One Company Keeps Shifting Ahead of the Green Curve—and Growing Competition

How one visionary company continues to shift ahead of the curve—and its competition—gaining even more market share in the green space.Seventh Generation saw the shift coming almost a generation ago. That is, the growing consumer desire for environmentally sustainable (i,e. green) products, along with the demand to know what ingredients are in the things they eat and drink, in the products they use to wash their children and their clothes, and in the lotions and potions they put on their bodies.

Today, green is more or less mainstream, with companies like Walmart and Clorox promoting natural product lines, and major consumer product manufacturers, including Procter & Gamble, directing consumers to websites, like SmartLabel to see exactly what is in all the lotions and potions they sell.

However, Seventh Generation, being the visionary company it is, continues to shift ahead of the curve—and its competition—gaining even more market share in the green space. It is doing so not just by sharpening its point of differentiation—what it is, exactly, that makes its products categorically better, but communicating this point of differentiation in a clear, compelling way that brilliantly brings this difference to life. Like other good brands, Seventh Generation knows that it’s not enough to spot a consumer trend, you have to be able to act on it to stay out front. Its CEO, and former CMO, Joey Bergstein, also knows having the right story to tell is only half the battle. Telling it in a convincing and memorable way is the other half.

When I had the pleasure of speaking to Bergstein for my recent book, Shift Ahead, he explained that the company, founded in 1988, has remained committed to its mission to nurture the health of the next “seven generations.” Ingredient disclosure, he said, was an issue they have taken a hard stance on beginning in 2008, listing all the ingredients on the label on the back of all of its products which, although not required in the cleaning business, is something the company felt consumers had a right to know because they use these products around their families every day. As the “environmentally-friendly” category has grown over the past several years, as “green” and its associative adjectives (organic, perfume-free, ammonia-free, natural, and the like), have become commonplace, being able to stand out in the aisle and the category has become increasingly challenging. Being seen as authentic and believable has gotten more challenging. Labeling products “green,” in any of its appellation is no longer enough to catch the attention of the growing group of consumers who want to keep their families safe – and clean.

“The second half is communicating this idea in an equally simple and easily understood way, in a way that no other brand can own, that connects with people, and that breaks through the noise and clutter.”

Given the increasing field of competitors, Bergstein and his team realized that they needed a really sharp differentiator, a clearly focused reason for consumers to believe that Seventh Generation is a clearly better brand of green product. The simple idea they landed on was that, unlike many other household products which are petroleum-based, Seventh Generation products are plant-based. Giving consumers a simple and easily understandable reason to believe why your brand is relevantly better than others is Marketing 101. But, as I said, it’s just the one half of the marketing equation. The second half is communicating this idea in an equally simple and easily understood way, in a way that no other brand can own, that connects with people, and that breaks through the noise and clutter.

Enter Maya Rudolph, mother of four, Saturday Night Live alumnus, actress, comedienne, long-time Seventh Generation advocate, and star of the brand’s continuing “Come Clean” campaign. The multimedia campaign, like the strategy behind it, focuses on redefining what clean and green really means. It challenges consumers to think about what actually does go into the products they are using in their homes and around their families, raising awareness that Seventh Generation products are as safe as they are effective. For example, in one of the newest of the television spots in the campaign, in an absolutely telegraphic way, Rudolph leverages her wry and affable sense of humor to drive home the point that Seventh Generation products are plant, not petroleum, based. Using real vegetables as props, along with a series of nonstop vegetable puns, Rudolph talks about Seventh Generation’s detergent, quipping that the detergent “beets” stains, is a big “dill,” “squashes” your toughest stains and leaves clothes “radishing.” She closes with, “Lettuce make the right choice.”

As Bergstein told me, while Seventh Generation was a pioneer in the sustainable product movement, it’s had to up its game to ensure it continues to expand its audience beyond its core users, attracting consumers who have been used to buying conventional, brand-name cleaning products. The brand’s new marketing efforts are meant to address the question: How do I balance getting the right performance and the right product while doing what I can to protect my family and the environment?

Seventh Generation has experienced growth almost every year since its inception. They have been able to do this by honing their marketing strategy and sharpening their marketing message in a way that has enabled both to cut through the clutter. In other words, the brand has continued to shift ahead of the growing competition in the “green” field by getting both halves of the Marketing 101 equation right. They’ve crystalized what makes their brand relevantly different and found a way to communicate it in a crystal clear, and very funny, way.  They’ve given consumers a reason to believe, and just the right spokesperson to bring it home.

Allen Adamson is the author of, “Shift Ahead: How The Best Companies Stay Relevant In A Fast-Changing World.”

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