Tag Archives: PR

For Sustainable Marketers: Stick or Carrot?

In a fascinating piece this week from the Wall Street Journal, the case was made that individuals will only effectively change their behavior in mass based on peer pressure.  The theory, supported by some direct studies and data, is that change takes place on a larger scale when you are made aware of what your neighbors are doing and react to “keep up with the Jones’.”   The article also details how rebate and financial incentives are not the drivers many of us believe they are (or should be).

The implication for marketers is staggering – Should I tout the positive impact my product has on the environment, rolling out statistics to consumers on how their purchase further benefits all of us. (the rising tide theory)

OR, should we subtly shame our customers into making the “right” choice since they will be left out by the crowd?  This is a fine line, and many mass products do this in a very sophisticated way (think the Pepsi Generation, or any Apple advertising, for example)

One of the take-aways I found most interesting was near the end of the piece: Efforts to exploit our keeping-up-with-the-Joneses instinct can also backfire if there’s too much emphasis on competition.

There is this interesting nugget:  Paul Stern, who studies climate change at the National Academy of Sciences, cautions that peer pressure so far has proved effective with “relatively low-impact behaviors” that don’t require individuals to make big sacrifices.

So, we want to be part of the crowd, but will only be motivated by that need for small change?  What’s a company who is asking for a sea change – rewiring your entire house for solar, for example – do to motivate real adoption.

My initial reaction – lead.  And don’t just say you’re going to do it, but commit.  And have a dispassionate understanding of the resources needed to do so.

Google came out last week talking about its plans for an offshore wind pipeline system.  Heady, expensive, long term stuff.  And they have the resources to pull it off.  For the smaller sustainable company without endless cash, this means leading by finding those pockets of enthusiasm and slowly building towards more mass adoption.  It is finding the better nature in the right buyers.  These leaders will have influence in their own spheres.  It will be slower; it will take longer, and it requires smarter investments.  Just because you’re not Google doesn’t mean you can make a difference with a sustainable product – and peer pressure won’t be your magic bullet.

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How does reality impact Green and Sustainable Marketing?

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.

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Why Good Sustainable Marketing Matters

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.

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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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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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