Thanks to motum b2b’s work with clients in the areas of sustainability, energy efficiency and better business practices, I’ve had access to all kinds of feedback fromfocus groups and surveys about the word ‘green’. Most of them say they don’t understand what ‘green’ means—and they don’t think we do either.

There’s nothing like a trade show to see the best and the worst examples. Recently, I’ve been taking what I call the ‘green pulse.’ I simply wanted to count the number of companies that used the word in big type to describe their product and service offerings—and to see if it helped them say something meaningful.

At the 2010 AHR (Air Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration) Show in Florida, I had a revealing conversation with a sales rep for a major controls company.

"So what are you selling?" I asked. They did have a few product photos around, but I was looking for word clues).

"We’re the world leader in building automation and controls," was the quick reply.

"Didn’t you use to have big headlines about how you contributed to sustainability and energy efficiency?"

"Yes, and we used to have big photos of dandelions, too. Trouble was that people thought we were in the landscaping business."

So they solved a problem. Or did they? They stopped using meaningless green imagery, but they got so scared they retreated to the bad old days of unclear messaging.

What words or pictures should they have used? Start by asking their prospects what matters to them; then answer the question in big type, perhaps.

You can’t really go wrong when you shift the focus from what you think you’re selling to the benefits that prospects want to buy.

You can do that without mentioning the word green or using floral, vegetable and cuddly animal images. If you fail, you could win a dandelion.

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