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September 23, 2008
The "Other Green" Marketing

I recently attended a retail marketing conference to stimulate the idea process, reconnect with peers and mingle with retail marketing executives. As in past years, it was an interesting conference. Speakers shared experiences and featured thinking and ideas with staying power. There was also considerable time allocated to the hot topic of green marketing.

During my return flight home, a surprising revelation popped into in my rejuvenated, retail marketing mind: In an increasingly weakening economy, there was no talk at all about the “other green” marketing — that is, the “green” in consumers’ pocketbooks.

A year ago, it seemed that everyone was talking about upscale and branded merchandise being added to their offerings. Gasoline prices had yet to affect the upper middle-class customer. The looming credit crisis and housing bubble were masked behind consumer confidence reports.

There was sameness in the messaging of most of the major retailers. But business was good and efforts were directed more to the media area. Were you embracing new media, or were you going to be left behind by clinging to the old model? Media was the message.

Now that things have changed dramatically, the focus is back on the message. But what message?

Environmental or “green” issues are certainly timely and important to consumers, but value, the “other green” issue, is arguably just as relevant to consumers in today’s marketplace.

Perhaps you don’t consider your brand to be a value brand. If so, may we suggest that you revisit your mission statement? In our view, every brand should view itself as a value brand, with value initiatives and value messaging.

Mercedes is a luxury brand, but it is also becomes a value brand with an attractive lease offer. Nordstrom’s is an upscale retailer that is also a value brand by virtue of exceptional customer service.

Try viewing your marketing communications plan as a balanced investment portfolio. Instead of stocks and bonds, this portfolio is one of branding and value messages. The weighting between the two types of messages is adjusted based on market conditions. Current market conditions suggest a weighting that favors heavier value messaging in the mix.

Here are five considerations to keep in mind when crafting value initiatives:

1.      A good value initiative is a heart and gut issue. It’s less about price, and more about empathy and relevance.

2.      Your right brain is the right brain. Don’t try to think like your customer, rather “feel” like your customer.

3.      Concentrate on the cure, not the illness. You don’t have to remind people how tough it is out there. They are well aware. They’re living it.

4.      Tone of messaging is critical. Be positive and inspirational. Don’t save all the warm and emotional cues for your pure brand messaging.

5.      Value initiatives are strategic, not tactical short-term fixes. They should be constructed with the same strategic mindset as pure branding initiatives.

Value initiatives that we developed for two of America’s most populist brands, McDonalds and Wal-Mart, took separate paths. Both were highly successful:

·     The Happy Meal added value to the McDonald’s experience for both parents and children. Instead of parents feeding the children from their meals, kids got their own meal, provided in an entertaining, fun package. Not only did the Happy Meal add value to the dining experience, but it added income to the average ticket.

·     Wal-Mart is known for storewide everyday low prices, built on a strong price/trust relationship with customers. During a bad patch in the economy, Wal-Mart further strengthened that position by permanently lowering, or rolling back, prices on hundreds of items. A happy smiley character positively symbolized the initiative that endured way beyond the economic downturn.

Strategic value initiatives, unlike temporary sales events, endure. And if they remain a permanent part of your overall marketing planning, you will be better positioned to weather the inevitable cyclical nature of the economy.

McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and other retailers who have taken a strategic approach to value, and who view their marketing communications as a balanced brand/value portfolio, are now reaping the benefits of their long-range thinking.

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Rusty Scholtes is executive vice president and managing director of Bernstein-Rein. His extensive retail marketing and advertising experience includes leading the agency’s Wal-Mart account team for 20 years. He is recognized as a significant contributor to Wal-Mart’s success and growth from regional chain to the world’s largest retailer.
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