"No you can't have a slice of tomato on your burger," said the server at Durham NC's Bull City Burger and Brewery, "They're not in season."
The exchange above would make most marketing experts shudder. In a world where the customer is king, isn't it insanely bad business practice not to give them exactly what they want?
I'm not so sure.
As someone who works in good-for-the-world branding, I think it's a smart way to differentiate yourself and to build credibility. And as someone who cares about the world we live in, I think it's awesome. It's high time that businesses that care about the world stopped waiting for "green consumer demand" to materialize, and instead made it happen.
Because the most successful brands in all sectors of industry know that markets don't come out of nowhere—they are created.
Apple didn't create the iPod because people demanded it. People weren't sitting around waiting for the Mini to be invented. Companies with a vision saw a viable opportunity to develop a product or a service, and then they set out to communicate why that product or service was of value to their audiences.
The same has to be true of green businesses, and in fact the green movement as a whole. We can't sit around lamenting the lack of public interest in climate science. We can't moan about people not buying cleaner vehicles, or falling back in love with the McMansion.
We have to inspire interest and we have to create demand for the solutions to our planetary crisis. And we can't just do so by talking about the things we care about. We have to tailor our message so it is
of interest indispensable to our audience.
Bull City Burger's refusal to give me a tomato slice was about more than seasonal buying. It was a means to get me to stop and think about my food. And it turned me into a loyal customer (and, clearly, a brand advocate) in the process. Every brand should look at ways to do the same.