Tag Archives: social media

Social Media’s Impact on Brand Sustainable Reputation

Today’s post is inspired by recent reading of Marc Gunther’s always interesting blog www.marcgunther.com.

Few things to note before reading on:

*Marc has great access to folks at leading brands, making his blog a great resource for stories from the front lines.

*Marc is active on the “socnets”  with both his blog and his 4,400+ followers on Twitter.  The information he presents has a wide audience.

First up is Marc’s piece on the recent ousting of Seventh Generation leader Jeffery Hollender.

Notice the comments – multiple folks stated they will reassess their purchasing of Seventh Generation products in the future.  This immediate impact will be multiplied by Marc’s social media presence.  This also makes we wonder if the company understands the size of the social community surrounding the sustainable market and its influence.  As Marc notes in his post, no mention of the news on the company website at the time of posting.  It will be interesting to see how this issue translates to reputation and sales as the word spreads through the social sphere.

Second is this interesting profile of Levis and the motivation behind not washing your jeans. (my mom would cringe – but it’s for the planet mom!)   Levis is publicly owning its part of the process, and is setting clear public goals by which it can be measured.  Unless you’re a hemp fanatic, I can’t imagine too many outside of the sustainable converted thinking about the impact of their clothing.  Levis is making it a significant public issue (making sure to talk to bloggers like Marc and promote on its own blog )and helping to educate users of its products while also making self-improvements.

Two brands – one sustainable by nature and one a fashion stalwart, both being discussed in social media circles.  Who knew the sustainable one, the one at the center of a potential “movement” would be the one not being transparent and social.

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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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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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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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Is the Supreme Court Killing Sustainability? Or Boosting it?

Last week’s Supreme Court ruling struck a very strong cord for me regarding any “progressive” mass agenda.  As I understand  it, corporations can now;

* spend whatever they want

* for/with whoever they want,

* whenever they want.

The span of influence now open to corporations is staggering.  Since corporations usually have a vested interest in the status quo, the ruling becomes a real threat to progress and change.  Obama is quoted saying as much in this NY Times piece – “the ruling would also make it “more difficult to pass common-sense laws” to promote energy independence or expand health care.”

After the shock wore off, I starting to think about how this could impact sustainability.  After all, politicians are by large extent marketers – they are sellers of ideas and platforms/agendas.  And if sustainability isn’t on the agenda for their corporate constituents, individual voices could get a lot quieter vs. the new megaphone of corporations.

At first blush, this empowers the bulk electric, oil and gas companies to keep on with their cash cow agendas and just raise the volume of their lobbyist efforts.  Exxon, Mobile, BP – they can all continue to do some light marketing towards sustainability as pure PR to cover themselves publicly.

But let’s look at the other side.  There are some significant companies that have publicly declared  roadmaps and future spending that’s significantly tied to new green ways of doing business.  GE, Intel, Cisco – they’re betting real development and marketing dollars on sustainability.  Many of the recent “I’m an IBMer” 30 second TV spots directly showcase efforts towards making smarter and more sustainable solutions possible.

Marketing and social media have the potential to play a huge role here.  Will corporations do “what’s right” because they’ve figured out the math makes it what’s right for them?  And how will individual voices calling for real change – individuals whose influence is amplified by social media to drive brand loyalty and dollars among their network – motivate corporations to continue down the sustainable path?

The unintended consequences of the Supreme Court decision could actually drive sustainability, mobilizing both concerned citizens and vested corporations alike to keep green on the national radar.

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