The “green gap” is alive and well, yet many companies and marketers still don’t seem to notice. On the one hand, we continue to see a massive influx of passionate consumers telling us they are willing to pay a premium for products from socially and environmentally responsible companies. Unfortunately, these attitudes are not playing out at the register — the vast majority of consumers continue to take “eco-friendliness” to mean more expensive, and are only willing to “go green” if the product is competitively priced with comparable, less eco-friendly brands. What can we do to finally close this attitudinal and behavioral gap?
In just the past five or so years, the U.S. has seen a sharp rise in conscious consumerism; according to Cone Communications’ 2013 Green Gap Trend Tracker, 71 percent of consumers in the country think about products’ environmental impacts during a purchase (to some degree). While that seems significant, it’s important to note that only 7 percent of consumers consider it at every purchase, and only 20 percent do “regularly.” It should be abundantly clear that while consumers are becoming more attracted to the environmental concerns and more responsible products, only a minority are regularly converting those attitudes into purchases.
This information is nothing new. Transforming consumer attitudes into action has always been a challenge for “green marketers.” Guilt is one popular route, attempting to shame consumers into a purchase with “doom and gloom” messaging and frightening statistics. Existing loyalty to a brand is effective to a degree, but it only truly benefits established companies and manufacturers with large reach, more capital, larger marketing budgets and consistent consumer bases. This leaves smaller companies with few options. What should responsible product companies be doing to address the attitude-behavior gap and therefore market more effectively?
The short answer: Start looking at sustainability as a product bonus, not a focus. To compete in the lion’s den that is the product market, quality, durability and effective pricing is absolutely key. Even so, too many responsible brands today sacrifice quality and price, instead focusing almost exclusively on the “green” appeal. As we have seen, this will only get you so far. Attracting consumers requires more than promising them that a purchase helps mitigate rainforest destruction — it requires a competitive, high-quality product.
Tom’s of Maine, a leading producer of natural personal care products, brilliantly exemplifies this approach. Combining a high-quality product line with effective pricing has secured the company’s place in the market, giving it room to take a holistic approach to responsible products: The company uses only natural ingredients, facilitates the recycling of packaging through the Tom’s of Maine Natural Care Brigade, and has utilized lightweight packaging in several of its product lines. The company has successfully differentiated itself by properly combining product quality, price, and the pro-environment consumer attitude.
Competing against the size and scope of larger actors in the industry will obviously continue to be a challenge for small up-and-comers. Even so, this model will give your brand the focus it needs to compete in both price and function with existing brands, giving you access to your own share of the market. Your product should be able to speak for itself — both in price and utility — with its sustainable elements featured as a bonus. The goal is to give consumers the quality products they want at a competitive price, and then sell them with a “green” cherry on top.