Amplify the Social Benefits of Your Products

Amplify the Social Benefits of Your ProductsTo do good for the planet and make lots of money (or the other way around), I think companies should shift from an economic framework to a social one. Green products are a good example. Facts are facts: today, as we define cost, green products cost more; burning fossil fuel is the lowest cost way to produce electricity and move stuff around (people, products, raw material). Green products are more expensive and do less, yet they sell. But the economic benefits don’t sell, the social ones do. Lower performance and higher costs of green products should be viewed not as weaknesses, but as strengths.

Green technologies are immature and expensive, but there’s no questions they’re the future. Green products will create new markets, and companies that create new markets will dominate them. The first sales of expensive green products are made by those who can afford them; they put their money where their mouths are and pay more for less to make a social statement. In that way, the shortcoming of the product amplifies the social statement. It’s clear the product was purchased for the good of others, not solely for the goodness of the product itself. The sentiment goes like this: This product is more expensive, but I think the planet is worth my investment. I’m going to buy, and feel good doing it.

The Prius is a good example. While its environmental benefits can be debated, it clearly does not drive as well as other cars (handling, acceleration, breaking). Yet people buy them. People buy them because that funny shape is mapped to a social statement: I care about the environment. Prius generates a signal: I care enough about the planet to put my money where my mouth is. It’s a social statement. I propose companies use a similar social framework to create new markets with green products that do less, cost more, and overtly signal their undeniable social benefit. (To be clear, the product should undeniably make the planet happy.)

The company that creates a new market owns it. (At least it’s theirs to lose). Early sales impregnate the brand with the green product’s important social statement, and the new market becomes the brand and its social statement. And more than that, early sales enable the company to work out the bugs, allow the technology to mature, and yield lower costs. Lower costs enable a cost effective market build-out.

Don’t shy away from performance gaps of green technologies, embrace them; acknowledge them to amplify the social benefit. Don’t shy away from a high price, embrace it; acknowledge the investment to amplify the social benefit. Be truthful about performance gaps, price it high, and proudly do good for the planet.

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Mike ShipulskiDr. Mike Shipulski (certfied TRIZ practioner) brings together the best of TRIZ, Axiomatic Design, Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (2006 DFMA Contributor of the Year), and lean to develop new products and technologies. His blog can be found at Shipulski On Design.

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