Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How do you differentiate when "green" is no longer enough?

This week on the Co-Op America Business list, one of the members brought up the question of green going mainstream. How do smaller green businesses compete now that corporate America is riding the green train?

My question is: Is being green enough of a reason to convince people to use your company? Personally, as I've mentioned before, I don't think it is.

Last year, I decided to adapt the zen kitchen's business model to the rising trend in green design/marketing by making green a non-issue. My clients know I'm green, they know they're going to get the greenest product I can provide for them and that I *get* what they're trying to do. However, most of my clients come to me because I'm a great designer and I specialize in helping women entrepreneurs and green businesses create their brands. They're looking for my brain and my talent - the fact that I'm eco-friendly is just gravy.

In my mind, if the green movement is really going to gain momentum, it has to move from a conversation to an expectation. This doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about being green; but it should be an "also" rather than a sign of uniqueness. As such, green businesses need to stop trying to justify their decisions, or explain why it costs so much more to make a green product; instead, make it clear that you have a better product that works just as well if not better than the conventional product.

If there's one thing I've learned in three years of running the zen kitchen, it's that it's much more effective to treat the green thing as a given than it is to try to justify it to your clients. The moment you start justifying, it erodes consumer confidence because it seems like *you're* not confident in why they should choose you over the competition.

Another thing I'll mention is that competition doesn't just come from the big corporations who are just getting the hint that green is good. Every green business, no matter how small, has competition from other small businesses who sell very similar products and have a very similar mission. I'm certainly not the only designer in the world who works with women entrepreneurs or with green businesses - I've met and become friends with some who could be considered my direct competition. This is why differentiation beyond green is so important - you're not the only green company in the world, and even more rarely are you the only green company who sells XYZ.

1 comment:

Michael Walsh said...

I agree with you that being green is not enough.