Mars Drinks North America sells its Flavia brewer machines and prepackaged hot drinks via distributors. The drinks, which target the workplace market, are sold in single-serving units. Although the machines create packaging waste, the company is doing something about it and using that “something” as one of its marketing tools. ¶ “We sell to businesses—many of which are highly engaged in sustainability and have corporate sustainability goals. Those targets and goals percolate down to the purchasing people,” said Daniel Vennard, Mars Drinks North America's corporate affairs and sustainability director. “This is one reason we are making our own operations more sustainable—using less water, sending less waste to landfills and helping customers reduce their own energy use and waste.”
This April, Mars Drinks added a public face to its sustainability efforts, creating a new marketing program called Thirsty for Change. The program, which is supported in print, direct mail and by a new Web site, explains the company's stance and activities, such as a recycling program that turns used filter packs into energy.
“We tend to find there are lots of different questions [about sustainability] in lots of different areas,” said Vennard. “The Web site isn't just a way to help advertise the brand, but also is a way for us to lean forward and help the customer with their own efforts.”
Mars Drinks took its time to introduce the site. In a time when other companies are quick to get their green strategy out there, Mars Drinks' Vennard said he didn't want its message to become just another me-too play. This was a smart strategy, experts said, especially since green issues weigh heavily on the b2b buyer's mind.
“[The environment] is bigger on the b2b side than in b-to-c marketing,” said Cindy Commander, an analyst with Forrester Research. “Businesses want all their partners to be taking steps to be green and are asking that they uphold the same green standards that they are. But at the same time, we're seeing a backlash of "greenwashing.' There are so many -companies claiming to be green in their marketing messages; but when you do a little investigating you find that their claims aren't authentic.”
And investigation isn't all that difficult since several companies have created sites that track environmental advertising claims.
One, EnviroMedia Social Marketing, even created a greenwashing index, which rates a variety of marketing materials on a scale of one (good ad) to five (total greenwashing), while sites like TreeHugger.com make it easier to find out which companies are doing the least.
The push to market green capabilities may stem from companies feeling pressure from their customers and partners to be more eco-friendly.
“End-users are empowering themselves to gather information,” said Paul Verna, senior analyst at research firm eMarketer. “But they are also just as empowered to call companies out when a claim is found to be misleading or false.
Getting started with a green strategy can be as simple as updating your Web site. Even if you're not ready to include green efforts in your overall marketing program, Forrester's Commander said a green Web link is almost required.
“People are looking for information and are going to search around,” she said. “You really have to have it on your Web site.”
But it's not enough to post something and forget it, she said. The trick is to treat the message—no matter what venue it appears in—as you would any other component of your brand. “The real key is not exaggerating what you're doing and being upfront about where you're not perfect,”Commander said.
Take furniture manufacturer Herman Miller Inc. The company has an “Environment” link on its Web site that provides its vision, policies and a list of products that achieve the Cradle to Cradle certification from McDonough Braungart Design Chemisty. It also links to a glossary and a recommended reading list for those companies that want to green their own business practices.
“The company includes environmental impact information with its product spec sheets, too,” Commander said.
It's this type of customer focus that makes your messaging more believable, said Joyce Dorris, managing director of Union Green, the sibling agency of creative ad agency Union. One of Union Green's clients—software and services provider Management Health Solutions—took a similar approach with its marketing messages.
The company greened itself by moving many of its support documentation to the Web, among other things; but when it hired its agency and launched a new email marketing program and Web site design, the focus was on its customers, Dorris said.
“They did not come to us asking us to communicate their green objectives,” she said. “They came to us to reach and help their customers.”
Once companies are ready to expand green messaging into other online marketing collateral such as banner ads or search marketing, the campaign elements must be fact-driven.
Apple's latest MacBook ads are a good example. The ads provide product specifics about how the company has changed its packaging and how it's removed mercury, arsenic and PVCs from some of its components. Apple also takes advantage of the fact that its laptop is Energy Star-compliant.
“If your product is Energy Star-compliant, you should definitely include that. If you can throw out terms and facts that are searchable, it's going to benefit you,” said eMarketer's Verna. “With email and search especially, you have the opportunity to really tell a story that becomes more believable.”
Mars Drinks uses this strategy in its interactive marketing, too.
“We now have five drinks that have a direct, sustainable benefit, and we give people these facts,” Vennard said. “Sustainability doesn't have to be thought of as a benefit in isolation. It's a good way to champion the cause and halo the brand.” M