WhY being “green” isn’t enough any more
I met two guys at a business meeting a year ago who were thrilled to learn I work for a consumer goods company. They were going to start a bottled water company. And they wanted advice, since i’ve had some experience with beverage brands.
I told them it was a terrible idea. There was already a million bottled water brands. How were they going to stand out? Ironically, their plan was to make a “green” bottled water company. Needless to say I didn’t invest.
But it got me thinking. A lot of younger people, especially Gen Y, want to start a business. Their idea to stand out? One is to put something on the internet (see also: the proliferation of blogs, Iphone and Facebook Apps). The other? Make their company “Green.”
If it was that easy, we’d all be millionaires. First, if your company is just getting into the online game, or the Green game, you’ve missed the boat. Easy money isn’t laying around on the internet (unless you can con someone into investing in an unprofitable idea: Cough, Mark Zuckerberg, Cough…)
Ten years ago, maybe even five, it was enough if you made an effort to ensure your plastic bottles could be recycled. Back then, a company could stand apart by pushing recyclabe packaging, or educating customers on how to reduce their carbon footprints. The same was true for just having a website with a “buy here” button.
Now, green is mandatory. Sun Chips are made at a solar-powered plant, Tom’s donates a pair of shoes to a third-world child for each pair you purchase and Google claims to be carbon-neutral. (Which is easier when it’s acceptable to send inter-office memos via G-chat).
The same is true for being online. But that means the easy pickings are gone. It’s impossible to differentiate yourself from a corporate giant once that corporate giant has planted its flag somewhere. Your bottled water available only in San Diego may be more eco-friendly than the ones made by Coke and Pepsi, but no one will ever know thanks to the magic of marketing.
But now that being conscious of your carbon output and having a team of web-specialists is mandatory, there’s new battlegrounds arising. If you want your brand to stand-out, how can you do it?
Well, you could start with the new hot buttons that have taken over for “going green.”Locally-grown food. Ethical treatment of animals. Fair Trade. There are companies out there right now beating Consumer Goods Giants in certain niche markets because they appeal to these issues. Look at Green Mountain Coffee vs. Starbucks and Whole Foods vs. every other supermarket chain.
The winning ideas are always things that take advantage of an under-served portion of the market, not the portion of the market everyone is trying to serve. Sure, you could produce an Iphone App. While you’re eating at McDonalds, the people who started companies such as Volute single-serve wines (available in aluminum packaging for camping trips, etc. and perfect for the wine-lover who drinks alone) will be at Morton’s celebrating.
Much of this article was inspired by Al Ries and Jack Trout’s classics: Positioning, the battle for your mind and Marketing Warfare.
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