Positioning Sustainable Products

In the end of the last lecture we have talked about the positioning of sustainable products and how respectively whether to integrate sustainability aspects in communication.

Four different ways to integrate socio-ecological aspects in positioning were considered. One option is to focus on the socio-ecological value added, making performance and price auxiliary. This approach positions the product in a very small niche as only a marginal portion of customers will give up performance and pay a higher price for socio-ecologically superior products. Another option is to emphasize price, performance and socio-ecological value equally. This approach will appear to a bigger portion of the market as the value proposition implies different benefits. At the same time the company has to be trusted to deliver all those benefits. The third option is to include socio-ecological aspects in quality. Higher quality usually justifies higher prices. During the lecture we have discovered that many firms use this approach. The growing group of LOHAS finds this positioning attractive. The fourth option is to not communicate sustainability at all.

At first glance it might seem obvious to communicate the competitive advantage of sustainability to the consumer, using any of the three options described above. However, this is not always a good idea as consumers lost trust in green marketing. Many advertising campaigns tried to leverage on green aspects without delivering superior sustainability in their products. Hence, customers are not easily convinced, they do not believe green at first sight. As an answer to this problem, labels were introduced to certify the green standards. However, during the last years we’ve seen an inflation of labels. Thus, it’s not easy for the consumer to identify and differentiate.

Besides the lack of trust, there are also products which consumers do not believe to deliver value if they are green. One example is the glue stick. The company Henkel invented the first glue stick known as “Pritt stick” more than forty years ago. Since 2000 the glue formula is sustainable as being based on starch. Only recycled plastic is used and it is made in the EU. However, Henkel does not focus majorly on communicating sustainability. When looking at the German Pritt stick, the customer only notices a small green band stating “without solvent”. In communication the focus is on performance, because consumers do not believe green glue to deliver the same value as “chemical” glue. This particular mindset of customers is also reflected in another interesting detail: glue does not smell the way it does by itself. It only did in the beginning. Now companies are adding the glue-odor, because glue that does not smell like glue is not bought by customers.

I think this example shows a successful positioning in the market, respecting the triple bottom line.  Henkel takes into consideration the needs of their customers without compromising on environmental and societal aspects but still combining them to appeal to the mass market.

1 comment
  1. annasofiah said:

    The topic of this post reminds me of Ben & Jerry’s, which most likely doesn’t need any introduction. Ben & Jerry’s has always included environmental issues, sustainability and social justice in its business, and these things haven’t changed although the company was sold to the huge British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever in 2001. They have an independent board of directors, and just last month they pronounced that they will switch to all non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) ingredients in their ice cream products by the end of this year.

    So Ben & Jerry’s ice creams are special in many ways, for example it was the first ice cream company to use Fairtrade-certified ingredients. However, at least in Finland and supposedly in some other countries, too, Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t really emphasize the sustainability in its marketing. I’m pretty sure most of the Finns deciding to buy Ben & Jerry’s don’t do it because of the socio-ecological value added but because the product is superior otherwise, after all it is very tasty premium ice cream.

    In the North America the story of Ben & Jerry’s, which is actually considered as a social enterprise icon, is better-known and thus the sustainability may more likely have an effect on people’s buying behaviour. The story of Ben & Jerry’s could be brought to the limelight in Finland as well, but why haven’t they done that? Probably because they are doing well enough even without the story, but still, I think it’s something to be proud of and thus should be brought to people’s attention. There’s nothing to hide, on the contrary, so why not to make most out of it.

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