Marketing is a key component of getting any business off the ground, especially a small green business, such as a green building or green roofing business, with a limited budget to spend on reaching an audience and growing a customer base. I talked with Sarah Bodnar of Social Media Sisters, who does a lot of work with environmentally-conscious companies, to get some tips and tricks on developing an integrated marketing strategy that will take full advantage of the tools at your disposal, and won’t break your pocketbook in the process.
Bodnar explained that the face of marketing is changing; historically, she says, companies had a separate marketing division which handled promotions, and today, companies of all sizes need a truly integrated strategy, where marketing is present at every step of the way. That means getting to know every stage of the product and the people behind it in order to present the story of a business. With green products in particular, she says, this is critical: “Consumers are getting more and more curious [about product sourcing]. [They want to know] what went into it, where these products came from...” and a savvy marketing campaign tells that story.
She notes that with increased customer awareness also comes the importance of understanding that because green businesses are working to shift paradigms, it’s important to meet audiences where they are, and to be aware that they may not understand the importance of buying green. A good campaign should talk about the benefits a product offers, and it offers a great chance for a small business to distinguish itself from the competition: “Storytelling is a really critical part of helping people understand what the value addition is to your product.”
“A lot of small businesses don’t know how to tell their story in a real, authentic, from the core way; they’re used to the language of marketing, which is now archaic. It’s very salesy and not vertically integrated,” she says. The best way to hit potential customers is with authentic, honest storytelling. Introduce them to the people making products and to the environment where they’re made, talk about sourcing, and make customers part of the story. A jeweler who doesn’t use any power tools, for example, should include that in part of the story of her product, and explain how that distinguishes her products, using her own words rather than overblown marketing speak.
Bodnar focuses heavily on using the Internet to reach audiences. As she puts it: “Any business that can’t be found on the Internet doesn’t really exist.” Her first recommendation for people who haven’t done so is to Google themselves to see what people are saying about their businesses, and to start working on how to shape that image.
She advises that the second step green businesses, like green plumbers in Baltimore or green roofers in Phoenix, should take is establishing an Internet footprint and claiming profiles that don’t require updating, because it only needs to be done one time. That includes claiming a Yelp account, establishing profiles on sites like Google Places, and updating information on business search sites. Additionally, she recommends creating a Facebook page with information about the business, and adds that it’s very important to make sure it is a business, not a personal, page, as it’s important to conform with the site’s terms of service. A very basic website with information about your location, contact information, operating hours, and business mission is also a good idea.
She warns against oversaturation, especially with dormant accounts. If an account won’t be used, don’t open it. Think of online accounts like a storefront, she notes; if every time people go by, the business is closed, that doesn’t leave a good impression. Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and similar tools need to be regularly updated to keep them interesting. This provides more chances for storytelling as well as promotions to keep customers intrigued.
In addition, she stresses the need to integrate and leverage campaigns against each other for greater reach. Customers can be encouraged to check in on a location-based service like foursquare, for instance, and this can be used for in-store and website promotions. Print and radio ads should reference the business’ online presence, and people should be encouraged to friend or like a business across multiple platforms. Rather than campaigning in isolation, each aspect of a company’s marketing strategy should complement other elements.
Ultimately, she says that “there’s no prescription for what every single business should do,” but that people should be thinking about big picture, integrating practices that take full advantage of every option available. As a business grows and a budget increases, the owners can start thinking about more advanced marketing tools, and consultants like her are around to help for companies that aren’t sure about where to go next with their marketing.