What makes a company successful?...

... delivering products and services that are relevant and create impact among consumers.

I combine my expertise as a Marketing executive in a Fortune 500 company and my passion as an investor to find the Companies that I think have "cracked the code" with consumers. Advertising does work. When I see a new product that fits relevant consumer trends, and that is supported with a campaign that I find particularly shrewd and innovative, I know that Company is potentially a great investment.

One of the great investors of all times, Peter Lynch, recommends to "buy what you know". You watch TV, go to the supermarket and walk around everyday. Observe... look around: what you see can make you money in the stock market. Now, let's be clear: a Company is not good just because it advertises. What we have to look for is great products supported with -and enhanced by- great advertising. The principle is simple: if something is good enough to draw your interest, it will be of interest to millions of persons just like you.

It is my goal to share with the reader my findings in the world of marketing which I think will turn into great returns for investors. Profit from it!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

When does Green shine as an investment opportunity?

In my previous post “Can we invest in Green?”, I discussed the drivers behind the acceleration of the Green movement, and its value as an investment opportunity. However, I warned that we have to be cautious, really understanding the underlying value of what any particular company is doing to leverage this trend. Paraphrasing the old adage, I indicated that not everything that is Green shines.

Everyone is jumping into the Green trend. Not everyone is doing it right though. Adopting ecologically friendly initiatives cannot be just a marketing plot. This is what is called “green-washing” and consumers see right through it. A company needs to be sincere in its approach. It is a fundamental component of the authenticity consumers are looking for in their dealings with a company (please see my article “Consumer values to look for” for a more detailed analysis on the topic of “authenticity”).

For a Green initiative to be successful -and therefore interesting as an investment opportunity-, we need to look for three key components: a) integrity; b) performance; and c) affordability. Let’s discuss these requirements:

Integrity: There are different levels of features a company can incorporate in a product in order to make it more eco-friendly. Some measures can be limited and represent just a small step in the right direction: for example, a change in packaging, using a little less plastic or incorporating recycled cardboard. Others can represent a radical and thorough re-design of a product or type of products, ensuring that everything in it significantly reduces its impact to the environment. All these steps are good: they all represent progress in the right direction. What is not right, though, is making just a small change and then try to hype it as major breakthrough in ecological responsibility. As indicated, consumers see right through these hypes and judge them as insincere attempts to prey on their genuine concerns. If as a company all you are doing is including 30% recycled post-consumer content in your cardboard boxes, just say it that way, and devote a little corner in you packaging to let consumers know; they will notice it and appreciate it. But don’t suddenly launch a full campaign touting that small change as the new “eco-friendly pack” for your product and thump your chest about how concerned you are about the environment and how seriously you are taking your ecological responsibility. Nah… that does not cut it. It's not authentic. On the other side of the spectrum, the more comprehensive is the change or the innovation, the more evidence consumers can see of a thought-through, purposefully designed product that comprehensively addresses their environmental concerns, then the stronger will be the manufacturer’s grounds to genuinely support the innovation in force and the higher the potential for consumers to pay attention and ultimately adopt the product. This thoroughness in the offer is what we need to look for in considering a potential investment opportunity.

Performance: There is one absolute truth with respect to Green. Consumers are willing to adopt products that are ecologically sound as long as those products perform as well or even better than conventional products. Period. As much as consumers want to do the right thing, they are not willing to wear soiled clothes, or eat tasteless food, or sacrifice aesthetics for the sake of the environment. The brands and products that promise to be environmentally friendly must also provide convincing arguments to make consumers believe they will perform well, and finally, they have to deliver on that promise.

Affordability: Consumers are willing to pay a little more for a more responsible product. But not a whole lot more. The closer the price of the eco-friendly product is to what the consumers are used to pay for that type of product, the higher it is the likelihood that consumers will switch to it. This is no surprise, though. Ultimately, we are playing with the good old value equation. Consumers are willing to pay more for products that have a greater value for them, that is, the ones that solve for a wider range of needs. What is the value of feeling good for fulfilling your responsibility with the planet? Hard to tell, but not that high in the big scheme of things. Yet, at a competitive price, it is a very relevant differentiator, and may tip the market share balance dramatically in favor of the eco-friendly contender. Therefore, look for competitive pricing when gauging a potential investment. The real volume and profit potential will be there.

Good! Now we know what to look for. I have some ideas of my own that I will be sharing in future posts. Do you have some ideas that can enrich this discussion? Your comments are always welcome. Invest well and prosper!

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