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®.

Laila Waggoner

VP Client Engagement

Laila leads our client engagement process, overseeing activities from both a strategic and a tactical level to ensure our work generates desired results – and clients’ satisfaction. She brings 25+ years of marketing leadership experience to her client relationships, with particular expertise in the homebuilding and remodeling industries as well as member-driven organizations, such as the Vinyl Siding Institute and Plastics Pipe Institute. Before joining Shelton Group, she led strategic marketing teams for Owens Corning’s insulation business.

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.

Mike Beamer

VP Business Development

Mike joined our team to help provide strategic vision and foster our agency’s growth by overseeing new business leads and managing agency marketing and website content. He arrived in Knoxville steeped in energy efficiency and renewables – he previously led client service for an agency division in Boston dedicated to marketing communications strategy and branding for B2B and B2C clients in that space.