Two recent posts from local Boston press got me thinking about how we are going to move forward and effectively market in the sustainability/green space.
First up, Jeff Jacoby at the Boston Globe, who discusses how according to certain statistics building landfills is more ecological than recycling. I’ve seen many stories in the past regarding how “green” certain initiatives are, CSAs and local farming along with recycling being the two main examples. So what’s real? Does it actually cost us more and is more harmful to recycle? These programs have been in place for decades now, and we still don’t have a definitive answer for the masses. I predict we’ll always recycle – it’s now accepted much like an urban myth, and its a catalyst for mass understanding of the potential impact each of us has on the planet. But that doesn’t necessarily make it true….
Next up is Martin LaMonica at Cnet, who discusses the idea of rapid innovation (like traditional IT approaches) vs. a longer term steady move towards energy reform. This piece gets to the heart of it – what’s the right approach, investment in new technologies or evolution of existing ones? Where do we spend our resources, both financially and (from my perspective) marketing-wise? Which is the right area to promote? Choosing the right path here is crucial…its commonly accepted that right now we’re already “behind” in the US vs. other countries on the green tech arch. Making the wrong strategic investment and pushing technologies that aren’t likely to be winners (is solar to capital-intensive? Does wind bring too little return?) dilutes our ability to succeed in the short and long-term. What’s the reality of what we have today vs. “potential” solutions?
Marketers play a critical role in shaping which technologies are accepted and valued. With heavy promotion and awareness behind it, recycling right now is accepted as the “right” thing to do. For marketers, balancing the truth and doing an effective job for their clients, especially startups in emerging markets like sustainability is a hard balancing act. Know your facts, they will come back to help or haunt you sooner or later.
Had the opportunity to watch “The Cove” while on vacation last week. Highly recommended if you haven’t had the chance yet. It was disturbing, enlightening and inspiring, all at the same time, and well worthy of its many accolades and awards.
The extras were also worth the time, and I was struck by something Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said in one of the pieces. He was discussing the Greek idea of stewardship for all of the commons – water, air, land – and how ecology is rooted in the Greek work eco, meaning home.
It was this notion of the commons that stood out for me. You could assume if anyone is involved in sustainability at their core this notion is embraced and fundamental. However I’m not sure as marketers, even in these days of increased consciousness, that we fully understand the power of this idea. The idea that everything we produce, create and promote that impacts the air, water and earth has a responsibility to the larger community in which we live.
This isn’t a call for green washing or overstating a company’s CSR policy – actually its the opposite. If organizations are to be believed and embraced by the larger public when they “market” their sustainable credentials in any form, at the base of those efforts there needs to be an understanding of the commons and how important they are to each individual (aka customer).
I’m looking forward the Verdantix webinar on September 9 discussing the state of sustainable PR and Marketing, which will focus on this very notion of what is right approach when communicating about a company’s sustainable programs to ALL of the audiences impacted by our products and services.
I’ve had the chance to experience how two very different brands approached touting their green credentials in the past month. What I found most interesting is how different their marketing around their green efforts took shape, with the more B2B-focused company actually pushing the green angle more openly.
First up is Brother, the fax/printer company. Unless you are an SMB/SOHO you likely interact with Brother products at the office. I happen to have an individual printer in my office that recently needed a new toner cartridge. After opening up the box, along with a new cartridge I was greeted with a leaflet describing how to help Brother keep the old cartridge out of landfills. Here’s what struck me:
* Clear directions – they provided a 1-2-3 process that was easy and fast.
* No hassle – they provided me with the FedEx shipping label and instructions on how to return the package, providing contact info to help find a drop off or arrange a pickup.
* They answered the question of “why Brother?” – in their short summary (3 sentence, 5 bullets), I know quickly understood why Brother is asking me to participate and was given an appropriate level of detail on the program they have undertaken as an Energy Star partner.
Next up is Left Hand Brewing, the fine Colorado-based providers of a a close buddy of mine’s favorite Milk Stout. A pure consumer brand, Left Hand interestingly doesn’t tout their green cred as clearly as I think they should on their packaging or their site. They do have a note on the top label of their bottle describing how the beer was brewed with clean energy from SimpleSolar.com electric systems. However it was only on one side in small print and I noticed it by accident.
Juxtapose this with another Colorado-based brewery New Belgium, the home of Fat Tire and other beers. New Belgium talks more openly and in larger print/detail about their sustainable efforts on their site and packaging, with a link to a sustainable sub-page and a front page banner ad about a 1% for the planet initiative. Pretty stark difference from what I would consider prime competitors.
With sustainable and green marketing still evolving, its interesting to see how these diverse companies approached the issue and how much emphasis they applied given their products and cultures. It’s clear both B2B and B2C can gain positive customer impression from promoting their bona fides if done in a) a non-obtrusive way that b) supports the overall culture, bringing along with it competitive differentiation as well.
Imagine being able to tap into undiscovered markets, getting first mover advantage and securing a beachhead on a potentially large revenue stream? With some deft analysis you’re able to empower your sales team, unleashing them with very targeted areas of focus that turn into bottom line benefit
A marketer’s dream, right? Being able to tie together distinct threads to create a new mosaic of opportunity is essential to discovering opportunities hidden in the light of day. All you need is the data!
But where to find it?
We hear a great deal about the promise of clean / green energy for the economy, yet many statistics show that today we’re even more shackled to traditional energy sources than during the 70’s oil crisis. We get bogged down in looking for the large, sweeping answers, when finding smaller, yet real opportunity is essential to the slog that energy independence will inevitably become. And that’s where marketers can make a difference.
Take a look at Heather Clancy at Green Tech Pastures piece on solar and more northern cities (think cold & snow) actually present a great opportunity vs. hot climates like Arizona due to the statistical realities of how solar works in hot vs. cold climates. Who knew it could be “too hot” for solar? It’s right there in Nature Materials for all to see.
Now take a look at the moves by larger IT vendors like IBM into the analytics space, well documented by ZDNet’s Larry Dignan here. The “smarter planet” is going to be owned by those that mine data and put it to use.
That data can come from anywhere – scholastic journals, trade blogs, DOE statements. It’s a marketers challenge and opportunity to find those disparate nuggets, distill the essence and set the direction in both external and internal programs to move sales opportunities forward before the competition.
Twitter was alive yesterday morning spreading a link to Jeremy Grantham’s 2Q 2010 letter (complete version found here.) In Grantham’s letter on page seven he outlines “Everything You Need to Know About Global Warming in 5 Minutes,” which for shorter reading can be found here amongst a number of places.
Beyond being a clear minded and thoughtful summary of why global warming is not a hoax (my words), Grantham hit on a very powerful idea – that science needs to up its game PR and marketing wise, even though it goes against their core nature, that of objective presentation of facts and analysis.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this argument in the past few months. The June issue of Wired contains a great essay by Erin Biba on this very topic, titled “Why Science Needs to Step Up Its PR Game.” Biba does a nice job outlining the issues scientists have with moving into the limelight and some ideas on how celebrity ambassadors can lend a hand to elevate the conversation to larger mass awareness.
Both of these examples hit on what the core need is to make sustainability a longer term mass goal for society – how to translate these facts into stories that everyone can relate to. PR has sometimes rightfully gained a reputation for being “spin.” After ten plus years in the business I’ve seen my fair share of that. However I’ve also seen how when done well, earned media through PR efforts can lift a brand and an idea to new heights.
The stakes are too high for the scientists to sit on the sidelines – they are the objective resources with the facts whose voices can carry the most weight with the general public. We need to hear those voices, and PR can absolutely lend a hand.