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

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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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Courtnay Hamachek

VP Operations

Courtnay oversees our day-to-day operations to keep us running smoothly and support our growth. She establishes project management systems and processes to help our teams anticipate bottlenecks, prevent process issues, and keep projects on time and on target. Courtnay has built extensive experience over 25 years in all aspects of marketing, from account services and project management to design and production.

Aaron Crecy

Digital Marketing Director

Aaron is responsible for planning, executing and measuring digital marketing strategies for Shelton Group and our clients, with an emphasis on inbound, content, SEO, social media, email and paid initiatives. He constantly researches and explores new tactics and strategies to improve digital campaign performance and results.

Aaron brings to the table more than 20 years of marketing leadership experience with premium consumer-facing brands. He came to Shelton Group by way of Malibu Boats, where, as Director of Global Marketing, he oversaw strategic marketing planning and execution for multiple product lines, with specific emphasis on social media and digital. Prior to that, he served as CMO for a leading daily fantasy sports operator, guiding it from startup to the industry’s third-ranked site.

Scot Case

Senior Consultant

A sustainability strategy consultant since 1993, Scot has served as non-profit leader, as a partner in an environmental marketing firm that he grew and sold, and as an executive in a multi-billion-dollar, international company. He has published dozens of articles and case studies, was co-author of the original “Sins of Greenwashing” study, testified before Congress, and been quoted on NPR, Good Morning America, CNN, The New York Times, Business Week, and the Wall Street Journal. Scot was also highlighted in an Emmy award-winning documentary on sustainable purchasing.

Casey Ward

VP Account Services

Casey manages our relationships, growth and development with a specific group of clients that includes Environmental Defense Fund, Cotton LEADS and CertainTeed Insulation. She provides leadership and support for the account team members who manage the day-to-day processes for these clients. She contributes to strategic direction for each client and guides our creative efforts to ensure everything we do builds toward meeting – or exceeding – the client’s goals. Her ability to simultaneously see the big picture and pay close attention to the details helps her champion her clients’ needs and identify new growth opportunities for them.