Ecostore, a company set up by environmentalists Malcolm and Melanie Rands in 1993, has long worn its sustainable heart on its sleeve. But despite the global shift towards green goods, it was struggling for profitability and, other than core loyalists, mainstream buyers simply didn’t notice it on the shelf. If they did, it was perceived as a small, earnest, green cleaning brand that wouldn’t actually work. So, three years ago, it set out on a journey to improve its fortunes.
Ecostore’s brand essence is defined as ‘humanature’, which acknowledges and celebrates the interdependency of humans and the environment, and the business transformation was based on the principle of improving people’s wellbeing and the wellbeing of the planet.
Significant—and aggressive—activity from new competitors, mainstream brands fighting on price in a recessionary environment and consumer confusion as a result of ‘greenwashing’—and, more broadly, healthwashing—meant it wasn’t going to be easy to cut through and change people’s behaviour. Added to that, it also had a very small budget and team. But it did have phenomenal customer advocacy.
A range of research tools were used, but it drilled deeper, with one on one interviews with customers and even observation of customers cleaning in their own homes to try and decouple what people said from what they actually did.
And it showed people actually cared more about their health than the environment, and were more willing to take action about their health. They were also not prepared to compromise and sustainable, natural products needed to work just as well and not cost too much more.
As a result, product formulations were completely overhauled (with the help of lead scientist Sir Ray Avery) to be at the cutting edge of eco science; product ranges were expanded to include skincare and haircare; investment was made into gaining a range of environmental accreditations that would allow it to make strong marketing claims; and the decision was made to focus on raising people’s awareness about the prevalence of nasty chemicals in other products—and how bad they could be for the health of the user, or their children.
Ecostore also made a conscious decision to become a marketing-led business, building the marketing team from one to six people in New Zealand, including a new online social marketing manager and videographer and a community partnerships manager.
Alongside this, it also made significant investment in environmentally-friendly packaging technology: it is the first company in Australasia to use recycled plastic in its bottles that can be made here in New Zealand; its new packaging features fully recyclable labels; the new dish tab packaging features fully biodegradable wrappers that don’t require removing; and a regrind machine in the Ecostore shop allows customers to bring in their old bottles and recycle them.
Ecostore’s new communications strategy was founded on three pillars: inform, inspire and enable, with all comms including myth-busting facts, top tips and shopping guides to nasty chemicals.
The new packaging on its 67 SKUs featured more premium and intuitive shapes, stronger ‘expert’, ‘performance’ and ‘value’ cues, and clear differentiation between cleaning and body care ranges.
Its media strategy changed from ‘push’ to ‘pull’, moving from largely print to PR, online content and social media. It also established community partnerships with midwives, doctors, health practitioners and media personalities like Dr Libby Weaver, Lee-Ann Wann, Lana Coc-Kroft and Jay Jay Feeney.
As part of its new focus on health—and specifically skin health—Ecostore also launched some novel campaigns to prompt consumers to opt out of using nasty chemicals. Phase one targeted new mums with a personalised magazine cover campaign with Little Treasures. And phase two targeted females in general with a Facebook application that let fans make their own billboard declaring they were opting out of nasty chemicals.
Sales for Ecostore were up significantly year on year, despite new competition, and it also had 100 percent acceptance of the new branded range with retailers and an improvement in shelf placement.
It had more than ten times the media coverage, with key profile pieces in top publications. And while there was no budget for brand tracking, it was voted most trusted sustainable brand (Colmar Brunton Aug 2011) and its laundry range won the Canstar Blue 5 * award for best performing laundry range, beating big brands like Persil, Surf and Fab for overall performance and value.
The personalised cover campaign was extremely popular, hitting its max of 3000 covers in just seven days, with 1000 in the first day. Post campaign analysis by ACP showed some phenomenal results, with 50 percent of the target market hearing about the campaign, 54 percent passing it on to friends and 42 percent going on to purchase.
In a highly competitive, low margin category, sales are king. But Ecostore, a business that promotes a deeper sense of purpose, belonging and wellbeing, both among its staff and its customers, has shown that you don’t always need to sacrifice doing the right thing to improve the bottom line.
Partners: Society, pHd3 design, Special Group (label design and brand communication), Niki Schuck PR
Judge’s comment: "One of the challenges about sustainable products in the consumer goods arena is getting the functionality combined with the social and ethical characteristics of the product. This company has got a great brand and some great products which meet the requirements of their social responsibility values, but the product also works."