Monday, January 26, 2009

Developing green products that sell

On Friday, I went after the glaring failures I see in the green product world. And since I'm a firm believer in never pointing out a problem without also offering a solution, here are some ideas for creating or sustaining a green product line.

1) Do your research! The Internet is an endless resource for research. Start there. Find out what people are looking for. Join forums and read blogs. See where the push is for greener products. A preliminary search a few days ago revealed lots of new moms looking for organic or natural baby clothes that don't cost a fortune (babies grow too fast!) but offer some protection from the harsh chemicals now used in most infant wear. Is the need met? From the number of posts, clearly not. Remember, successful green marketing is not about telling people that they need something, it's about finding out what they need in a green format and providing it.

2) Mind your price points. Just because a product is green, doesn't mean it should cost more. And it certainly doesn't mean it should cost a lot more!! Work to source your materials and processing with an eye on the final retail price. We're living in a shaky economy. If you want your products to sell, they have to offer value as well as a greener benefit.

3) Skip the shouting! Just because your product is green, doesn't mean it has to look different! People like pretty greeting cards on white or colored card stock, so forget the brown cards imprinted with faded earth tones. Soy and vegetable inks are available in a wide range of real colors, and recycled paper doesn't need to be brown or grey!

Of course the buyer should know it's green -- but that could be as simple as a tag or imprint. It doesn't need to be in their face. Make it work for ordinary shoppers, too. Cartoon characters on organic cotton bibs and t-shirts instead of tired "save the earth" slogans will sell more product and thus do more for the earth by replacing non-green items with similar images.

4) Start with the purpose. If the purpose of making and selling green products is simply to show the world what a mensch you are, by all means, continue making them obvious, different looking and elitist. But if the purpose is to help the planet and make a difference, focus on how you can take ordinary, popular items we all buy and use and make them safer, greener, more organic, less wasteful. Offer that, in a familiar look, functionality and cost level, and you will be on your way to a green business success.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Developing new green products

Just because a product is green, doesn't mean it's going to be in demand.

This might seem like a serious "Well duh" moment...but the basics of product development seem to have slipped out the window when it comes to green products and services. Instead of looking at what people want, identifying an unmet need or refining an existing in-demand product to make it greener and better, there has been a headlong leap into Never-Never Land where just because it's green, it should be made and by the way, money is no object. For potential buyers, I mean.

The result has been a glut of poorly thought out, overpriced products that quickly move from the feature shelves to the clearance bin. Some examples I've seen recently include:

Recycled paper notebooks directed at kids priced at $8.99 each, displayed within a foot or two of shelf after shelf of regular notebooks selling for less than a dollar each. To make matters worse, the recycled ones offered covers in shades of brown and subdued earth tones. The regular ones featured today's most popular movie, TV, cartoon and music images. Needless to say, three weeks later the recycled notebooks sat alone in a clearance bin with a still overly-hopeful $4.99 price tag.

Organic cotton t-shirts in a local discount chain store were featured at "only" $24.99. For a t-shirt. At a discount store. The non-organic counterparts sat only inches away at $6.99 each. And again, the images on the recycled ones were self-consciously "earthy", while the standard fare featured pithy sayings and fun popular culture images. Again, the former soon filled the clearance racks.

So what's going on here? What mistakes are being made?

1) The real focus in these products isn't on BEING green, but on looking green. Never mind that recycled paper could be used in notebooks that feature bright colors and popular characters. Or that t-shirts could be made of organic cotton and offer pithy sayings instead of "Look at me, I'm green" self-congratulatory announcements. These products aren't meeting a need -- they're attempting to use ordinary objects as political statements. Is that what consumers want? Apparently not!

2) The price points are out of line. People looking for green products, as well as those who will choose greener ones given equal choices, may be willing to pay a small premium for green. But when the green version is two, three or even four times as much as standard counterparts, the sell becomes difficult if not impossible. The cost/benefit ratio is just out of line, especially in a tight economy.

3) Little or no effort has been spent to research the realities of green shoppers. If any ordinary product was released with zero research on the willingness of potential shoppers to hand over their hard-earned cash in exchange for a product, the company making such a poor business decision would be ridiculed. Instead, certain so-called green manufacturers are lambasting the consumer for a failure to buy! And anti-green factions are lapping up the weak sales as "proof" that green is just a fad. Meanwhile, the consumer searches in vain for affordable, quality products that use a bit less, pollute a bit less, reuse a bit more.

Selling a green product is no excuse for forgetting the rules of supply and demand.

More Monday on the steps green product and service providers need to take to create sales success.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Don't give up on green

Your budget is so tight, it's screaming out in agony. You're looking for places to cut costs, and that new green initiative looks like it's a good place to do some trimming.

In reality, the green products and green practices are one of the last places you should look to for cuts!

Why? Here are a few good reasons from the business buzz...

Green is here to stay.
In a world where population and energy use is on the rise due to increased industrialization and consumption in places like China and India, statements like "Save the earth" or "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle" that used to sound like feel-good platitudes or tree-hugging ad slogans have become very real directives. If we are to survive as a planet and a species, changes in our throw-away mentality are a necessity. There just isn't enough to sustain us all given current practices. The changes will have to be made soon, and barring the invention of Star Trek-style replicators, will be permanent.

Green is in demand and that demand is growing.
A recent survey of restaurant owners and operators showed that the green fad has become the green mandate. Customers and employees alike are insisting on safer, greener cleaning products, greener ingredients in the food and greener practices in the restaurants they frequent. And as spending slows, businesses can no longer afford to ignore that loud voice of the green consumer. If they want a share of that shrinking spending pool, they will have to provide a greener dining experience. That means more demand for everything from green soaps and disinfectants to green paper goods, dishes, and take out containers. Even job applications and labor law posters are showing up in green versions.

In the long run, green will cost less.
As we shift from a more throw-away, wasteful economy to a green and aware one, the overall cost for green products will drop below that of more wasteful ones. That means more demand in that on-the-fence segment who wants a greener choice but will not (or cannot) pay a premium for it now. And the increased demand will further reduce the costs of products created using efficient practices and recycled "raw" materials. Getting in on the trend now means you'll be able to reap the benefits in the short and long run. Waiting until the shift is complete will be too late.