Greening Your Brand in a Web 2.0 World

October 3, 2007

Last Friday, I have the pleasure of moderating a panel at the Sustainable Brands conference in New Orleans.  Panel participants included: 

  • Susan Space, Director, Brands & Advertising, at Sun Microsystems
  • Brian Reich, Director of New Media at Cone, a brand and cause marketing agency, and
  • Janet Eden-Harris, CEO of Umbria, a marketing intelligence company.  

I have included my opening remarks below (and will follow up with the transcript of the discussion when it becomes available):

Web 2.0 enable consumers to participate, share and collaborate online like never before.  And whether you are a B2B or B2C marketer, you probably have noticed that consumers are embracing these technologies not only to participate but to control and dictate when, where and how they want to be communicated to. 

Today, consumers view six times the number of ads that they did 20 years ago. And not surprisingly, customers feel inundated and are tuning them out.  (Ad Age, February 4, 2006) In fact, consumers are finding ways to opt out of viewing our advertising altogether by using Pop-up blockers, spam filters, and DVRs and by signing up for Do Not Call Lists and even Do Not Mail Lists. 

At the same time, they are opting in to view content of their choosing by using blog readers like Technorati, customzied news feeds like NewsVine or even signing up for emails with green lifestyle tips from sites like the Daily Green. 

Today, more and more consumers are active contributors online, and in the process, blurring the distinctions between advertising and content and between consumer and publisher.  In this new world, ads are no longer the stuff that fills the gaps between the content.  Content, in effect, is advertising.  And, advertising is increasingly distributed as content.   With nearly 50% of consumers generating – or perhaps I should say publishing – content online, this shift has already taken hold.  (Pew Research) 

Moreover, distrust of product companies will only accelerate this trend, as consumers increasingly turn to their peers for seemingly unbiased opinions and information. 

And, it is in this environment that most marketers focus on the loss of control over brand messaging and identify, rather than the opportunity.  

How then do marketers – and particularly green marketers – take advantage of this new Web 2.0 order?   

We need to first recognize that the rules of engagement have changed; many traditional assumptions regarding marketing, media and branding no longer hold true.  Yet, as marketers, our response should not be to shy away from this change, but to encourage and embrace it through new marketing approaches. 

And, as it turns out, the green category is defined by specific consumer, product and brand characteristics that can take full advantage of Web 2.0 capabilities.

First, green is an emerging product category.   Consumers are not very familiar with the products available today.  Few standards exist.  And, new products and technology solutions are coming to market each day. 

As such, marketers have the opportunity to leverage Web 2.0 capabilities to help consumers to navigate the category, facilitate consumer education and drive product development through collaborative environments and communities 

Second, many consumers are not fully committed to being green yet.  Attitudes are evolving.  Purchase behavior is inconsistent.  And, perceptions about corporate brands are still be formed. 

Marketers have the opportunity to influence this evolution through transparent participation in the online dialogue, encouragement of WOM marketing and facilitation of consumer engagement online.  

As with consumers, the greening of a company and a brand should be considered a journey.  One challenge for green marketers then is to keep the journey of your own brand one step ahead that of your customers. 

Third, it is important to remember that for some, green describes not only a product attribute but a social cause.  All marketers should take advantage of this by activating those consumers most passionate about the category.   

The challenge for marketers then is to act in a way that is perceived as genuine and not simply “greenwashing”.  

And, it is in this context and this environment that we welcome our panelists and begin our discussion.  

(Special thanks to Carl Fremont, EVP and Global Head of Media at Digitas for his contributions)


China and Canada: Olympic Host Nations with Different Green National Brands

September 4, 2007

Like products, companies and celebrities, nations have brands, and these brands have attributes that describe them and value that is associated with them.  Hosting the Olympic Games provides a unique opportunity for a country to both influence global perceptions about their national brand and enhance their nation’s brand value by showcasing itself before the entire world. 

With the next summer and winter games set to take place in Beijing, China (2008) and Vancouver, Canada (2010), respectively, it is hard not to make the comparison between these national brands, and especially, in terms of how each brand relates to the environment.  Any comparison, however, requires a caveat as these nations differ greatly in terms of their histories, population sizes and stages of economic development.  Nonetheless, a comparison is justified based on how these national brands are perceived globally today, as well as how these nations are working to enhance their brand images – positive or negative – going forward. 

Simon Anholt’s National Brands Index (NBI) is one way to evaluate national brands based on “how a country is seen by others” today.  NBI compiles brand attributes “across six dimensions of national assets, characteristics, and competence [including] exports, people, governance, tourism, culture and heritage and immigration and investment”.   

While the environment is considered explicitly as part of the governance category (which “considers people’s perceptions of the government’s behaviour towards the global environment”), the environment is, in fact, implicit in other category questions as well.  For example, perceptions about air quality and water-borne pollution directly affect someone’s likelihood to visit (tourism category) or live and work in a country (immigration and investment). 

In fact, it could be argued that the environment may be a bellwether indicator of how the global community perceives national brands.  An NBI report states that “even if nations themselves don’t change, people’s values can and do, affecting the way they perceive nations”.   For example, “growing ‘green’ consciousness among some sections of the world’s population, benefiting those nations…that have a good reputation for environmental responsibility”, and perhaps detract from others that are less responsible.  

In NBI’s recent survey of 38 nations, Canada is ranked 4th (behind the UK, Germany and France) while China is ranked 23rd. (The US is ranked 10th). 

It is not only this difference in ranking that is significant, but that China’s brand image is losing ground.  In fact, its brand score had the highest overall decline (-4%) of any ranked nation over the last year an a half.  Moreover, significant areas of decline include brand perceptions regarding China as a place to “live and work” (-11.4%) and to visit (-13%) – all issues that may be relate to perceptions about the environment.   (Anholt Nation Brands Index Special Report Q2 2007). 

Such brand perceptions also translates into differential national brand values.  Brand Finance estimates national Brand Values based on a 5-year forecast for gross domestic product (GDP) and incorporates “brand ratings for each nation [including] seven economic performance measures (Source: IMD), eight infrastructure and efficiency measures (Source: IMD) and six consumer perception measures (Source: NBI).” 

The chart below displays Brand Values for the top ranked nations by GDP.  Adding GDP – a measure of the output from all domestic economic activities associated with a nation – helps put Brand Value into context.

gdp-vs-brand-value_v2.gif

Brand Value from Anholt Nation Brands Index Special Report Q1 2007; GDP (nominal) from World Bank, 2006 as cited in Wikipedia   

Not surprisingly, for most nations, Brand Value is correlated with GDP, as Brand Finance’s estimate of Brand Value begins with a five-year GDP forecast.  In fact, Brand Value is measured as a multiple of GDP for 8 of the top 9 countries in terms of GDP – meaning that brand value is worth considerably more than the annual output from each nation.  (Brazil’s Brand Value was not available from the referenced Index as it is not ranked among the top 10).  In noticeable contrast, China – while the only developing nation among the top 9 nations – is the only country in which its Brand Value is a fraction of its GDP. 

All this many not be surprising, however, as China’s reputation has suffered in recent years: in its race to industrialize it has turned a blind eye from the suffering in Darfur as it contracts for oil from the Sudanese, manufactured low cost toys and pet food tainted with poisons, and spoiled much of its environment in the process.  In fact, environmental degradation is widespread and on a scale perhaps never seen before.  A recent report co-authored by the World Bank and the Government of China summaries this impact in human health and GDP:

     “The combined health and non-health cost of outdoor air and water pollution for China’s economy comes to around $US100 billion a year (or about 5.8% of the country’s GDP) [and 750,000 premature deaths annually according to the New York Times] 

     Air pollution, especially in large cities, is leading to higher incidences of lung diseases, including cancer, respiratory system problems and therefore higher levels of work and school absenteeism 

     Water pollution is also causing growing levels of cancer and diarrhea particularly in children under 5

     Water pollution is further exacerbating China’s severe water scarcity problems, bringing the overall cost of water scarcity to about 1% of GDP”  (World Bank and Government of China, “Cost of Pollution in China – Economic Estimates of Physical Damages”, 2007) 

The 2008 Olympic Games only serve to highlight this environmental degradation as air pollution in Beijing has raised concerns from global athletes who threaten to stay away if the skies do not clear during the event.  The Chinese say the air will be clear during the Olympics but initial tests that banned 1MM cars from the road had mixed results. 

Either way, the damage may already have been done to the Chinese brand in the short term.  Air quality – good or poor – will certainly be the talk of the town during the summer games and will inevitably shed more light on China’s growing environmental problem.   

But, for the Chinese and the environment, perhaps some good will come of this over time.   There is already talk of environmental reform and greater regulatory controls within the central government.  Chinese leaders, however, still need to find incentives for provincial leaders to enact them.  Moreover, if the Chinese are successful in cleaning up the air during the games, Beijing residents will certainly talk about how ‘unnaturally’ clean the air is – perhaps creating grassroots support to have better air quality after the closing ceremonies. 

The story in Vancouver – and across the rest Canada – is quite different.  Like the rest of the G8 nations, Canada did not industrialize without a price – contaminated sites, clear cut forests and mines that drain acid to the surrounding lands and waters and continue to plague the environment and compromise human health.  Moreover, Canada has its own Love Canal, a symbol of all what is wrong with unregulated industrialization and the site of human suffering that followed.        

But, it is difficult to compare the sheer scale of the problem that China now confronts.  In fact, most of Canada escaped industrialization relatively unscathed.  Many, including Paul Lavoie, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of Taxi, a premier Canadian advertising firm, think that Canadians should now use their relative greenness to their advantage. 

In a keynote address at the Canada 2020 conference last year, Lavoie argued that Canadians had an “opportunity to manage [its] natural resources to insure economic, environmental and social success.  He continued, “In this period of high demand, we have a window of opportunity to develop a national natural resources strategy aimed at maximizing economic benefits while ensuring the long-term sustainability of our resources and environment.”     

To do so, Lavoie proposed that Canada should create a new brand for the nation and Canadian businesses.  This brand – Outside thinkers – would be demonstrated by shifting from natural resource extraction to idea generation in order to capture more economic and brand value going forward.

outside-thinkers.gif

Lavoie spoke, “It’s about the relationship between nature and innovation.  Nature has been our greatest challenge, and our greatest inspiration. Its geography, climate and force have made us think outside convention to survive.”    

“Let’s look outside and see nature as our inspiration to innovate: Many Canadian products and services could be marketed with more success if they rallied around the common brand values and standards of a uniquely Canadian concept.”  

“ ‘Outside thinkers’ [offers] a clear and shared personality and promise of innovative design, quality workmanship and an orientation to sustainability across all categories. A strong central message repeated consistently will build a clear perception and expectation in the minds of consumers, trade partners and governments. This is the hallmark of a great brand.” 

Lavoie supports this brand with three pillars that represented a shift in Canadian thinking: 

A Shift from a “land of stuff” to a “land of ideas”.  Lavoie argued: “By treating our natural resources like commodities, we are selling them short when we should be selling them at a premium and getting the recognition for it.” 

A shift to innovation.  Lavoie elaborated that the Anholt NBI identified distinct attributes of Canadians: “Trustworthy, honest, gentle moral conscience, friendly, [and] tolerant.   

His response: “I don’t think this image is a complete representation of all Canadians, especially the younger, more confident, ambitious generation, many who are in this room who want to be actively involved and be a little more than happy yet passive bystanders. I believe there are two potential characteristics that are missing. I would like to set as an objective of this exercise to foster and encourage the addition of: confidence and innovation.  With confidence you can do anything.  With innovation you do the right thing!” 

A shift to sustainable solutions.  Lavoie said that Canadians should shift to more value added services (and reduce the export of raw materials) while providing what the world wants: sustainable products and services.   

So, globally, perceptions toward national brands – specifically China and Canada – vary substantially today.  Perceptions about the environment are an important part of this difference.  While the Olympics offer the opportunity to shape these perceptions in a positive way, it is unclear whether China will be able to do so given the systemic pollution that permeates life across much of China – including Beijing, the Olympic host city.   

In contrast, the Canadian national brand will likely benefit from Vancouver hosting the Olympics given that brand perceptions are already very favorable today and the relative pristine physical environment of British Columbia will only reinforce this perception when visitors arrive for the games.  Moreover, as Paul Lavoie suggests, Canada may have the opportunity to build on this perception by creating a national brand synonymous with sustainability.  Perhaps this is Canada’s ticket for overtaking the UK, Germany and France as the top national brand globally.


Aggregating Green Audiences

August 31, 2007

Online advertisers are increasingly interested in targeting audiences with green affinities and publishers are aggregating traffic in order to provide compelling ways to do so. 

August has seen a fury of acquisitions as publishers move to aggregate existing green traffic and extend their reach to other green sub-segments.  Earlier this month Gaiam  purchased both Lime, an eco site and green ad network, and Zaadz, a green social networking site.  And less than two weeks ago, Cleantech purchased InsideGreentech.com.  All of this consolidation activity follows Discovery’s acquisition of Treehugger, the leading green blogging site, at the beginning of the month.

Alternatively, online publishers are banding together to create green ad networks that provide media planners with significant reach by bundling ad sales across multiple sites and through a single point of contact.  As such, it came as little surprise this week when Adify announced the launch of its latest vertical platform supporting green ad networks.  Today, this platform supports four green ad networks including Green Ad Planet, Washington Post’s environmental blogroll, Matter Network and SustainLane Green Ad Network.   

While today no green ad network ranks among comScore’s Top 50, with 4MM unique monthly visitors, the combined traffic of the green networks supported by Adify’s platform makes it a formidable player in the space.   

Today, there are at least nine individual green ad networks available to advertisers.  Here is Marketing Green’s first Green Ad Network Ranking: 

Network

Target Audience Monthly Unique Visitors
1. Green Ad Planet LOHAS 3MM+2  
Sites: LiveScience (1.4MM), Daves Garden (1MM), Hybrid Cars (0.1MM), Blohas, Cathy’s Crawly Composters, Cleantech Blog, , Eco Sherpa, EcoStreet, Green Harmony Tours, Green Living Tips, Green Maven, GreenBin, Greenedia, Greenona, , Inveslogic, KindWeb, Naturalpath, One Shade Greener, Organic Day, Our Hudson Valley Network, RiverWired, Tea Body’s, TenBees, TerraPass, Throwplace, Zaadz
2. Lime1 Broad 2.3MM2 
Sites: Lime (1.8MM), Mongabay (0.3MM), EcoGeek, EcoSherpa, The Beauty Brains, Savvy Vegetarian, Eco-Chick
3. GreenAds Broad 2MM2
Sites: TreeHugger (1MM+), DrWeil (0.4MM), Grist Magazine (0.2MM), eMagazine (0.1MM), MetaEfficient
4. Blogads Broad <2MM2
Sites: Treehugger (1MM+), The Oil Drum (0.1MM), Inhabitat (0.1MM), EcoGeek, Life After the Oil Crash, PlanetSave, MetaEfficient, Ecorazzi, Groovy Green Blog, You Grow Girl, Garden Stew, Lighter Footstep, GetOutdoors Outdoor Blog, Jetson Green, GardenRant, Great Green Goods, About My Planet, The Good Human, Mighty Foods, green LA girl, Really Natural, Triple Pundit, Groovy Green Magazine, The Evangelist Ecologist, Green Options
GreenAdWorks LOHAS 1MM+2
Sites: Mongabay (0.3MM), Inhabitat (0.1MM), Ecorazzi (0.1MM), Earth Easy (0.1MM), Savvy Vegetarian, The Good Human, Terrapass, Alternative Consumer, Organix Authority, Celsias, Natural Path, Groovy Green, Dr. Briffa, The Healing Mind, The Sunshine Chronicles, Econscious
Washington Post’s Environmental Blogroll Broad 3
Sites: Great Green Goods, Nature Geezer
Matter Network Investment professionals 3
Sites: Matter Network, TerraPass
SustainLane Green Ad Network LOHAS 3, 4
Sites: Sustainlane.com, Sustainlane.us, The Unsustainables
NooTouch (UK) N/A 3
Sites: Ecologist Online, Hippy Shopper, New Consumer

1 Does not include other Gaia community umbrella sites including Gaiam, Conscious Enlightenment and Zaadz

2 Rough estimates based on sum of unique site traffic (from Compete) for key sites in network, assuming no more that 10% overlap of unique visitors across each site

3 Limited traffic or limited visibility into network sites to estimate

4 Does not include 24 affiliate sites with a combined reach of 35MM monthly ad impressions based on Sustainlane data

NOTE: Marketing Green contacted each network as part of the research for this article.  Marketing Green plans to update this posting as more ad networks respond to the inquiries over time.


Search Is Paramount in the Emerging Green Category

August 7, 2007

Paid search continues to grow and is now considered by most marketers to be a core component of their online marketing tool kits.  This continued growth is not surprising, however, as it is hard to beat search as a marketing channel for both its efficiency and effectiveness. 

There are several reasons for search’s continued dominance.  Search allows marketers to 1) engage consumers as they actively seek information in market, 2) connect consumers with relevant content based on self-identified interests, 3) pay only when consumers click on a sponsored link, 4) scale spend in the channel (to a point) and 5) enhance the productivity of other channels.  For example, building awareness with a 60-second spot will likely result in more searches being conducted by consumers that turn to the web to find out more information or link to the advertiser’s site. 

To green marketers, search also represents a powerful component of the overall media mix.  In fact, Marketing Green believes that search is even more critical for marketers of green products than for more established products because green is an emerging category that has high consumer interest but is difficult to navigate due to the lack of familiarity and standards.   

Moreover, green search will continue to increase as awareness and interest grows and consumers increasingly turn to the Internet for answers.  Here are few reasons why, as well as recommendations for green marketers on how to maximize the impact of the search channel: 

Consumers have a growing interest in green, but limited familiarity.  Many consumers are curious about the emerging green category but have relatively low understanding of the category or how to navigate it.  As such, consumers are more likely to research product choices before making purchase decisions and turn to online search when they do so. 

For marketers, this means establishing broad presence in paid search across both the general as well as green vertical search engines in order to intercept consumers when they actively seek category-, product- or brand-specific information. 

Consumers today conduct that vast majority of green searches through general search engines such as Google and Yahoo and will likely to continue to do so in the near term. The popularity of green vertical search engines – including Green Maven, Greener, GreenGamma, LiveGreenOrDie, GreenLinkCentral, EcoEarth, EcoSeeker and Earthle among others – is growing nonetheless based on the perception that green vertical search engines return more relevant results than general search.

greenmaven.gif

In addition, green filters are emerging that allow consumers to search with greater precision either as an overlay to existing search engines or as a way to narrow the results based on a set of business rules regarding green.  Palore is one example which enables consumers to identify green merchants when using Google’s search engine.  Below is Palore functionality loaded into Google Maps.  Note the symbols included under each listing – including the carrot which denotes that the restaurant offers organic foods.

 palore2.gif

In addition, online sites are emerging help locate products and retailers offline.  Evolvist locates products and retailers by geography.  evolvist.gif

Alternatively, Alonovo filters products and retailers based on their relative corporate social responsibility and “greenness”.

alonovo.gif

Products and brands are proliferating.  Green products are being launched every day across almost every product category.  Product “greenness” is relative, however, which results in a spectrum of products, features, benefits and trade-offs that consumers must weigh before making purchase decisions.   

As product proliferate, so too will our vocabulary that describes them.   

Marketers should, therefore, take advantage of this by greatly expanding and testing the number of keyword and keyword combinations purchased.  Moreover, these lists should align with marketing campaigns and their objectives across the purchase funnel.  For example, an awareness campaign should include both branded, category and product-specific keywords.  Marketers should refresh this list frequently as the entire category is still very much in flux.

Consumers are hungry for relevant content.  Lacking familiarity with green products, consumers turn to credible information sources to learn about products, compare features and validate choices. 

Marketers should respond by providing relevant content on landing pages that link from both paid – and natural – search. This is important for several reasons.  First, consumers are more likely to engage in the content if it is relevant to their search.   

Moreover, content that pays off corresponding keywords searched translates into a better, more relevant consumer experience.  This is important with current algorithm-based search engines, as well as with emerging community-powered and/or customized search engines such as Eurekster Swicki, Rollyo and Yahoo Search Builder.   

In a world where consumers put considerable trust in the opinions of their peers, community-powered search engines will likely become more popular as search results are informed by the collective experience of the community.

 swicki.gif

This is especially important in an emerging category such as green.  With green products emerging rapidly, relatively low consumer familiarity and few standards, consumers will likely turn to peers to help make informed purchase decisions; community-powered search engines will likely play an important role in facilitating this process in the near future.


Measuring Green Blogging Influence

August 2, 2007

Bloggers are emerging as key influencers online.  Today, many blogging sites effectively compete with traditional news sources for breaking stories and eyeballs.  Moreover, many consumers trust bloggers more that established news organizations simply because they are unaffiliated.  Green bloggers are no different.  In fact, many green bloggers have built a loyal viewership that gives mainstream news sites a run for their money

Today’s announcement that Discovery Communications was acquiring TreeHugger, the top ranked green blog, reinforces the role that blogs now play in reaching and influencing online consumers. Nonetheless, measuring this influence is an imperfect science. 

In an ideal world, influence would be measured by determining the number of people exposed and the incremental impact of that exposure on key metrics like awareness, favorability and purchase.  Surveys and panels can be used to capture self-reported data pre- and post-exposure to determine lift in key metrics.  Yet, this level of precision is impractical, too costly or, simply, not feasible to implement for most sites.  As such, proxies are required to approximate influence.

One simple proxy is site traffic – either total visits or unique visitors to a website.  Several sources track blog traffic including Compete, Technorati and the blog Truth Laid Bear.  Truth Laid Bear tracks and ranks the top 5,000 blogs based on a 45-day moving average of daily visits.  The site casts a wide net by considering corporate blogs including dozens and dozens of blogs sponsored by sports teams.  

According to this Truth Laid Bear, five green blogs are ranked in the top 500 based on daily visits as follows:

Overall Rank

Blog

Daily Visits

169

TreeHugger

70,783

321

AutoblogGreen

15,500

340

Inhabitat

12,976

341

The Oil Drum

12,861

451

WorldChanging

5,974

 

Technorati also tracks “popular” blogs but it ranks them based on the number of its members that made the blog a “favorite”, rather than using a more objective site traffic metric.  In this ranking, TreeHugger is ranked 70 based on having had 293 Technorati members made the blog one of their favorites.

Compete provides a snapshot of unique monthly visitors (“People Count”) over the past 13 month period.  If we graph the top five green blogs, we see that there has been a significant increase in unique visitors on several of the top green blogs this year, and especially on TreeHugger where traffic peak in April at almost twice its 2006 average.

    

Yet, when evaluating blog influence, site traffic metrics do not tell a complete story.  Specifically, links to the blog’s content from other sites should also be considered as a significant proxy for influence.  Not only do links provide a de facto endorsement of the content; they also provide a valuable proxy for the readership of repurposed content on other sites.

Technorati and Google provide tools to quickly determine the number of links to a site.  Technorati ranks the top 100 blogs based on unique links during the past six months. (TreeHugger is ranked #21 – the only green blog on the list).  Google provides the ability to determine links for a blog like TreeHugger simply by typing “link: www.TreeHugger.com” on the site.   

treehugger-link.gif 

Leveraging Google, Marketing Green determined links for the top five sites ranked by the Truth Laid Bear (TLB) blog as follows:

 

Overall Rank (Daily Visits)

Blog

Daily Visits (TLB)

Links (Google)

169

TreeHugger

70,783

364,000

321

AutoblogGreen

15,500

103,000

340

Inhabitat

12,976

61,800

341

The Oil Drum

12,861

23,400

451

WorldChanging

5,974

28,800

 

Yet, “link” metrics provided by Technorati and Google are still incomplete proxies for online influence.  In the case of Google, links are determined in total and do not take into consideration recency.  Moreover, neither Google nor Technorati have the ability to translate links into the actual number of incremental visitors that view the content on the linked site. 

 

Additionally, links reported only account for sites that are directly connected to the original content (one degree away).  In many cases, however, blog posts are repurposed across multiple sites, resulting in a story that links two or three or more degrees away from the original site.  This network effect greatly enhances a blog’s influence in market simply by the fact that it reaches so many more people.

 

A 2nd degree network effect is fairly easy to demonstrate.  Here is an example from Marketing Green:

 

Zero Degrees: On February 19, 2007, Marketing Green posted a blog entitled “Green Marketing Leverages Social Networking on MySpace”.

 

First Degree: On February 20, the Marketing Strategy & Innovations blog distributes Marketing Green’s social marketing posting and provides a link back to the original story.

 

Second Degree: On February 27, Marketing Vox wrote a story entitled “Cause Marketers have Headstart on Social Networks” linking to the blog posted on the Marketing Strategy and Innovations blog, but not to the original story on Marketing Green.   As such, any measurement of influence using links to Marketing Green as a proxy would not, however, account for content posted on Marketing Vox in this case.  As a result, links would underrepresent the true distribution of the content online.

Thus, measuring the influence of green blogs online is an imperfect science.  Useful proxies are available that track site traffic and links from other sites.  Green marketers should be aware that these proxies likely undercount the true impact online as they do not track content viewership on the linked sites or the number of links that are more than one degree away from the original site.

 

Nonetheless, the learning is clear for green marketers: content distribution increases influence online by increasing the number of exposed people.  Creating content in a format that can be easily distributed or repurposed can result in an increase in the number of links to the site and expand a blog’s influence online.


Repurposing the Corporate Blog to Reach Green Influentials

July 31, 2007

These days corporate marketers are launching blogs at a record pace.  According to Jupiter Research, nearly 40% of corporate marketers are planning to launch a corporate blog within the next 12 months.  Yet, consumers do not share the same enthusiasm for these blogs as corporations do: only 3% of consumers have used them to conduct product research.  This dichotomy presents a challenge for corporations as blogs are one of the lowest cost and lowest risk social marketing tactics that marketers have to engage consumers in an increasingly Web 2.0 world. (“Maximizing Blogs”, Jupiter Research, June 11, 2007) 

As such, corporations must rethink the purpose of their blog – shifting from sales support to “brand advocacy”.  By doing so, corporate blogs become a channel to engage brand enthusiasts rather than just consumers.  They also become a conduit to reach online influentials including non-corporate green bloggers and impact key brand metrics through their use and distribution of content across their own networks.  

Today, many corporate blogs have already shifted in this direction.   One example is Intel’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) blog that launched last month focused on how Intel and others are addressing CSR issues.  Authors include Dave Stangis, Intel’s pioneer and long time champion of CSR issues at the company.

intel-blog.gif

Another blog of note is authored by Jonathan Schwartz, CEO and President of Sun Microsystems.  While not dedicated to green issues, Schwartz’s blog includes several entries that are telling in how Sun thinks about green and that outline actions that the company has taken to be socially responsible and capitalize on the emerging opportunity. 

In the blog screen shot included below, Schwartz discusses “The Value of Being Green and the competitive advantage that it provides to Sun in California where utility rebates for buying its efficient servers are worth $700 to $1000 each.

sun-blog.gif

For corporations, blogs provide a low-cost, low-risk way to communicate their messages and distribute content to brand enthusiasts rather than just consumers.  Green entries – in a dedicated or more general topic blog – can provide a more in-depth understanding of a company, its point of view on green and actions that it has taken to mitigate environmental impact. 

Companies should leverage their corporate blogs to engage green brand enthusiasts while distributing content that can be easily repurposed – including sound bites, graphics and tools – for use in other green news stories or blogs in order to maximize green branding impact in market.

Postscript: Two other CSR-focused blogs that I have found include Sun and McDonalds.   


Consumer-Generated Content: An Underleveraged Opportunity for Green Retailers

June 5, 2007

Online retailers find that consumer-generated content such as product reviews and ratings have a significant influence on consumer purchasing behavior.  According to Jupiter Research, over three-quarters of online shoppers leverage consumer-generated content, while nearly half of all online shoppers find such content “useful” when making purchase decisions.  Moreover, those who do find it “useful” also spend more at, return items less frequently to, and demonstrate more loyal toward online retailers that provide the content.  (“Retail Marketing: Driving Sales through Consumer-Created Content,” August, 2006).

Yet today, few online retailers are leveraging consumer-generated content such as reviews and ratings to sell green products.  Those that do tend to be more mainstream online retailers like Amazon that have integrated green into their product lines.  Green sites such as Gaiam and Green Guide Home hold promise, but have too little consumer-generated content on the site today to impact consumer behavior on a broad scale.

There may be two reasons for the limited adoption of consumer-generated content in the green retailer space today:

 

First, green is a nascent category where there are few standards and little hands-on experience with the products by consumers.  Expert opinions may be equally (if not more) beneficial to consumer purchase decisions than the opinion of the general population, especially if those experts can bring clarity and perspective to a category where little exists.  Sites, therefore, tend to focus on expert tips, reviews or ratings (eg, The Daily Green, Yahoo Auto Green Center), or complement expert recommendations with consumer reviews, albeit limited today (eg, Alter Systems, Gaiam, Green Guide Home).

Second, many green sites today are not direct retailers, and hence are disadvantaged when it comes to soliciting consumer-generated reviews and ratings.  Indeed, most green product sites serve more as product information aggregators and filters than traditional online retailers.   

Because products are ultimately purchases on another site or at an offline retailer, such sites have fewer opportunities to solicit product reviews directly from consumers.  Such sites include: product aggregators (eg, Great Green Goods, Green Shopping, Green Guide Home) and lifestyle sites (The Green Guide, Sprig, The Daily Green).

Nonetheless, the dearth of consumer-generated content – specifically consumer reviews and rankings – is an underleveraged opportunity for green online retailers, product aggregators and lifestyle sites.  As the number of “expert consumers” who can comment on the products grows, so too should options for consumer-generated content.  Smart marketers will explore ways to solicit this content from consumers and leverage it to cultivate more loyal, higher spending customers over time.


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