Driving Engagement and Viral Marketing Impact in Green: Part I – User-Generated Content

July 8, 2008

Tapping social media to engage consumers as well as facilitate viral marketing has the potential to generate significant results for marketers.  Not only can this drive greater brand impact but it can significantly increase reach to a receptive audience at little, if any, incremental cost. 

 

Today, more and more marketers are trying to launch campaigns that have the twin goals of increasing consumer engagement and viral marketing impact.  For many marketers, it often appears that achieving these goals is more a matter of art.  Yet, platforms such as Brickfish are emerging that are rapidly turning such an approach into a science. 

 

Brickfish is an online marketing platform that rewards participants for engaging with brands.  The idea is quite simple: participants come to the Brickfish site and choose which campaign they would like to participate in.  They have an opportunity not only to create content but to review and vote on existing content as well as to share with others through email and IM and across multitudes of social media sites.  Behaviors are rewarded directly or through a chance to win prizes for “most popular” or “most viral” entries. 

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Several eco-friendly brands have launched campaigns using the Brickfish platform including Origins, North Face and Honest Foods. 

 

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What is interesting is the transparency by which Brickfish reports campaign results.  While most agencies are beholden to their clients for their results that they generate, it is rare that such results are shared openly outside of corporate marketing circles.   In the case of Brickfish, visitors can track total activities conducted on the site including user-generated content entries, reviews, votes and views.  Moreover, visitors can rank content by user preference as well as viral reach. 

 

Impressively, Brickfish provides users with a visualization of each viral campaign enabling marketers to understand how content is shared between users from one application to another.

 

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Green marketers should consider such a platform.  Not only is this a efficient way to engage consumers (clients pay on a cost-per-engagement basis), but the results provided by Brickfish are impressive, as the company claims that their “viral marketing approach…has proven to be 5 to 10 times more effective than traditional online marketing methods such as display ads or search optimization.”

 

Moreover, campaigns for green products should naturally align with this type of marketing as it empowers users to engage with and share brands that also represent a cause.   As such, consumers’ association with a product is actually an expression of themselves in terms of what they believe and how they live their lives (or at least how they like to be perceived).  As a result, green products are ripe for viral marketing campaigns.

 

Marketers seeking an edge should seek out new ways to reach and engage consumers.  Brickfish provides a compelling approach for green marketers and the results to back it up.


Making What’s Inconvenient Matter

May 1, 2008

An Interview with Matt Williams, EVP/Partner at The Martin Agency and Planning Director for the “We Can Solve It” Campaign


While many consider the release of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth to be a turning point regarding consumer awareness about climate change, consumer surveys indicate that much work is still left to be done.


In fact, six months after the movie’s release, an
ACNielsen online consumer survey found that North Americans were the least aware of and concerned about global warming of all respondents from the 46 markets surveyed.

Moreover, North Americans were only half as likely as South Americans (Argentina, Brazil and Chile) – those surveyed that were most aware and concerned – to believe that climate change was “a direct result of human actions”.

This month, however, there is reason to hope. Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection is back with an ambitious 3-year, $300MM campaign to raise awareness of – and to influence behavior regarding – global warming.


Recently, Marketing Green spent some time with Matt Williams, EVP/Partner at The Martin Agency. Today, The Martin Agency serves as the lead agency for the Alliance and is in charge of the campaign’s brand strategy, among other roles.


Willams serves as the Planning Director on this campaign. As such, his role is to uncover insights that will motivate consumer changes in attitudes and behaviors. In many ways this is a daunting challenge for a marketer, given the enormity of the task at hand as well as its importance to the overall effort to solve global warming. Here are his words:


MG: In launching this campaign, what was the Alliance’s primary objective.


MW: The Alliance’s WE campaign is designed to bring public opinion past the tipping point, and compel our elected leaders to take action on climate change. We only have a short window to act, and what we need is a massive, sustained effort to mobilize millions of people – that’s what this effort is all about.


MG: Describe some of challenges that you faced in tackling an issue as daunting as climate change.


MW: Climate change is a huge challenge, and the vast majority of people realize the urgency and enormity of the threat. But, human nature being what it is, a challenge this large can be almost paralyzing.

We had to break through the assumption that the climate crisis is too big for a regular person to tackle. We had to tell people that, yes, this is an urgent challenge, but like other massive challenges, if we put our differences aside and band together to solve it, we can do it. Adding elements of optimism and solvability to the urgency of solving the climate crisis was the key challenge of the campaign.

MG: Is it realistic to expect a marketing campaign to have a significant impact on attitudes and behaviors regarding climate change?

 

MW: The advertising is just one piece of the Alliance’s 3-year effort – and it’s a multimillion dollar, national ad campaign, stretching from coast to coast in every type of media.

 


The Alliance has also launched a program of online engagement and activation, providing opportunities for citizens get and stay involved; and is partnering with organizations that will work across the political spectrum to reach people in their day-to-day lives.


As these efforts work together and build momentum over the life of the campaign, we expect to mobilize millions of people for solutions to climate change.

MG: What is your campaign idea? What were some of the consumer insights from which it was derived?

 

MW: We know consumers are frustrated with partisan bickering. We know the vast majority of Americans accept the reality of the climate crisis and want to engage in solving it, but they don’t know how to get involved.

And we know that consumers view the climate crisis as too large and urgent a challenge to be held hostage by political gridlock. The campaign idea is that we have to set aside our differences and come together to solve the climate crisis. If we don’t come together, the problem won’t be solved—it’s too big.


But if we come together, we can speak with a unified voice to demand solutions. The campaign and the WE idea are designed to create a motivating sense of energy and optimism and to invite everyone to participate in solving climate change.


MG: What are the key elements of the campaign? Overall, how are inpidual tactics integrated across channels? Conversely, inpidually, how were each tactic tailored for each channel?


MW: In terms of the ads themselves, we’re combining television – because of its reach to the broad audience we’re trying to speak to – with print, in issue-specific publications aimed at key groups, and online ads that can be carefully targeted as well.


Every ad, in mass media or online, drives traffic to http://www.wecansolveit.org, the Alliance website. At the site, consumers can find a wide variety of information about the climate crisis and ways to get involved—from petitions to government leaders to local events. They’ll also have the chance to join the Alliance by giving us their e-mail address. So this is more than ad campaign—it’s an integrated effort to engage consumers, and turn that engagement into real action.

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MG: How will you drive viral marketing? What is the role for social media? How do you build grassroots support for action?

MW: The online and grassroots components of the campaign will provide opportunities for inpiduals to get and stay involved in ways that make sense for them. Our cutting-edge online organizing and activation, built around the website, will give people a spectrum of activities to keep them engaged on the issue, from taking action in their personal lives to working in their schools and communities to joining calls for government action on all levels.

 


We’re also using the “network effect” – getting the word out through ready-to-use content (like embeddable videos) and social media that enable communities and inpiduals to engage on the issue, spread the word and become local champions.

 


The Alliance has created partnerships with local and national groups to get the word out on the grassroots level, so consumers not only see the WE brand in media outlets and online, they feel it through other groups and activities that are important in their lives.

 


We’re also looking at ways for consumers to use elements of our campaign to create their own WE content, to help build viral momentum and actively involve consumers in creating the WE brand with us.

MG: How involved has Al Gore been in the planning of this campaign?

 

MW: Vice President Gore has been an integral part of the WE Campaign’s development from start to finish. The Alliance and the We campaign are built on the idea that the climate crisis is urgent and solvable, and VP Gore’s goal is to ensure that we get the word out as effectively as possible.

MG: How did you incorporate innovative approaches in this campaign? What are they and how did they impact the consumer experience in a novel way?

 

MW: The entire campaign is rooted in a brand idea that will unify every effort, in mass media, online and grassroots. The idea of bringing Unlikely Alliances like Newt Gingrich/Nancy Pelosi and Pat Robertson/Al Sharpton together is an attention-getting way to make our point about coming together to solve the crisis.
That theme will continue in the future and in other parts of the campaign, and has great potential for interesting and involving messages in every medium.

We’ll also use the couch from the TV, print and online ads as an icon for coming together.


The creation of the WE mark gives us a symbol that people everywhere can use to display their commitment to solutions. WE can become part of people’s lives beyond the campaign.


Also, our focus on Influencers as a media target is designed to communicate our message to people who start conversations. When millions of Influencers engage their network members and policymakers in a discussion about solutions to the climate crisis, the conversation will take on even greater momentum.


It’s an amazing privilege for us to be involved with the Alliance in helping address this incredibly important challenge.


Shifting from Product Placement to Engagement in Green

April 13, 2008

For decades, marketers have leveraged product placement to influence consumers.  The idea is quite simple: leverage media to showcase a product or service being used as part of everyday life in order to shape consumer brand perception and impact purchase behavior.  Put a product in the hands of a celebrity and consumers will interpret this as a de facto endorsement.  Such placements have been embedded across all types of media including television, film, video games, books and music videos.

 

The digital channel has upended this traditional approach by enabling marketers to go well beyond simple product placements to create meaningful experiences for engagement.  Not only does such an approach promise to yield greater brand impact, but it may also drive significant sales as well.  Here are a few examples:

 

Digital Video Recorders (DVRs): Early last year, GE launched its latest ecomagination campaign.  To counter growing consumer use of DVRs to bypass commercials, GE provided an added incentive for consumers to watch: embedded content in the commercial itself that required a DVR to access it. 

 

Called One Second Theater, this “commercial within a commercial” provided a duel advantage for an advertiser: not only did consumers view commercials that they would have otherwise skipped, but they also engaged with added brand content as well.  Moreover, as one of the first to use this tactic, GE benefited from the novelty factor as for many consumers this was likely their first experience with embedded content in a TV commercial.

 

Screenshot from GE’s One Second Theater

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Mobile Phones:  Mobile applications are emerging to enable consumers to access web content via their phones through scannable bar codes associated with hyperlinks to the web.

 

Scannable 2D Bar Code with Hyperlink to Website

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Source: thinkmobi

Semapedia 2D Bar Code Hyperlink to Green Maps, an Open Source Location-based Search Engine
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Such applications enable consumers to use their mobile phones to access content on-demand from anywhere a bar code is posted.  This capability is just emerging in the US; it is likely to take another year or so until all mobile phones are enabled to scan and interpret these bar codes.  Nonetheless, there are many applications emerging for green marketers using 2D bar code technology:

 

For example, tags can be embedded at the point of sale to provide links to additional product information including its environmental footprint.  Moreover, they could also be embedded directly on products.  With such bar codes, friends that ask “where did you get that?” can easily link to a site to make a purchase or locate the nearest retailer to do so.  Alternatively, such tags can provide additional information specific to a location. 

 

Video: Video applications are emerging that enable embedded objects clickable and associated with added content or a call to action. 

 

Screenshots from Videos Posted on VideoClix

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Such product-linking, or plinking, provide significant opportunities for both advertisers and consumers:  not only does it provide a more compelling content experience, but it also provides a more relevant experience as the embedded advertisements directly relate to the video content itself.  Moreover, it eliminates the need for consumers to view pre-roll commercials, a barrier for many users to watch the video in the first place. 

 

 


Tapping the Emerging Celebrity Power of Online Influentials

February 9, 2008

Today, online influentials are emerging as “celebrities” of sort, based not only on their domain knowledge but on their ability to attract and engage audiences online. 

Marketing Green contends that this celebrity status is likely to increase with time: as content continues to proliferate, consumers will look to those they know and trust to help them cut through the cutter.

Today, many online influentials are building a following of their own.  Some sites understand this and are now actively recruiting participation by influentials on their site, and promoting this association directly to consumers.

As such, Marketing Green believes that marketers should continue to seek new ways to leverage the celebrity status of online activists in support of or as an extension of their marketing efforts.  There are several ways that marketers can do so including:

Contribute content.  Marketers can ask influentials to help create or edit content for a site or even for syndication.  For example, The Element Agency frequently posts articles from guest writers in its blog, My Green Element.  Another smart site is the recently launched Inside Sustainability which features audio reports with green personalities*.

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Host chat sessions. Social news site Propeller (AOL) offers peer-to-peer chat functionality to facilitate discussions about its top ranked articles.  While interesting, marketers may want to take this one step further: extend site functionality to enable chat sessions with users that are hosted by online celebrities (or “Contributors”, “Scouts” or “Anchors” that submit content and/or moderate content on the Propeller site).  

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In many ways, hosted chat seems like a natural extension of Propeller’s current strategy to promote content purveyors as quasi-celebrities.  Today, this is done through the prominent placement of their photos or avatars online, as well as detailed profiles on the site.

           

                 Top Propeller Contributors on “Climate Change”

 

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Facilitate a dialogue.  Marketers can tap influentials to facilitate a dialogue with users.  For example, ooVoo, a leading multi-person online video chat provider, launched a pilot this week in which 20+ influentials – “bloggers, podcasters and community leaders” – will converse with online audiences using its technology.

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Today, marketers have the opportunity to leverage and cultivate the celebrity status of online influentials.  Emerging online platforms – audio, video and chat – are increasingly being used by marketers to harness this celebrity power in order to create more compelling and engaging experiences for their consumers.  Such opportunities have the potential to not only attract new audiences but deepen relationships with their existing consumers today.

* Disclosure: Marketing Green was recently interviewed for this site.


Green Content Syndication: Part II – Top Environmental Diggers

January 22, 2008

One of the most effective ways to syndicate content is by activating power users on sites such as Digg.  Quite simply, “Diggers” uncover and bookmark interesting content – news articles, images and videos – for others to view.  

Top Diggers are known for frequently submitting content that is deemed compelling by the Digg community.  If others users like the content, they may “digg” it as a way to recommend it to others.

Why should marketers care about whether an article submitted on Digg becomes popular or not?  Well, “popular” articles create their own viral effect.  Not only are more people likely to be interested in articles that come highly recommended, but more people are exposed to them as well.  On Digg, popular articles tend to get preferred placement on the front pages of the site and each topic section.  (Note: while popularity is the primary factor that affects placement on Digg, Neil Patel of the Pronet Advertising blog suggests that other factors impact placement including “number of submissions in a category, diggs, and time” between submissions). 

For a marketer, this can translate into increased reach and traffic to a site where the content is hosted at little to no incremental cost.  Though it is difficult to quantify the incremental impact of traffic referred from Digg, antidotal evidence suggests that Digg popularity leads to increased traffic.

For example, The Daily Green recently published its “10 Most Popular Stories of 2007”.  Notably, five in ten articles had been bookmarked on Digg.  Moreover, three in five articles submitted were wildly popular on Digg – with more than 1,100 users digging each of two articles (“Major Breakthrough for Super Efficient LED Lighting” and “Arctic Sea Ice Re-Freezing at Rapid Rate“) and nearly 700 users digging a third (“Glass Wall of Death Surround California Suburb”).  Inevitably, these bookmarks referred significant traffic to The Daily Green and contributed to the popularity of the articles on the site.

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Today, “Top Diggers” are ranked based on the total number of popular stories that they have submitted.  Marketing Green believes that for green marketers, however, the current method for ranking diggers is incomplete. 

First, the current ranking gives undue weight to tenure.  Quite simply, the longer one has been digging, the higher the likelihood that they will have submitted a greater number of articles that became popular.  While successful tenure is an essential criteria, it may portray an incomplete picture, however, as it does not necessarily mean that the digger is very active today.  As such, any ranking of green diggers should also take into consideration recent activity.   

Second, the current ranking is based on articles submitted across all categories rather than those specifically focused on the environment.  Diggers are typically specialists that focus their efforts on a specific area of interest, however.  As such, not every Top Digger is interested in promoting articles related to the environment. 

Others have tried to create a more specific ranking focused on green diggers.  The Daily Green, for example, recently published a list of top environmental diggers.  While the list is solid, it is based on a “subjective process” that relies heavily on personal opinions rather than measurable facts.   

In contrast, Marketing Green believes that a ranking should be based on more quantitative criteria that enable it to be repeatable over time while minimizing bias. 

Moreover, any ranking should balance a digger’s success over time (successful tenure) with his/her recent activity specific to the environmental category (recency in category).  Marketing Green’s List of Top Environmental Diggers attempts to do just that (within the limits of publicly available data).   

Marketing Green gives equal weighting to two criteria: successful tenure and recency in category.  Successful tenure is determined based on the cumulative number of popular articles submitted by a digger over his/her tenure on Digg.  This is similar to how Top Diggers are currently ranked today. 

Recency in category is a proxy for how successful a digger has been recently in submitting popular articles specifically on the environment.  It is estimated based on two factors: the number of articles submitted in the “environment” category within the past 30 days and the historic percentage of submitted articles that have became popular. 

Marketing Green’s List of Top Environmental Diggers

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Based on analysis of diggers in early January, 2007; 1Overall popular articles; same as current Top Digger ranking; 2Popular articles on the environment within the past 30 days

Marketing Green’s Top Environmental DiggersMrBabyMan, supernova17, msaleem, suxmonkeyzaibatsu, tomboy501, burkinaboy, Aidenag, skored, sepultra; Notable mentions: 1KrazyKorean, capn_caveman, charbarred, cosmikdebris, DigiDave, FameMoney, johndi, maheshee11, petsheep, pizzler, vroom101

Notably, Marketing Green’s ranking reveals somewhat of a different mix of diggers than are included in the previous rank of “Top Diggers.”  It should not come as a surprise, however, to see that the four Top Diggers are also ranked on Marketing Green’s list of Top Environmental Diggers.  Interestingly, these Top Diggers rank highly on Marketing Green’s list based not only on their successful tenure (the current criteria for ranking) but also on their recent activity within the environmental category.

The remaining six diggers on Marketing Green’s list are ranked in large part due to their recent activity in category.  Up and coming diggers such as suxmonkey and burkinaboy are great examples as they rank #57 and 110, respectively, based on successful tenure while ranking #1 and 3, respectively, based on recent activity. 

Why should green marketers target top environmental diggers rather than digg the articles themselves?  For starters, content submitted by top diggers has a higher probability of becoming popular than others.  This is likely due to a variety of factors including: faster submission time (top diggers spend time trawling for new articles), superior ability to uncover interesting content, a broad network of friends that may digg articles submitted, and established influence within the Digg community that may peak the interest of others.   

Moreover, InvespBlog suggests that diggers also know how to ‘sell’ their Digg submissions through compelling titles (eg, more than 75% of the top 100 most popular articles on Digg had titles different than the original), by attaching relatively lengthy descriptions (eg, the median description for a top 100 article was 48 words) and by choosing articles of limited length (eg, the median number of words in the top 100 article was 444). 

How much better are top diggers than the average?  As it turns out, they are significantly better.  In fact, the 10 “Top Diggers” have an average % popularity of nearly 37%.  This is in contrast to the average of the 100 Top Diggers (26%), let alone the 1,000 Top Diggers (18%).  Impressively, Marketing Green’s List of Top Environmental Diggers have the highest average % popularity at 38%, narrowly surpassing the overall 10 Top Diggers.

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As such, marketers seeking to syndicate content should consider activating power users on sites like Digg to help them do so.  All diggers are not alike, however.  Green marketers should take into consideration not only the overall success of a digger but their recent activity within the environmental category.   

Stay tuned for the third and final part in this series for tips on how to active them. 


Green Content Syndication: Part I – “Deconstructing” Websites

January 20, 2008

Traditionally, publishers have viewed websites as content destinations, challenging marketers to drive traffic to specific websites in order to engage consumers with relevant content.   

Today, the model has changed.  Increasingly, publishers are uncoupling online content from its host site; marketers are learning to syndicate this content online or encouraging others to do so virally.  Jupiter Research has defined this trend as “website deconstruction”. 

Moreover, emerging and established content platforms, including news aggregators, video sharing and social bookmarking sites, enable content to exist on its own in the online world and allow users to have greater control over its distribution.  

Today, a two-step process has emerged for marketers to facilitate content distribution:

Active distribution: Publishers need to first distribute content to multiple users via RSS feeds to readers, widgets, personalized home pages, news aggregators and even mobile devices. A broad list of readers and aggregators can be found here

                          Downloadable and Customizable Widget 

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Publishers can also syndicate content to users by seeding bloggers or by distributing assets to third-party websites through platforms such as Blogburst, Voxant and Magnify.  Each one has a different distribution mechanism.  Blogburst facilitates distribution of blog content through 200 established news channels such as Reuters and FoxNews, for example. 

    Marketing Green Blog Posting on FoxBusiness.com via BlogBurst

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Voxant, in contrast,  syndicates news from mainstream sources to third-party websites; Magnify distributes video.  Magnify provides a widget that can be easily customized (based on content preferences) and downloaded onto third-party sites.  Publishers can make their content available for distribution simply by creating a channel on Magnify to do so.  Currently, Magnify offers 119 channels of content relating to “Nature and Environment”.

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Passive or viral distribution: In addition to actively pushing content out to a variety of sources, marketers need to ensure they position their content to be further distributed by consumers.  Today, users increasingly share and recommend content to their peers.  By doing so, individuals not only share content with other users, but they empower these users to make recommendations to friends and contacts in their networks.  For marketers, such a network effect can have an exponential impact in driving reach; it also costs marketers virtually nothing to achieve.   

 

Examples of users facilitating passive content distribution include sending viral emails, posting video content on YouTube and veoh, bookmarking an article on Digg and del.cio.us or linking to personal pages within MySpace. 

 

While all general interest sites host content related to the environment, there are many websites that focus exclusively on the green space.  Examples include video sharing sites ecolive.tv, emPivot, Green.tv, GreenEnergyTV, RiverWired and URTH.tv; bookmarking sites ecoblogs, Hugg and hunuh; and a multitude of social networking sites including Care2 and Zaadz (See also Marketing Green’s “Green Marketing on Social Networks” and “Sharing Green Videos Online” postings).

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In a conversation with Marketing Green earlier this week, Shmuel Benhamou, a founder of the recently launched ecolive.tv, makes the case for green vertical sites: “Videos are one of the most efficient and interesting ways to spread the ‘green’ message throughout the world.  Yet, today, it is very hard to find good green videos on YouTube and others user generated content sites.  Ecolive.tv wants to promote green videos to a targeted audience.”

Notably, syndication blurs the lines between publisher and user, as everyone has the chance to distribute content.  Moreover, it also blurs the distinction between content, either professionally or user-generated, and advertising.  Increasingly, content serves as advertising and advertising is enjoyed as content. 

One great example of advertising distributed as content in the green space is a commercial for a European wind energy company, Epuron, syndicated on YouTube.

Marketers: Think differently about your digital strategy.  Uncouple content from specific websites and distribute directly to users or through intermediary sites.  Encourage consumers to share content with their peers and across social networks.  If done right, syndication can act as a digital channel accelerator by driving reach and generating impact far beyond the cost required to facilitate it.  It is a must for most marketers today.  You scarcely can afford not to.


Green Marketing on Social Networks

December 1, 2007

Participation in social networks continues to grow seemingly without bounds as more people seek to connect, share and collaborate with likeminded individuals online.  Today, hundreds of millions of online users have already signed up, with an increasing number belonging to more than one network. 

For green marketers, social networks provide a compelling channel to communicate with consumers that have an affinity for green or are at least open-minded enough to listen.  Today, those users can be found across a wide variety of social networks, including both general interest and vertically focused networks that connect those interested in social responsibility or, more specifically, in the environment. 

Marketing Green has identified six different types of social networks that appeal to those with a green affinity.  Each network type provides the opportunity for users to connect, share and/or collaborate with others online.  And because many view green as a social cause, participation in such networks can generate both personal as well as societal benefits.   The six types of social networks include the following:   

Interaction sites connect online user to facilitate offline interactions.  For example, online users can connect with other likeminded individuals for dating or socializing on sites such as Care2, Earthwise Singles, dharmaMatch, Green Drinks, Green Passions, Green Party Passions, Planet Earth Singles and VeggieDate.  Alternatively, online users can find out about green events, political rallies or local meet ups on social action sites such as Leonardo DiCaprio’s 11th Hour Action, Care2, Do SomethingMeetup, Step It Up, TakingITGlobal, and WorldCoolers.  

Other sites allow members to arrange carpools on sites like GishiGo, GoLoco, pooln and WorldCarShare (Yahoo Groups), as well as rent, loan or reuse products (rather than purchase new or dispose of as waste) on sites like freecycle, gigoit, loanables and rentoid. 

                   Marketing Green’s Six Types of Green Social Networks

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Commitment sites enable users to share a personal pledge to make their lives more eco-friendly.  On certain Commitment sites, users can even collaborate with others to support their pledge or to encourage others to make similar pledges.  Examples include sites such as Actics, Low Fly Zone, Make Me Sustainable, PledgeBank, The Carbon Diet, Who On Earth Cares (Aus), Yahoo Green and the “I Am Green” page on Facebook.   

Utility sites enable consumers to connect and share online with others that have a green affinity and/or want to live a greener lifestyle.  Examples include general interest networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Tribe and Yahoo Groups (focused on green), as well as vertically focused networks such as beTurtle, Care2, Common Circle, Dianovo, ecoMetro, Eco-munnity, Good Tree, Green Bin, Holistic Local, Lime, Neutral Existence, rethos, TheNag (UK), Zaadz and Zelixy among others.   

Sites like Baagz are emerging that should, in theory, enable users to connect with a far greater number of online users across the Internet, rather than simply those within a particular social network.  Considered an early Web 3.0 application, Baagz leverages semantic web principles to allow software agents to connect people with common interests by reading embedded tags in web content (rather than natural language descriptions). 

Shopping sites allow consumers to connect and share green purchases and product reviews.  Examples include FiveLimes and Sustainlane.  Additionally, traditional social shopping sites such as Kaboodle, StyleHive, ThisNext and Wists include a wide range of eco-friendly (eg, organic) products.  

Today, online users have the opportunities to integrate their favorite purchases into their personal profile page on sites like Facebook using a Yahoo web application called “My favorite Things”.  This application enables users to share favorite products, create a wish list and send virtual gifts to friends online.  Importantly, integration of social shopping into Facebook enriches personal profiles and allows users to connect based on shopping preferences.  

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Alternatively, consumers have the option to connect with other likeminded consumers based on their brand and/or product affinity.  One example is Toyota’s community site for hybrid owners, Hybrid Synergy Drive.  Another example is Method’s community of advocates. 

Engagement sites enable users to share ideas and collaborate on new ones.  These social networks tend to attract members from specific vertical sectors.  Examples include local community sites such as ecoTreadsetters (Yokohama Tire), Gusse and Transition Towns (UK); innovation sites such as Green Building Forum (UK), Sustainability Forum and wattwatt; and business forums such as OpenEco (Sun) and OPEN Forum (American Express) among others.

Activism sites enable collaboration to promote change through social and political activism.  Example sites include: 2People, Care2, ChangeDo SomethingGreenVoice, idealist, just cause, Razoo, TakingITGlobal, tree-nation, Wiser Earth and Youth Noise among others.    

For marketers, such social networks provide a rich opportunity for messaging to consumers with a green affinity.  Today, there are three primary ways in which marketers can communicate with consumers through this channel: 

Search.  Marketers can bid on contextually relevant search keywords within social networks and provide relevant and engaging content on linked landing pages. 

Awareness and Engagement.  Marketers can actively engage consumers by placing corporate profiles within social networks, by facilitating the creation of user generated content and by encouraging viral marketing.     

The placement of profiles on social networks is a great way to build awareness within and across peer groups online.  Users connect to a brand or a cause as an expression of their online identities.  Those that do can be effective advocates for a brand (or cause) and brands should actively engage them as such.  Moreover, this simple link in a personal profile can provide a powerful way to build awareness within the user’s extended network as it provides a de facto endorsement of the brand or cause by a trusted source. 

Additionally, it is important to note that the creation of user-generated content itself can facilitate viral marketing efforts though sharing of content between consumers or via content sharing sites such emPivot, RiverWired and YouTube.  Moreover, users may bookmark favorite green content or websites on hunah, Hugg, del.icio.us, Digg and StumbleUpon, encouraging others to also view the content or visit the site as well.

Targeting.  Marketers can target consumers within a social network through direct ad placement where possible and appropriate.  

Importantly, Facebook has made an announcement that has major implications for how marketers can communicate to members going forward.  Essentially, Facebook said that it will allow marketers to target members with ads based on its user’s personal profiles, social connections and even the recent activities of each user’s extended network. 

This announcement marks a significant departure in the way social networks have been organized to date.  Until now, marketers have had limited opportunity to serve ads directly to users within the social network.  With this change, marketers will now have the opportunity to target consumers directly based on attitudinal, behavioral and demographic attributes included directly in or inferred from personal profiles and connections online.    

So, marketers should take note.   Social networks are proliferating and consumer participation seems to be growing without bounds.  For marketers, social networks provide an increasing number of opportunities to communicate with online users that either have a green affinity or perhaps are connected to someone that does.  To have the greatest impact, however, marketers should ensure that they align their messaging with the mission of each type of social network.  Done right, marketers can have a powerful impact on their brands and the bottom line.


Greener SimCity Virtual World as Channel to Influence Real World Behaviors

October 17, 2007

Electronic Arts (EA)’s SimCity, the popular simulation game that challenges users to build and run a metropolis, is set to release its latest version in mid-November – SimCity Societies – and is generating a lot of buzz in the process.  

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One way that sets Societies apart from previous versions is its new functionality that requires users to take economic and environmental factors into consideration when making energy production decisions.  (Other simulation games that require users to make trade-offs between energy and environmental concerns include Energyville, recently launched by Chevron and The Economist Group; ElectroCity, sponsored by Genesis Energy in New Zealand; and My Abode, sponsored by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.)

While this novel functionality is generating significant buzz in the market, the real learnings for green marketers may be how EA and energy giant BP are leveraging the game itself as a marketing channel to influence its audience.  In doing so, EA and BP will have impact across the purchase funnel:

Awareness: As a key sponsor of Societies, BP will place its logo on renewable energy sources throughout the game.  BP is likely betting that branding renewable energy in this virtual world will have a positive impact on brand awareness, favorability and purchase intent in the real world.

Cleverly, while BP plans to place its logo on (not so eco-friendly) gasoline stations within the game, it is purposefully not associating its brand with dirtier energy sources that are used to generate electricity like coal (though this positioning may be somewhat inconsistent with its real-world energy mix).

Consideration: The game itself provides a high impact channel to educate consumers about real-life trade offs that are increasingly required today.  

In this simulation game users make decisions regarding how to meet the growing energy needs as well as how to deal with their consequences over time.  For example, users that choose to fuel industrial growth with low cost, but high polluting energy sources may find themselves facing droughts, heat waves and other weather-related consequences of global warming.  

Ultimately, companies like BP will benefit from such presence if consideration for renewable energy in the virtual world translates into the real-life consideration as a result. 

Purchase: Perhaps the most powerful use of this gaming channel has yet to be explored, that is, driving transactions.  While enabling functionality is not planned for this version, the potential exists to facilitate purchases longer term. 

In a gaming environment there are several ways in which real-world transactions could take place.  One way could be to allow users to sign up for or indicate interest in renewable energy directly through the gaming environment or an associated micro site. 

Moreover, it may even be possible to exchange Simoleans, or SimCity virtual currency, to purchase renewable energy in the real world over time.  This would be similar to the way virtual Linden dollars can be exchanged for real dollars in the popular virtual world of Second Life.

So, marketers should take note. Gaming is an emerging channel that may be used to reach new audiences and influence behaviors across the purchase funnel.  The virtual world of SimCity Societies requires users to make economic and environmental trade-offs similar to those that we increasingly confront today.    For marketers like BP, such an immersive environment offers the chance not only to influence awareness and consideration in a virtual world, but to shape behaviors that impact the bottom line in the real one.


Green Marketing as a Vehicle for Consumer Engagement

October 12, 2007

Today, smart marketers are focused not only on whether consumers view their message, but to what extent they engage with it.  One definition of engagement is as a measure of consumer involvement with a marketing vehicle.  As defined, it implies that engagement should be considered as both a marketing tactic and a metric that can be measured and optimized. 

The green space is ripe for engagement in large part because consumers are interested in green not just as a product category but as a social cause.  As a result, consumers are not only highly open to invitations to engage, but eager to do so when given the opportunity.   Many, in fact, actively seek outlets for their passion; marketers only need to activate them by providing the opportunity. 

Several marketers have already tapped into this passion by creating points of engagement that go well beyond your average marketing communication. 

One such example is CNN’s Impact your World.  CNN is one of the premier news brands today.  Traditionally, news organizations like CNN have provided ways to consume and subsequently react to news by providing the opportunity to comment on news stories – a form of engagement in of itself.  

Yet, CNN Impact takes engagement to the next level by providing consumers with a way to act on their interests in or passion for particular news events – green or otherwise.  One great example is the recent story of the small Iraqi child that suffered severe burns.  CNN Impact enabled its viewers not only to read articles about the child but to take action by making donations to cover his medical bills.   engagement-tactics_3.gif 

In the green space, CNN Impact provides the opportunity for viewers to take action through its “Planet in Peril” section.  CNN provides links to relevant content as well as to environmental non-profits where viewers can make a donation.  CNN facilitates donations by partnering with Charity Navigator to provide information on non-profits to enable users to make more informed decisions. 

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Another great vehicle for driving engagement was the recent Members Project by American Express.  In this project, American Express designated significant funds to be donated to a cause of its cardmember’s choosing.   A platform was created for cardmembers to nominate and vote on different projects over a three month period. 

In the end, American Express cardmembers chose to fund a UNICEF project to bring clean drinking water to children (a noble project that is at the intersection of green and human health).  American Express provided the platform for the project; cardmembers engaged with each other through this platform to determine the project’s outcome. 

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Smart green marketers should take advantage of green as both a product and a social cause by creating deeper opportunities for engagement with their consumers.  Companies can facilitate engagement in multiple ways: by enabling consumers to act on their interests (eg, by connecting them with volunteer opportunities, enabling donations as in CNN Impact) or interact with peers (eg, through community or discussion boards), by encouraging content creation and distribution, and by facilitating product ideation (eg, through collaborative environments) or direct feedback to a company.   

Moreover, marketers may motivate consumer engagement by wrapping a product with an affinity-based experience (eg, Members Project) or by providing access to an event or experience that has perceived value or is deemed exclusive. 

Given the passion that some consumers have for the category, marketers may be surprised by the response and the impact that such marketing vehicles may have on the bottom line.  

(Disclosure: American Express is a client of Digitas)


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)


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