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Juanita Berge | Philly Creative Guide Event Reporter

Greening Your Brand: Standing Out in the Green Economy
by Juanita Berge, 1 Apr 2009

Orly Zeewy has 25 years of experience in design, marketing communication and brand strategy and development. Prior to starting a brand consulting practice in 2002, she was Senior Design Manager for The Vanguard Group. Prior to working at The Vanguard Group, Orly was principal of Zeewy Design and Marketing Communications for fourteen years.

In addition to her consulting work, Orly is a teacher and speaker on brand related topics. She developed the course "Strategic Branding and Design Management for non-profits" for the University of Pennsylvania and is a guest speaker for the Wharton International Communications Program.

Orly is a visiting lecturer for the Masters program in Sustainable Design at The Engineering and Design Institute and an adjunct at Philadelphia University where she teaches "Visual Literacy".

Orly Zeewy, a brand identity consultant and communications strategist, presented Greening Your Brand: Standing Out in the Green Economy at Drexel University's Stein Auditorium this past March 5. It was a talk on creating stronger products and companies through the use of sustainability and environmentally conscious strategies.

First and foremost, green is still an emerging product category. The vast majority of consumers are not green yet and as such may not be very familiar with the products available today. Not that most could be - new products and production strategies are coming to market every day. Secondly, many consumers are not fully committed to being green yet. Purchase behavior is inconsistent and their perceptions about corporate brands are in flux. Third, a crucial factor is that, for some, green doesn't describe just a product, but a social cause (David Wigder). Any discussion of brand greening has to take these facts into consideration.

Many successful green brands today grew, it seems, out of companies that adopted sustainability as one of its corporate objectives. Because social norms regarding the environment are changing and consumers are increasingly holding brands accountable for what they do (and don't do), many companies have adopted a sustainability stance. That is, taken upon itself to green its internal operations, followed by its products and services, and then its marketing communications. One example of this is WalMart. WalMart partnered with Environmental Defence (ED), a non-governmental organization, to make its operations and supply chain more sustainable. ED, in turn, endorses WalMart's environmental efforts at a national level. Wal-Mart is now branching out into several green arenas and is marketing them as such.

Greening Your Brand: Standing Out in the Green Economy

Greening the product first is another strategy corporations employ. This comes with the risk, however, of product devotees coming to challenge how the product is made. The pressure is then on the company to green its operations and manufacturing facilities after the fact. Toyota (in the U.S.) with the introduction of its hybrid cars is an example of this.

Fewer, but some, companies start with marketing first and announce to its constituents that it will hereinafter be one green company. A risky business. They are, in essence, admitting that their products and operations are not green yet, but will be over time. This involves a level of faith in consumer good will. More and more consumers are starting to hold companies accountable not just for the environmental impact of their products, but for its sourcing too.

Greening may be the latest buzzword in an industry that is rife with buzzwords. Let's face it, there is plenty of money to be made by going green in these days and times. But greening a brand is not merely a matter of throwing a new marketing plan at a product. For companies to be credible to increasingly savvy consumers they must do more than simply 'greenwash' their products. A growing core of consumers is looking for and expecting green brand leadership. What sort of plan greens a brand?

Believing that business needs and objectives can never be divorced from creative solutions, Zeewy underscored her views at every turn with the maxim, "If you're going about greening your brand you still have to know who you are. All the same rules apply." That is, all the same rules about branding. While companies have jumped on the green bandwagon ad nauseum, some core considerations must still be met. You still have to define your brand, must determine your objectives, must focus on one's target audience, discover and break through brand barriers, and develop brand packaging. Zeewy quotes Alina Wheeler saying "Brand is the promise," green, blue, black, or otherwise. Perhaps another quote, anonymous though it may be, is more to the point, "Branding is the promise you make, while brand is the promise you keep."

Zeewy took as her example two environmentally friendly household product lines – Method and 7th Generation. Method is very popular and extremely successful in the marketplace. 7th Generation, not so much. The two had very different branding stories. Method began as a bright, happy newcomer to the stage with its vividly colored product, its funky, ergo-inspired bottle shapes, and marketing campaign that placed it as a positive, fun, environmentally-friendly alternative to standard household cleaners. It made people happy to use it. 7th Generation, on the other hand, is a very bare bones-looking product with basic bottle shapes, no frills graphics and print-heavy labels that used educating the consumer as its major selling point. This was fine for hardcore environmentalists, but it lacked the cross-over appeal of Method's branding with its colorful product and modern shapes. Method placed itself as a fun alternative to standard cleaners that had the happy coincidence of being good for the environment. 7th Generation was a ponderous instruction piece on the dangers to the environment. As Zeewy points out, "People are more receptive when you give them a way to be positive."

Greening is long gone from its iconoclast days. As a branding goal greening is swinging into the mainstream in a big way. Companies see it as a way of defending and enhancing brand value. More and more investment decisions are made with an eye toward corporate reputation in the green marketplace.

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