The Power of Analytics for Green Marketing

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.

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Green Science Needs PR

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.

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The Power of Sustainable Choices – Making Marketing Local?

The media brings to light sustainability stories in a variety of ways.  Most times it is national stories like BP that highlight larger issues of the  environmental impact of business, the cost of our dependence on oil, national regulations and standards, etc.  These are all worthy of debate and discussion, however it reminds me that the good stories, the positive stories many times are left on the sidelines.

This isn’t just an issue regarding sustainability and environmental issues – this is a complaint I hear regularly regarding the nightly news.  It’s a sad reality that the public does tend to gravitate towards that which is dramatic.

Which is why I was drawn to a recent video post from Yahoo in their Second Act series.  The particular piece focused on Jay Shafer, who made a lifestyle choice to downsize to an 89 square foot house of his own design and handiwork.  You can check out the video here.

Trathen Heckman, a sustainability educator, is quoted stating that Jay’s house is less than a 10th of the size of a “traditional” US home.  I found it interesting that by turning away from the standard approach to happiness and success (aka home ownership, status, etc.) that Jay has enriched his life while:

* Reducing his utilities to less than $100 per year

* Carrying no mortgage

Although not for everyone, those are powerful motivators that could lead many people to explore their own version of Jay’s lifestyle choice.

The US economy is based largely on services, the consumer index and individuals making the choice over and over again to buy new items, be it clothing, homes or the latest gadget from Apple.  As the economy continues to struggle, I wonder if more people will make similar choices as Jay, and how will the market respond?  Jay grew a business of creating small buildings out of his own experience.  Local farmers are seeing the continued growth of CSAs across the nation.  More and more individuals are making lifestyle choices that don’t blend with traditional purchase patterns.

This is heady stuff for marketers.  A mass media national approach won’t reach these folks.  Marketing is going to have to adjust to being more targeted, more local.  To me, this means social media will increase its importance as more businesses look to connect to those buyers right in their own backyards.

They say all politics are local.  The combination of economy and choice may mean business needs to returns to those roots as well, and marketers need to take notice.

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Green Marketing: Going Sour With One Comment…

For a while now my wife has been augmenting our regular food shopping with a trip to Whole Foods.  Initially it was an extension/filler for our meat CSA when we wanted fish.  However as we looked to start a family – and now have our little one to think of-  her theory on shopping at Whole Foods expanded to include the idea that the meat and vegetables there are better  since they are “organic.”  Besides, it’s “good for the environment” since they purport to support local farmers and after watching Food Inc. she was determined to make smarter food choices for our family.

I was willing to take Whole Foods at face value regarding their claims of sustainability efforts, and as long as we selectively shopped there and didn’t spend whole paychecks (pun intended) I was ok with her decision.

That is until last January, when Whole Foods CEO John Mackey famously stated he didn’t believe in climate change.

It seems to me the consensus has moved on this issue and only the most biased claim there isn’t at least some form of climate change going on today.  So I started to think about what Whole Foods was actually claiming in their marketing via in-store and flier materials regarding their sustainable chops.  My wife and I discussed it and we started to somewhat curb our Whole Food shopping, focusing on our local produce wholesaler and our meat CSA more heavily.

Then we became busy as most expectant parents and laxed on our diligence.  More Whole Foods started appearing in our house again, and I didn’t have the will to put up the fight.  However, as my wife came home this past weekend the Whole Foods Market 2010 Spring Magazine was in the bag and what did I find?  A number of small articles discussing how to be more “green”, tips on saving energy (air dry dishes, cool before the fridge, etc) and a whole page on your green home with their EcoCzar Lee Kane.  And I felt…sad.  Sad because I feel most of the folks involved in Whole Foods and at this magazine in particular likely really do care.  Sad because all their hard and honest work was met with skepticism since I was triggered to remember Mackey’s statement.   It made me wonder – how do they rectify their presence in a magazine for an organization fronted by a man that doesn’t believe in one of the core tenants of why the world is changing in the first place?

When an organization claims sustainability, it is hard to support them in the long run if it doesn’t come from the top down through the organization.  It comes off as opportunistic marketing in the worse sense.  I won’t go as far as to say I’ll boycott Whole Foods for life; however the dissonance I feel will certainly limit my support for them and encourage me to let others know as well.  That word of mouth is the worst marketing any company could want, because it’s the silent majority that you’ll never reach.  And it all starts with one loose-lipped comment.

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Caveat Emptor – The Cloud is Not Green

If you are an enterprise there are a number of ways you can go about getting sustainable credibility and avoid “greenwashing” and the backlash that companies like BP have been receiving.

* Put your money where your…. – Cut back on your waste and CO2 emissions and forget the cap a trade. Real dollars spent because it is the right thing is credible and measurable.

* Support local sustainable businesses through employee programs. Have the cafeteria use produce from a local CSA. Insist on sourcing supplies from within a 50 mile radius. Its tangible, again its real and you get the benefit of improving your employee’s lives and the local economy. Who knows, maybe you can even leverage it to negotiate a lower health care premium.

These are just two ideas amongst a large variety that are immediate and have real impact. One idea I’ve seen floated around is the idea that going to a cloud technology strategy is “going green.” I’m here to tell you that’s likely not the case. And if you see brands trying to claim that, its in my opinion the tech version of polluters buying carbon credits and saying its ok.

Let’s think about it – everything is going digital and on a worldwide scale.  New device adoption is growing, and new launches like the iPad are just adding to the data growth.  This data has to live somewhere, and the energy and data center space required to manage this growth has a cost.

So organizations think “I’ll just go the cloud, reduce my footprint and electric bill and I’m green.”  Not so fast…Jason Mark does a nice job here detailing the folly of that idea, and the most startling statistic he highlights is this:  “In just 10 years, internet technologies could be eating up more than 50 percent of the electricity we now use in the United States.”

I was talking to a large enterprise prospect last week and they hold sustainability as one of the key internal programs, which is commendable and I was thrilled to see.  However, as we explored it as a possible PR strategy, we collectively realized that in order to claim sustainability as a core cultural differentiators, we had to showcase implemented programs that were measured and maintained over a period of time.  We had to be accountable, and that didn’t mean shuffling responsibility to partners or customers.

I applauded them, and I encourage other brands to hold themselves to the same standard.  Cloud Computing is an IT revolution and well worth the effort, but let’s avoid calling it green….

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BP – What’s Next?

With BP taking a well deserved hit on the Gulf oil situation, I won’t recount all of the missteps that have them facing a long-term PR nightmare.  For that you can read here the NYT’s summary here and PR social media pundit Todd Defren here.   (disclaimer: Todd’s my boss, but don’t hold that against him…he’s a savvy guy)

My initial take away is caveat emptor on green marketing – especially for big brands.  This is a clarion call for GE, Cisco, Intel – any multi-national that has been pushing a “green” agenda these past few years is on notice.  I experienced something similar in years working in the IT security space – don’t call anyone out, and be careful what you claim since its more than likely something will happen that shines an unfavorable light on YOU in the future.

So, where does BP go from here, and what can other brands learn from this?

* Be prepared – BP has committed over $125 million annually the past few years on its beyond petroleum branding effort.  All that effort is now wasted since they were left

* Get online and stay online – Like it or not, brand reputation has moved from mass media to online.  BP has been discussing and taking responsibility for issues like the Alabama lawsuit payouts on TV, however why aren’t they responding online to stories like this?  BP needs to expand their communication channels to include all media, not just broadcast and their own web site.

* Don’t deflect – There’s some evidence to suggest oil spills “naturally” into the gulf on a regular basis.  Nobody will care.  BP can’t become defensive in the least.  They put themselves out in the public as a sustainable company, and they need to own their role in this situation and any future situations.

* Continue what they started – BP’s main page is almost fully dedicated to the spill recovery effort, as it should be.  BP has to own that this is now part of their legacy and culture, and can’t move this from their public efforts any time soon.  Establishing a commission on underwater drilling safety with community engagement before any future projects, funneling some of their billions of profit into a foundation for local wildlife – just a few thoughts on long-term commitments BP now needs to consider and execute upon.  It can’t be a quick-fix program that runs out of funding or sunsets in a few years.  This is part of their culture now and they need to embrace it.

As the culture moves to becoming more conscious regarding sustainable living, brands should absolutely embrace this as part of their culture.  The trick is having a plan, understanding your exposure and backing up what you claim.  BP is facing an uphill climb in large part because they had no clear plan…is your brand set up for the same fate?

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Water – The Next Electricity?

Timing is everything.  I was talking about different sustainable markets last Wednesday, and a colleague said this eerily prescient statement:

“Water is the next electricity”

Fast forward to this past Saturday, and the Massachusetts water main break that left 31 cities and towns without clean water.  Immediate boil water requests from the governor.  Runs on water at all local grocery stores, including a rumored fight at the CVS in Charlestown over a few Fiji bottles only minutes after I lucked into one of the last cases of water available there.

It’s been interesting to see how social media  has given a voice to this issue locally.  On Twitter the hash tag #aquapocalypse has sprung up, even being picked up by local radio station WBUR. (see below)

A very unscientific review of Twitter for 10 minutes had everything from praise for local stores like Viga Eatery reducing its price to accommodate thirsty patrons to a flood of customers at the Fresh Pond area Dunkin’ Donuts since Cambridge has its own water supply and was the only local area people knew available to get their morning caffeine fix. 

WBUR centered its whole mid-day lineup around the news:

WBUR What if you drank the water? Your questions answered, live at 1: http://bit.ly/9Ukaim #waterchat #aquapocalypse about 1 hour ago via Tweetie

WBUR Today at 1: Live Web chat with BU toxicologist & water expert. We take your questions (tag: #waterchat) http://bit.ly/9Ukaim #aquapocalypse about 2 hours ago via TweetDeck

WBUR Is the water boil order a major disruption to your business operation? WBUR’s @CurtNickisch would like to hear from you. about 3 hours ago via TweetDeck

Just as we need electricity for day-to-day connected living, this situation has reminded us that water is vital and underappreciated.  It will be interesting to see what effect this has on local and national legislative efforts to support water conservation.

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