With so many manufacturers touting the environmental benefits of their products, there's little doubt that some of those claims are less than forthright. In fact, the mainstream media has taken notice--an indication the backlash against greenwashing is already in full swing and that, increasingly, all things "green" will be treated with greater scrutiny.
And earlier this year, USA Today reported that green claims by marketers are going unchecked and, as a result, some target audiences have begun to tune out. Of course, an increasingly jaded consumer audience makes it tougher to sell products that offer legitimate, measurable green attributes.
These examples illustrate that the marketplace is evolving. In fact, there are several reasons to believe we are entering a new phase in the marketing of green building products: an era of accountability.
First, consumers in our segment have become much more likely to research specific products during their decision-making process. Second, a new regime of oversight seems to be coalescing, one that involves a variety of players, including independent groups, industry groups and the Federal Trade Commission. Finally, the discourse in the mainstream media about green building and green products has become more measured and, frankly, more responsible.
These and other factors indicate that, moving forward, those in the building materials industry will face increasing demand to offer robust support of a product's greenness. While some may approach this era of accountability with apprehension, it actually contains the seeds of opportunity for those willing to meet the demand.
Here are a few steps to consider when seeking market share in this new selling environment:
Revisit your foundation. Obviously, anyone with any sort of "green" element to a product has been hammering on that attribute for years. But today, audiences may remain unconvinced of a product's claims that are not supported by clear evidence. Capturing compelling support for claims may involve third-party research, some types of certification, or a well-crafted explanation of field-based performance results. Through specificity and depth, a company can create a solid foundation for all marketing communication efforts. And, by embracing the demand for accountability, a company will ultimately deliver what the marketplace wants.
Tell your story well. As marketers, we are trained to boil down marketing to a few key messages that we can deliver to a busy, distracted audience. While there's still an element of truth to that, the green messages a company develops and the tactics it selects must strike a balance between pithy communication and the depth required to differentiate a product. A carefully crafted approach goes a long way toward contrasting a product against its competitors and compelling the target audience to act.
Be mindful of a new mindset. Clearly, everyone in our industry faces the challenge of rising above the noise in the marketplace--the chaos of competing communications seeking to influence the same audience. But now, we must also contend with an increasing level of consumer distrust and greater scrutiny during the buying process. In this environment, it makes sense to craft communications in a way that removes doubt from the mind of the prospect: identifying and overcoming any possible objections, putting a fine point on any vagueness that could raise questions, and so on.
In coming years, the market for green products will continue to grow. Those who recognize the emerging era of accountability will be poised to capture a greater proportion of that growth.
Jim Groff is president of Baublitz Advertising, a full-service marketing firm that has served the building materials and construction industry since 1976. It also belongs to the U.S. Green Building Council and has created an environmental marketing program.