Episode 151: Green Blogger Series: Maryanne Conlin of Ecopreneurist

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GreenTalk Radio host Sean Daily talk Maryanne Conlin, a lead writer for the green business-focused blog Ecopreneurist.com, and a marketing consultant with expertise in targeting LOHAS consumers. 

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Sean Daily:  Hey everybody this is Sean Daily host of green talk radio. If you haven’t already I want to encourage you to subscribe to greenlivingideas.com’s green ideas monthly newsletter.  Every issue of the newsletter is packed full of tips and information to help you live a greener, more sustainable life. Including topics like renewable energy, alternative fuel vehicles and transportation, simple living, natural foods and health, eco-fashion, and seasonal and holiday tips.  Signing up for the newsletter is quick and easy, and only takes a few seconds.  Just visit greenlivingideas.com/newsletter.

 

Sean Daily:  Hi and welcome to Green Talk, a pod cast series from greenlivingides.com. Green talk helps listeners in their efforts to live more eco-friendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors, authors and experts from around the world. We discuss the critical issues facing the global environment today, as well as the technologies, products and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area of your life.

Sean Daily:  Hey everybody this is Sean Daily, welcome to another episode of Green Talk Radio. Today we have a new installment in our green bloggers series. We will be talking today with Maryanne Conlin of Ecopreneurist. She is a lead writer for the green business focus blog ecopreneurist.com and a marketing consultant with the expertise in targeting LOHAS consumers, for those of you who do not know the acronym, life styles of health and sustainable ability, in other words green. In addition to a strong corporate marketing background, Maryanne is a popular author and speaker on green and socially responsible marketing.  As well as being a contributor to the Washington Post/ Newsweek interactive site, sprig.com and green options media. She holds a BS in marketing and an MBA from the Thunderbird school of global management and has taught marketing and public relations at the University of California Berkley, UC Irvine, and the University of Hong Kong. Some of her recent articles on Ecopreneurist include: “its not what you say”, “how to sell and not scare green consumers”, and “consumer confidence at 2004 levels, does this mean green grocery is dead?”. Maryanne welcome to the program.

Maryanne Conlin: Thank so much Sean, happy to be here.

Sean Daily: So let’s just jump right in. What from your viewpoint are some of the biggest trends that are going on in green marketing today?

Maryanne Conlin: Well Sean, it really is kind of an exciting time to be in green marketing in a recessionary period and even though they are just now starting to use that “r” word, I think that most people can concur from their own lives that we are moving into a different period of time in our economy. And…

Sean Daily: In fact they are actually saying that this is going to be the worst recession, uh, you know since the seventies lately.  That was the news of yesterday.

Maryanne Conlin:  Yep, well they started updating kind of everyday I think that, um, some of the smarter folks say this coming and were ready for it. But they think that most everybody else is kind of surprised and thinking what are we going to do now?  But from a green business standpoint that can actually mean some good things. And the reason is there is still a lot of money out there looking for something to invest in, and green businesses are one of the few areas that look like they are going to continue and that this is a trend, not a fad. So I think that for entrepreneurs at least in the green field it is a good opportunity right now.

Sean Daily: And so what do you see from your perceptive again driving these new trends?

Maryanne Conlin: Well, there is a couple different things, first of all because sustainability has gotten some important to large corporations they are all jumping into the mix, and as more and more large corporations get into it, the more visibility there is with the consumer and the more that all types of businesses are going green, not because it necessarily sells product but because it is required now. The consumers are looking for, consumers have the option to buy green and not at totally astronomical expensive price, but at a regular price.  It’s out there.

Sean Daily: Now how, I’m curious too about how you handle the sort of ongoing issue that exists in the industry of policing, and I guess really understanding from the consumer standpoint what exactly, well which companies are green and which aren’t and what that   even means.  How do you handle that?

Maryanne Conlin:  Yeah, it’s really is an interesting thing out there of what consumers think and I write not only for ecopreneurist but I write for a lot of different blogs. I started off as a mommy blogger and so a lot of that experience there which I started a couple years ago, got into that whole thing and gave me connections with a lot of moms out there who are ninety percent of the purchases in the United States are made or influenced by women, so that’s the people you really want to know about.  And those consumers are, frankly, confused right now. There are a number of certifications out there and most people and I wouldn’t say most, but the some of the more aware are familiar with them, but then something like comes out the other day about Energy Star which is really one of the grand daddy of the certifications is, gee it’s not quite as pure as we thought it was.

Sean Daily: Yeah, that was concerning. I read that, that was quite concerning.

Maryanne Conlin: So, I think that there is still, there’s a regulatory issue and I talk about this a lot on a couple different blogs that I write is, from a food stand point natural, natural doesn’t mean anything or  as in one of my blog posts I said “natural means nothing”, that’s not regulated. So if a parent is buying or a person who is interested in organic food is buying something that says natural on it, well there is no real regulations from the FDA governing that so how do they know they are getting natural?

Sean Daily: And there are a lot of marketers that, yeah, there are a lot of marketers that will exploit those holes, you know, and quite happily and quite readily.

Maryanne Conlin: Well, that use to be true but that’s changing. Do you know who all the people who are most violently asking or I shouldn’t say violently, I should say stridently…

 

Sean Daily: Say definitely…

Maryanne Conlin: Stridently asking the FDA to make a decision please, tell us what’s going to be the right thing, are the big consumer product, the big package goods organizations. The big guys want that clarified because they want to own it. They have the money, they have the dollars, they can actually put something behind it and make the regulations, or meet the regulations the FDA puts out. So those are the people asking for it, they want the FDA to say something.

Sean Daily: Now, interesting, that is the first time I have heard that, so that, that makes sense but what I’m curious that begs the question then is there some risk to companies that might not be able afford to go through the regulatory hoops, as it were, to get those certifications, yet perhaps are meeting the certifications and maybe leaving out some of the smaller companies, is there a threat there to smaller businesses?

Maryanne Conlin: Absolutely, and certified organic is really one of the areas that you see that the most.  It takes several years to get an organic certification on a farmland or for a farm and there are many, many growers out there who are growing organic but are not yet certified because they haven’t been around long enough, and this is a little bit of a disadvantage for entrepreneurs, particularly new entrepreneurs, a lot of people who go to the farmer’s markets will see that.  They’ll see certified organic on a lot of the booths but then you go up to another booth and someone will say, “Yeah, we are organic we just started, but we are in the certification process, it cost some money, it takes some time”. So it is a disadvantage, absolutely, to entrepreneurs.

Sean Daily: Interesting, so Maryanne now from time to time we hear about segmentation within this green consumer market that we have such as for example, some people use the terms light green, medium green, dark green, etc. Can you describe for us the different types of green consumers from your viewpoint of the market?

Maryanne Conlin: It would have to be my viewpoint, because there’s another area that there’s not a real good definition, different industries use different people. The things that I really look at, because I am a marketing person, I’m going to back up just a second and say unlike most of the people I would say, most of the consultants, and most of the bloggers in the green area, I don’t come from an activists background, I come from a corporate America background.  And I worked in corporate America for twenty years as marketing managers, as product managers, as director of marketing for large fortune 500 companies. So I tend to look at it from the marketing angle first and I came to the green movement a little bit later when I became a parent, basically. And, so when I look at something I look at the segments of consumers in terms of how they purchase product. So I look at, and I like to use the LOHAS statistics or segments, actually, the LOHAS deep green consumer. We all know that, who that is, that’s the person who will spend a little bit more money and actively research products that are good for the planet, and will buy those based on that particular criteria.

Sean Daily: Intrinsically, rather than, without as much regard for price differences.

Maryanne Conlin: Correct, correct. But then there is a whole big other group and I know lots and lots of people that I would call the crunchy crowd, they are what you would really consider very green consumers, but there greenness is not about necessarily saving the planet.  They are recycling and they are trying to keep their use of things down, and trying not to be too much into consumerism, but what really concerns them is personal health and wellness. These are the people buying the organic foods; these are the people buying organic and natural medicines and personal care products, and these are the people that may not spend that little extra bit of money if something just saves the planet.  They are going to spend the money if it is helpful to them and their family, that’s what motivates them. So it is very different from the deep green consumer, in terms from a marketing stand point.
                  
                 The next group I would say are, what I call them the aspirations, the LOHAS segmentation they call them drifters, but they really are aspirations they want to be seen in Whole Foods, it is hip to be green.

Sean Daily: And they drive the Prius and that whole thing.

Maryanne Conlin:  Yeah, a neighbor of mine just got a Lexus Prius and she is totally cracking me up about it, because her husband came out and looked at me and said “It doesn’t get that great of gas mileage”. So obviously what he was looking at is the next group, that he is the next segment, he is a practical.  He wants to go for green purchases because they save him money, meanwhile his wife wanted to get the Lexus hybrid because it looks good and it is cool to be green, so within the same household we have two different segments. So that, those are people who are going to fall off, the people with the aspirations are going to start to fall off with this kind of economy, if they are only looking at green because it’s hip and it’s cool then it may not be as important to them anymore. Whereas the people who are very interested in the health and wellness, and the people who are very deep green they are going to keep buying, they are going to cut back somewhere else.

Sean Daily: Yeah, there was actually a study done it was about a year ago, as I recall, that seventy percent of all Prius owners made their purchase based on image.

Maryanne Conlin:  Mm-hm.

Sean Daily: I mean it is a good thing, I’m glad they are buying high fuel efficiency vehicles it is just interesting to note the motivations of seven out of ten people, but that falls quite inline with what you are describing.
                  
                   Well we are going to take a quick break right here, hear a word from our sponsor then we will be back on Green Talk Radio. We are talking today with green blogger Maryanne Conlin, a.k.a. MC Milker as I know her on Twitter and other social networks.  She is the lead writer for ecopreneurist.com in addition to having a marketing consultant practice.

Sean Daily: Hey we’re back on Green Talk Radio; this is Sean Daily interviewing today Maryanne Conlin, a.k.a. MC Milker, a LOHAS industry blogger who serves as the lead writer for ecopreneurist.com in addition to having a marketing consultant practice. Maryanne, we were talking before the break about your background and some of the trends that you are seeing in the industry. We also talked about segmentation of the green consumer market, I was wondering if you would for the marketers and business owners out there maybe take the information that you laid out, in terms of the segmentation of the market of green consumers, and then maybe tell them how to apply that information in terms of targeting and understanding their market.

Maryanne Conlin: Sure Sean, I would love to do that, because right now is a really interesting time for a green business and green marketing. I consider green to be at a tipping point from the business standpoint, from a marketing stand point, that is it has gotten to this point where there is so much saturation of green, and that there is so much awareness that there needs to become differentiations.  And by that I mean people need to really talk benefit. Now, it is interesting I was talking to some folks over at one of my clients, a fortune 100 company, and they were talking about some of the efforts that they were making to get certifications required for green, to make sure that they had green offerings and off the cuff the marketing manager I was speaking with basically said, “You know I’m not sure exactly if the consumers will even care about it, but it kind of seems like something we need to do.” And that I thought was really relevant for the discussion right now, which comes back to, you need as a business owner, as a large corporation, as a marketing person, to go beyond green, the word, to go to consumer benefits, and that’s a real basic marketing concept that hasn’t been needed. When you are on a trend, with it starting, they start off usually as a fad or something, a trend or fad starts off and all you need to do is really invoke the word green.  Green means to save the planet, green means good, green means I’m being a good planet citizen.  Now that everybody is green, or that everybody is moving towards green, companies need to make sure that their products are really speaking to the benefit of the consumer that is being conveyed. In other words when we talked about the segment of the consumers that are interested in health and wellness, well it is no longer okay to just say organic or just say natural, that’s not a benefit that’s a feature, that’s natural.  But why is that good? Well, because makes you healthier, it makes your skin work better, it helps your stomach, it makes your child have a better immune system, whatever it is, it is that benefit thing that has become important.  And you and I talked a little bit about the Prius in that earlier part of the segment too, what’s the benefit? Well there is a benefit to the planet, yes, we are reducing emissions. But there is also a personal benefit for the consumer, which is saving gas mileage, or alternately feeling good about yourself for saving the planet. But to this point consumers have not really seen that that often on green products, what they’ve seen are the big over arching terms of green or natural, or good for.  So I think that is the big change we are seeing now.

Sean Daily: Yeah, you make a good point, and it makes sense to me, that there’s a premium that all of these various segments of consumers are willing to pay on maybe a sliding scale for going green and buying more sustainable products and in a down economy one would expect that that’s going to, that those thresholds are going to reduce at all levels, because it is just necessary based on the economics of people’s pocket books, so that makes a lot of sense. So what about on the promotion side, Maryanne, are there specific type of promotions that you found in your consulting practice with your clients to work better for promoting green businesses?

Maryanne Conlin: Yes, it is interesting to see what has happened. Over the years we have seen more and more triple bottom line approaches; that is people, profit, planet. So from the people end you’re seeing green business teaming up with different types of charities and running promotions with them, one of the things the Arbor Day Foundation will planet a tree for certain types of donations. It is funny because I did these types of promotions oh, back in, back in the eighties actually. I did some promotions with the World Wildlife Federation and I did in the nineties with tree people and with the Arbor Day Foundation. But now it has gotten to the point where everyone is doing those types of promotions and because you find more and more the social entrepreneurship or social giving back has become part of the corporate cultural it’s become less effective as a promotion.

Sean Daily:  Yeah, people know now, I mean even the word green for me has lost all meaning. I mean, I have a sight called greenlivingideas.com and this is called Green Talk Radio, but you know it really warrants more really specifics as people get more educated, and quite frankly marketers use the hell out of the word and make us all numb out to it, we have to get more specific.

Maryanne Conlin:  Yes, well some of the things that I think are working now are going to be more connecting directly with the consumer. You have to really look at, during this recessionary period, there is something that is going to be going on that is dove-tailing, that has been starting but has started earlier but is now dove-tailing with green, which is the slow movement. Slow food, slow travel, you may be familiar with the terms meaning slow travelers fly somewhere, or hopefully don’t fly there. Don’t go too far away…

Sean Daily: I was going to say, that’s not that slow.

Maryanne Conlin: Well don’t do the multi city tour. Go one place and stay there, walk around, get to know the place.  The simplicity movement is really an offshoot of that. People are going to be looking for less, in a word, junk.  I think that you are going to be seeing green businesses and people or corporations rather that produce products that are green really talking about the quality end of it.  Because that whole thing of reuse or buy quality has become more important. Beyond just recycling, beyond just being good for the planet, buy something once and save it for five years and use it.  I, just give an example I look at backpacks, I have a grade school age son instead of buying him a new car or batman or superman or whatever backpack every year that’s made very cheaply in China, shipped over here with a huge carbon footprint I’ll buy a REI backpack for him, I’ll buy a Lands End back pack for him, he can keep it for five years, its well made.  And so I am not adding to consumerism and in a recession that’s a very money saving way to go but it is also a very green way to go, because that is, if I save it for five years that’s four fewer backpacks that end up in the land fill.

Sean Daily: Yeah I know, absolutely, and it’s really impressive to me the things I see in my own corner of the world similar to that where people are you know growing their own food and gardens, I drive down the street, and I’m in suburbia I’m up in wine country, you know, northern California, but down major streets I see people growing corn despite the city laws to the contrary, which I love, they are growing corn , or vegetables, and people have chickens, ourselves included.  And even our across the street neighbors, the guys a doctor and they’re very well to do, and what have you but I think they probably looked at us a little bit, a little weird when we got the chickens. My wife hates when I talk about the chickens by the way because she is always afraid, she likes “We can’t, I’m not sure we can have the chickens they are going to come get us.” She like, “Don’t talk about the chickens.”  Well I’m talking about the chickens Stephanie. But they’re showing up wanting to trade for, “oh, you know we came over we were wondering if we could give you some fresh whatever, strawberries we have for some eggs because we are making so and so.” You know, so it’s been really impressive to me the way that this slow and going, slow food movement and going back to our roots and going back to sort of theses things that were a part of our past and our history but have been lost in the last fifty years there is a return there and it’s really impressive to me. Also, there was recently a slow food expo down in San Fransisco that was completely just focused on that as well, so we are seeing things like that. So the other question I had for you was about, was in relation to established entrepreneurs and how they might be able to reach out to this growing market that we’ve identified here.

Maryanne Conlin: I think that for most entrepreneurs what they really need to do is go back to basics and in some cases if they are coming from the activists community that maybe not going back to basics but finding out about the basics of marketing. They need to understand who their target market is, and this kind of came from something we talked about earlier, because it is no longer good enough to just sell to screen, who is the actual segment  who is that target market, understand who they are and what motivates them. And then the product needs to be focused for the benefit that that consumers looking for, they call that consumer need from a marketing standpoint.  I think that it is very interesting to me to watch this because in the early 1999, 2000, I was working a lot in the e-commerce area and I would work with e-commerce entrepreneurs and they would all say, I would say who is your target market? And they would say everybody. And I would say everybody is not your target market, yes everybody could use your product but you need to pick the people who really have the need for it. But in the green area you haven’t had to up to this point because it has been growing by leaps ad bounds, and so it is time for green entrepreneurs to be able to realize that there is a bit of a change and they need to look at basic marketing principles and classic marketing principles that have been used by corporations for years and years and years and improve upon them, make them even better, but understand them.

Sean Daily: Yeah, and it’s really exciting because what we’re hearing about green business in the new green economy from people like Joel Makower, and Van Jones and other people like this who are luminaries in that area and they’re talking about specific ways that eco-entrepreneurs can get involve and create jobs in all areas, in all walks of life, across all economic strata. So, very exciting times we live in and we certainly appreciate the editorial that you put on ecopreneurist and other sites, it’s been great and I’ve been long time reader of yours and so we appreciate you being on the program with us today.

Maryanne Conlin: Well thanks so much for having me Sean.

Sean Daily: My guest today has been Maryanne Conlin, she is also know as MC Milker, she is a LOHAS industry green blogger who serves as the lead write for ecpreneurist.com in addition to having a thriving marketing consultant practice.

Sean Daily:  Thanks as always to everyone listening in today. Remember for more free on-demand pod cast, articles, videos, and other information related to living a greener lifestyle visit our website at www.greenlivingideas.com. We would also love to hear your comments, feedback, and questions, send us an email at [email protected]