.

Now, how can you make the
marketing messages for your green products or services more about your
consumers?

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About The Author

Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on

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