Does your product have a “but” attached to it?

Does your product have a “but” attached to it?

If your green product is undermined by your company’s reputation for sustainability, there are proactive steps you can take.

How many times have you thought to yourself, “I feel a ‘but’ coming on.” As in, after you hear a compliment, you get the feeling something else is coming.

It’s a pattern rooted in the art of debate: Soften the blow of a negative and place yourself in a position of understanding by leading with a compliment before a complaint.

It’s a common part of our human interaction on a daily basis and, for the most part, harmless. It’s the way we respond to movies, friends, relatives, food and, yes, products and companies.

In the world of sustainability communication, however, the “but” attached to your company or product can be a dangerous thing. The audiences you target today are placing more and more importance on sustainability, especially the sustainable position and action of your business overall.

So if you create a “green” product that isn’t supported by a larger sustainable corporate position, you will be called out. Social connectivity today is why word-of-mouth media is more powerful than ever before.

Here are a few real comments I found online about companies that introduced “green” products as a growth strategy, targeting a new type of untapped audience, without addressing a contradictory element within the company.

  • “The product is nice, BUT the company doesn’t match.”
  • “Love [the product], BUT I won’t buy anything from [the company].”
  • “There are tons of options out there. No reason to support a company that speaks out of both sides of its mouth.”

Yes, that seems pretty harsh (believe me, I picked from the clean ones), but it’s reality. And it’s not just the “crazies” online voicing this opinion anymore: It’s actually that same untapped audience that’s so valuable to company growth.

So how can you control the “but” of your company? By embracing the most popular word of 2013, transparency. Here are the two most important steps that will help you deliver on the idea of transparency:

  1. Embrace the negative and use it to your advantage. This is hard for most companies to grasp, but negative comments can be stepping stones to successful communication. You should view them as an open door to audience connection.
  2. Show improvement as you tell your story. Audiences today are understanding and forgiving, but only if you prove to them you’re really trying. If you’re launching a product for a sustainable audience, make sure you position it as part of your corporate plan of betterment. Use the product as a proof point, not a pacifier.

Every company has a “but” it has to deal with. If you want to win in the sustainable product world, you need to understand and embrace yours.



Posted on

July 1, 2013

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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