Daring to be different: Greenpeace’s bold brand differentiation and positioning

Brand differentiation and positioning should be two important and closely linked marketing elements in any business’ marketing plan, particularly in today’s often cluttered online marketing space. In the following post I will explain the difference between these two marketing elements and discuss how they apply to a well-known, non-profit brand: Greenpeace.

Brand differentiation involves highlighting characteristics that sets the organisation/brand apart from other competitors within its competitive category; i.e. elements that sets the company apart. This could be quality, service, price, distribution, perceived customer value and many other differentiation possibilities (Investopedia, 2015).

Brand positioning, on the other hand, is about creating a brand offer in such a manner that it inhabits a distinctive place and value in the mind of a particular target customer (Management Study Guide, 2017). As such, a brand positioning strategy involves creating brand associations in the customer’s mind so that they perceive the brand in a specific way (The Branding Journal, 2016).

Much like how big companies like Apple, Virgin and Google have successfully differentiated and positioned themselves in the market and in the minds of its customers, so have non-profit organisations done so through the years. Personally, one particular non-profit that has a bold and defining approach in its activities/mission and its brand positioning and differentiation, is Greenpeace.

Greenpeace logo

Photo Credit: Robert Keziere / Greenpeace (source http://www.rcinet.ca)

Greenpeace was formed in 1971 by a small anti-war group in Vancouver, Canada. Today, it is one of the world’s largest and well-known environmental groups with five ships, 2.8 million supporters, 27 national and regional offices and an established presence in 41 countries (Environmental History, 2007).

Brand differentiation: Greenpeace differentiates itself from other environmental non-profits like WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society, IFAW, etc. in a number of ways. Firstly, by taking direct, non-violent action – often in dramatic fashion – that makes it one of the most visible environmental organisations in the world. Iconic images that come to mind when thinking of Greenpeace is shielding whales from harpoons, blocking ocean-going barges from dumping radioactive waste and protecting fur seals from clubs. On the other hand, organisations like Sea Shepherd takes a much more direct confrontational approach in its actions. Greenpeace’s most well-known vessel is the Rainbow Warrior (of which the first model was sunk in 1985 by French intelligence service – DGSE) (Environmental History, 2007).

Secondly, it does not accept funding from governments, corporations or political parties. Most non-profits like Oceana or Conservation International have a mix of funding streams in order to sustain its operations.

Greenpeace book cover
© Greenpeace / Original photo by Rex Weyler (source http://www.greenpeace.org)

Brand positioning

Greenpeace’s confrontational, but non-violent philosophy echoes the nonviolent interventions of Mahatma Gandhi and Martine Luther King, Jr. It positions itself as an organisation that is one a quest to achieve a green and peaceful future through brave individual and collection action, inspiring courageous actions by supporters and allies. Greenpeace’s brand is effective in emphasizing what makes the brand different (its bold and action-orientated philosophy), justifying how it is different (demonstrating its actions), communicating this difference (through comprehensive campaigns and marketing).

A Greenpeace activist at an oil platform in Norway (source https://phys.org)

Whilst I would not necessarily use the term competitive advantage in the strict sense of the concept, Greenpeace’s unique brand differentiation and positioning ensures that the organisation gets significant media, public and socio-political attention through its activities which directly supports its mission. Not only is the organisation operational sustained through 2.8 million supporters and private foundations, its brand helps to generate significant support for its campaigns and attract influential individuals, like popular actors. The renowned Save the Artic Campaign is endorsed by celebrities like George Clooney, Paul McCartney, Vivienne Westwood and Sir Richard Branson.

Vivienne Westwood and George Clooney t-shirt Save the Arctic Campaign Greenpeace
Vivienne Westwood & George Clooney supporting Greenpeace’s Save the Arctic Campaign (source http://www.notey.com)

Infamously, the campaign has led to plastic toy producer, Lego, ending its more than 50 year relationship with oil-producer, Shell. See below for the poignant video produced by Greenpeace:

Greenpeace’s actions are, of course, not without criticism and the organisation has been involved in a number of lawsuits and political disputes.

Greenpeace’s unique bold and defining brand differentiation and positioning within the non-profit sector continues to make it one of the most influential and recognisable brands in the world and ensures that its ideals remain relevant in today’s society.

By Francois Louw

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