What The Green Industry Can Learn From Drug Companies

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Green Technology companies need to take marketing lessons from big pharma's playbook if they want to survive the next few years of limp economic recovery and legislative foot dragging. Most potential green technology customers can't finish this sentence with a brand name "Have you talked to your architect about ____?" but they certainly can if you replace ‘architect' with ‘doctor'. All those government grants, private equity investments and ambitious VC-backed agendas have provided R&D with ample opportunity to burn through budgets readying a product for the masses. Now it's time for sales and marketing to layer on the (low VOC) gloss and make the public aware that cures exist for their largely undiagnosed environmental ailments. 

Drug companies don't just market to doctors. They go directly to end users as well encouraging them to self-diagnose and directly approach doctors with requests for a branded solution. Now think of the doctors as architects and the patients as property managers. It becomes apparent that the green technology industry isn't doing its job creating interest with end users. Instead, the focus is one whose opinion backs up which study and what companies got money from who to keep spinning their wheels waiting for the government to pass a policy that mandates their business into success. We need the patients to ask the doctors for a solution, but they won't until they know what hurts and how to make it better!

As a good-natured industry on the whole, clean tech companies are reluctant to apply the single unglamorous marketing tactic drug companies have consistently re-invented for years - Fear. They create interest by scaring you into thinking your life will be shorter, more painful and less fulfilled if you don't look into their products, and it works. Even if clean tech insiders can stomach the idea of applying fear to our industry, the hesitancy to bet on it publicly likely results from the large-scale failure of "Inconvenient Truth" type fear to get the general public caring about green. Polar bears on melting ice caps make people coo, not gasp, because it's just not close enough to home. The fear that leads to green technology adoption needs to be personal.

Here's how we can use fear to market green products without selling our souls:\

Distinguish from generics: One marketing advantage that still has some legs for the green industry is the perception of luxury. The word most commonly associated with green purchases is "expensive", which means that green technology customers can show off their environmental sensibility and financial prosperity at the same time. Sustainable alternatives to traditional consumer goods and property improvements may not actually be more expensive in many cases - and this is another marketing angle to be addressed - but the high-end perception does present an opportunity for first-movers to build a designer brand.

The current product mix is largely undifferentiated, with one green label perceived as credibly as the next. This green washed homogeneity means brands with recognizable labeling and design can become highly desired, which is especially important for American companies that need to compete with inevitably cheaper Chinese competition. If you're not a brand that stands for quality or status, you're a commodity in a race to the bottom of a price war.  

Use scare tactics: Forget all the imagery depicting trees, bees, solar panels and wind farms. People know what green looks like by now, and they're numb to it. What we really need is the visual shock of an anti-smoking ad or the induced paranoia of a depression pill commercial. Show a filthy ocean, charred forest and black sky with questions like "Is this what you want for your children?" or "What is your company doing to help?". Make people feel guilty for not doing their part by reminding them of the consequences for accepting the status quo.

Provide a competitive advantage: Nobody likes to feel like they're falling behind the competition. Energy supplements make billions by convincing you that everyone else is speeding up while you're slowing down. Green technology companies can do the same with concise statistics about energy savings and financial incentives. I'm not talking about tedious case studies. I'm talking about snippets of challenging info, like "Companies in your industry are reducing costs by x% and increasing revenue by y% using our solution. Are you?" or "Your neighbor isn't relying on the energy company. Are you?". Help potential customers feel inadequate by pointing out the proactive moves of others.

You can't plant trees without getting your hands dirty. Getting comfortable with that notion sooner than later will be the difference between which green technology companies live long healthy lives and which die from refusing to take their medicine.

Brian Koles is the founde of GreenTechBuyer, a web service that educates homeowners and real estate pros about green technology and energy savings, and then matches them with top local companies to get proposals for a specific green technology project.

 

Learn about your optiosn for green technology and energy savings at www.GreentechBuyer.org

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