February 2, 2010

Branding in a green world: how to target a wide audience with green products

I asked Leon Kaye from www.GreenGoPost.com to guest blog for me this week. Leon is one of the few voices that hold the fine line between “green” progressiveness and business pragmatics.


Despite the economic downturn, companies and consumers continue to demonstrate an interest in green products and sustainable business practices due to concerns about energy independence, the world we will leave for future generations, waste management, environmental pollution, and the general desire for a healthier lifestyle.

Unfortunately, many companies offering “green” products have difficulty in communicating their message properly. Some simply fall into the trap of slapping such labels as “natural,” “green,” and “eco-friendly” like logos on their products. Others determine that the “green” consumer segment is too narrow to pursue. And meanwhile, the pitfall of screeching “WE’RE GREEN!” to the market may turn away shoppers who are averse to sanctimonious preaching.

Companies often become frustrated in identifying a strong green brand because of their failure in two areas:

- Brand attachment: developing a strong emotional attachment between their brand and their customer base.

- Target audience: conveying a broad solution for the general market without zeroing in on a specific consumer behavior or trait.

Brand attachment involves four stages of consumer behavior. Let’s use the supermarket chain, Trader Joe’s, as an example:

Brand consciousness. The customer hears a TJ’s ad, starts shopping there, enjoys the consumer experience, and appreciates the fact that they offer organic or vegetarian products.

Brand preference. Over time, the customer determines that shopping at Trader Joe’s makes him/her a healthier person, and feels their products are reliable and well-priced.

Brand dedication. The customer internalizes the TJ brand’s core values and messages, and believes he/she is in the demographics to which TJ markets: single person or young couple who live the bourgeois bohemian (bobo) lifestyle.

Brand affection. Even if the competitor has better prices (Fresh & Easy) or superior quality (Whole Foods), the customer’s commitment to TJ’s is such that he/she becomes a proud alpha-consumer, and will happily pay a premium for their goods.

The goal of attaining a strong brand attachment is reaching the last stage. Many companies in the green space try to skip from steps 1 to 4 by slapping on a few trendy words or a tagline in their marketing efforts. But in order to forge a brand identity that will strongly resonate with their customers, they need consistent branding practices that gradually drive the customer from the “brand consciousness” stage to the “brand affection” stage.

The second point of branding, target audience, is a bit more difficult. The idea is to become indispensible to a wide spectrum of consumers. Without appealing to a wide audience, the company and its products become marginalized within a narrow market segment, and fail to generate optimum revenues.

San Francisco-based Method tackles this issue brilliantly. Method’s products are 100% plant based and are offered in recycled plastic bottles. Their product line is about as green/eco-friendly/sustainable/natural as you can get. Nevertheless, you do not find these overused terms in their literature. Note their tag lines: “people against dirty” and “a cleaner clean.” Method’s management has found that consumers will pay a premium for quality, and their products convey technology, cleanliness, intelligence, and innovation – appealing to a wide audience.

Their strategy has worked. Who buys from Method? Parents who want a clean environment for their children, young professionals who want their space to smell good, real estate agents who want to buy nice housewarming gifts for their clients. And they buy Method’s products through Target, Lowe’s, Costco, and Bed Bath & Beyond: stores that appeal to a wide audience, and are known for their competitive pricing while selling environmentally friendly products without bombarding consumers with bland “green” messages.

These points are just the beginning in building a strong green brand. The main idea is that being green is more than putting a leaf on the bottle and saying you are saving the planet: your company’s brand needs to demonstrate inclusiveness while making customers feel that you are making their life easier. It’s great to recycle, but companies need to stop recycling the same old tired words.

If you or your clients have asked you to work on a green branding or marketing campaign, we would like to hear your experiences!


With 15 years in sales training and international business development, Leon Kaye has most recently developed corporate sustainability strategies and training programs. Earlier in his career, he lived in South Korea in the mid-90s. Mr. Kaye then moved back to the US to lead IT and sales training projects, and later, he sold business services to large corporations. A Silicon Valley native, he currently lives in Los Angeles, where he is editor of www.GreenGoPost.com and leads GGP Media.


  1. I love the TJ example - I totally get it because I'm one of those consumers in the "brand affection" category, so I can identify with each stage. But I've never understood Method - their marketing is too subtle for me. Until I read Leon's post I thought they were just a house brand for Target. Now how do we apply the TJ model to a non-profit?

  2. Really good article, there are really many ways and strategies of making money online.

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