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.


Anonymous said...

Strongly agreed! More hard-nosed thinking needed, and less fluffy, unrealistic thinking.

Green products need to be good products, not elite products, marketed with the expectations that people should shell out big bucks for a product because it's labeled as "green".

Sustainability is largely about efficiency, and so offers cost advantages in many ways - these need to be exploited, buyers' intelligence respected, and competitive pricing pursued as key to any marketing strategy.

Seeker said...

Thanks for your comments...went to your LJ. Loved the car "ad"! So sadly true!