Uncharted Waters: Reframing Climate Change Around Water

October 17, 2011

Einstein is credited with saying that “everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

Such words have renewed meaning when it comes to messaging about climate change as everything about it seems complex – its cause, its impact, and the challenges that humans face to address it. Just describing climate change poses a formidable challenge for communicators. Its causes are many and not necessarily intuitive to grasp.  Likewise, its impact is difficult to comprehend, especially given how interconnected Earth’s natural systems are.

Like any marketing communications challenge, consumers needs sound bites that relay information as simply as possible, but no simpler. The message needs to be relevant to their daily lives. The narrative needs to be easily digestible and sharable so that it quickly becomes part of the broader lexicon. It also needs to instill a sense of urgency, but not leave a feeling of being overwhelmed.

One possible way to address this challenge is to reframe the climate change conversation around water. This shift is necessary for many reasons:

First, the current narrative around global warming is too complex and abstract for most audiences to grasp fully: rising temperatures, melting polar ice sheets, burning rainforests, rising sea levels, and so forth. Focusing on water enables communicators to simplify the message, as water is familiar to all of us and essential for our own survival. Rather than shortchanging the complexity of climate change, communicators that narrow the message enable consumers to more easily digest it.

Second, focusing on water allows us to shift communications away from the cause of climate change to its impact. Natural water variability is expected from year to year, but overall, supplies in the US, even in the arid west, have traditionally been relatively predictable from year to year. In the current world, a “100-year” drought actually only occurs every 100 years.

Yet, climate change has already disrupted this paradigm. Today, we are shifting to a world of water volatility, where the probability of extreme droughts and floods increases dramatically. For example, in 2010, the Amazon rainforest experienced its second “100 year” drought in 5 years. When this happens, people start to pay attention.

Finally, water enables communicators to reposition global climate change as an inherently local issue. It has long been the case that consumers have had a difficult time connecting with – let alone financially supporting – global environmental issues. Redefining climate change as a local issue makes it more personal, and provides an opportunity to motivate more grassroots support for action at the local level.

Yet, today, the impact of climate change is being felt closer to home. Local communities in the US are being devastated by water – or the lack there of – from extreme droughts and wildfires across Texas to torrential rains and flooding in Vermont. Globally, the impact has arguably been more severe because people in places like Pakistan, Bangladesh and even China have fewer resources to cope with it.

To this end, it is important to outline a communications construct that shifts the focus of climate change to its impact on water. Here is one approach:As communicators, we face the ongoing challenge of constructing the right narrative that engages audiences on this important issue of our time.  Simply, but no simpler.

The best way to do so is still open for discussion.

What is your approach?


Rewards as a Driver of Green Consumer Engagement

November 27, 2010

I joined RecycleBank for many reasons, one due to an observation regarding the application of rewards in the green space.  Quite simply, rewards have the potential to change consumer behavior without necessarily changing attitudes first. I first wrote about this in a 2007 blog post. Today, it remains a powerful way to expand the appeal of green.

As every marketer knows, it is expensive, time consuming and downright difficult to change consumer attitudes. By contrast, rewards can reframe the dialogue by creating a financial incentive for consumers to engage, regardless of interest or attitude. The result is that rewards can expand the target audience to those motivated less by altruism than by financial gain. Suddenly, consumers that did not make the environment a priority are willing to take action to earn rewards. Marketers should be fine with this as long as it helps achieve business objectives in a cost-effective way.

Interestingly, rewards can be a critical tool for companies looking to enhance their marketing efforts. Rewards can be a tool to:

Motivate Consumer Engagement. Today, marketers are tasked with engaging with consumers in order to increase brand awareness, change sentiment and motivate purchase. Rewards can accelerate this effort by incentivizing consumers to take desired actions in order to earn rewards. Such a cost per engagement model can be particularly relevant for emerging green products with low awareness, as it provides an added incentive for consumers to engage, perhaps tiered based on the type, level or value of the interaction.

Optimize Engagement Experience. Marketers can optimize their efforts by promoting those consumer behaviors or sequence of behaviors that are more aligned with desired outcomes. Here is how it might work: Consumers earn points as they engage with content or tools online or take offline actions. Consumer behaviors are tracked and associated with specific points earned and rewards redeemed. Marketers can then optimize consumer engagement by promoting those behaviors that are most correlated with fulfilling campaign objectives.

Enhance Existing Incentives. Even when financial incentives already exist, they may not be sufficient to grab – and hold – significant consumer mind share. Today, several energy platforms such as OPOWER motivate consumers to save money on their bills by empowering them with personal usage data, comparative feedback and tangible steps on how to reduce their energy use. Indeed, OPOWER has had success in changing consumer behavior, reporting that such passive (one-way) engagement does empower consumers to take action – with participating consumers averaging 1.5% to 3% in energy savings over a control.

Interestingly, the introduction of rewards may be able to accelerate and sustain such energy savings by providing a greater financial incentive (bill savings + rewards earnings) for a consumer to take action. Such a model turns passive consumers into active ones that are more likely to engage with home energy tools, to open ongoing communications and to purchase energy-saving products. Such a hybrid (passive/active) model was first suggested in a study, “Residential Energy Use Behavior Change Pilot”, authored by Carroll, et. al.*

Indeed, this was an impetus for RecycleBank to partner with Efficiency 2.0 to launch of two energy platforms this year – CUB Energy Saver (Commonwealth Edison) and Western Mass Saves (Northeast Utilities).  Such platforms provide direct outreach to all consumers while providing the potential to earn rewards by those that actively engage.



Green marketers continue to be challenged by the notion of changing consumer attitudes in order to expand market appeal. Rewards create a shortcut of sorts by providing a direct incentive to motivate the desired behavior change. As a tool for green marketers, they can be a true game changer.

* “Residential Energy Use Behavior Change Pilot” by Ed Carroll and Eric Hatton of Franklin Energy and Mark Brown of Greenway Insights, commissioned by the Office of Energy Security, Minnesota Department of Commerce, April 20, 2009.


Driving Engagement and Viral Impact in the Green Space: Part II – Original Content

July 11, 2008

While creating and sharing user-generated content is an effective way to facilitate consumer engagement and viral marketing, it is not the only approach that marketers can take.  Professionally produced original content is another proven way.  Increasingly, agencies or production studios create and seed content on behalf of their clients for consumers to view and share online.

 

One such shop is Free Range Studios which has produced several original videos that have generated significant buzz and viral impact in the green space.  Calling its approach “socially conscious viral entertainment”, Free Range tries to “distill a complicated message into a fun or moving short story” while engaging its viewers by allowing them “to write the end of that story by taking action or donating.”  Stories are distributed not only through paid advertisement but via video sharing sites such as You Tube and, more specifically, RiverWired, emPivot and LivePaths in the green space.  They are also distributed offline at concerts and events.

 

Recent Free Range videos with eco-themes including Grocery Store Wars, a Star Wars spoof about a “small band of organic vegetable puppets” including Cuke Skywalker, Ham Solo, Chewbroccoli and Obi Wan Cannoli that do battle against Darth Tader and the Dark Side of the Farm.  

 

Most recently, Free Range released The Story of Stuff, a 20-minute video that explains the environmental impact regarding the “stuff” we consume.  The video has been a huge hit, recording more than 3 million viewers on The Story of Stuff microsite alone. Moreover, the video has received acclaim by winning the SXSW Interactive Award for its contribution as an educational resource.

 

Marketers should recognize that there are certain trade-offs made in producing their own original content themselves versus encouraging users to generate it for them.  For example, with original content, upfront costs are likely to be significant higher.  Yet, for getting a complex message across to consumers, original content may be a marketer’s best option to hit a home run.


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. 

brickfish_overview.gif

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

 

brickfish_origin.gif

 

brickfish_honestfoods.gif

 

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.

 

brickfish_visualization.gif

 

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.


Predicting a Green Future

February 14, 2008

This past week, the Industry Standard (IS), an icon of the late nineties Internet boom, relaunched its online property.  It did so, however, not as a publisher of industry content but rather as a consumer-driven platform to predict the future.

How does a platform such as this enable seemingly ordinary consumers to predict the future?  Quite simply, IS taps the “wisdom of crowds” or consensus view to determine the probability that an event will happen in the future.  Such an approach assumes that that “aggregation of information in groups…result[s] in decisions that…are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group.”  Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, this approach has been demonstrated to be quite effective at making accurate predictions.

How does it work?  In the case of IS, a “market” is simulated whereby members place a bet on the probability that a future event will or will not occur.  They do so using “virtual currency” called “Standard Dollars”.  The probability of that event coming true is estimated based on “community consensus” calculated as the weighted average value of the bets placed for or against the prediction coming true.

thestandard.gif

Interestingly, IS is only the latest online publisher to tap into this type of platform as a way to engage consumers.  Moreover, many of the existing platforms have a focus on predicting environmental trends including FT Predict, intrade, IdeaWorth, newsfutures, Popular Science Prediction Exchange, and ZiiTrend.   

                  Intrade’s Market Predicting EU Carbon Targets

predictive-models_intrade.gif

            Popular Science’s Market Predicting Green Events

predictive-models_ppx.gif

While many other sites exist to predict the future, it seems that only IS has tapped industry heavyweights as regular participants.  Their presence not only lends credibility to the site (and the predictions generated there), but arguably, also increases the accuracy of those predictions as well.  Quite simply, influentials possess domain knowledge that can shape the opinions of other site participants and the wagers that they make regarding the future.

As marketers experiment with new ways to attract and engage consumers, simulated markets should be in the mix.  Moreover, participation by domain experts may only enhance this consumer experience by providing credibility and enhancing the accuracy of the predictions.  But, you don’t have to take my word on this, however.  Just ask a crowd.


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*.

inside-sustainability_v1.gif

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).  

influencer_propeller-chat_-etc.gif

 

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”

 

influencer_propeller_influencers_v1.gif

 

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.

influencer_oovoo.gif

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.


Corporations Foster Dialogue On the Environment

January 14, 2008

While many corporations leverage the Internet to distribute information about environmental initiatives, a few companies are going much further by facilitating two-way dialogue with stakeholders.   

Some companies may view such dialogue – via email, web forums, chat rooms and video – as risky, as it may open them up to public scrutiny.  Moreover, this sentiment may be especially true today for those brands that compete in carbon-intensive industries. 

Nonetheless, companies that are bold enough to enter into a dialogue tend to find that the rewards outweigh the risks.  Dialogue creates a direct channel to stakeholders that can be used to gather feedback, build credibility, and engender more loyalty by showing a more human side of the company. 

In other cases, companies are using dialogue to activate stakeholders – including customers, suppliers, employees, partners and shareholders – as change agents by soliciting new ideas. 

There are several examples of dialogue in the environmental space.  Here are just a few: 

British Telecom: It seems that on most corporate sites today, users are hard pressed to find a specific contact to forward their concerns to, let along an email address that does not deliver to a general mailbox. 

BT is different in this regard as it offers a detailed listing of contact names and email addresses to send questions specifically regarding corporate social responsibility, corporate environment programs and environmental supply chain management.

dialogue_v3_bt.gif

Shell: Shell periodically conducts webcasts with senior-level executives on topics such as its annual Sustainability Report.  Interviews address questions solicited from stakeholders via email.   

dialogue_v3_shellv2.gif

Dell: When Michael Dell declared that he wanted to build the “greenest PC on earth,” his company launched IdeaStorm as a platform to solicit “direct feedback from, [its] customers, suppliers and stakeholders” on how to do just that.  Moreover, IdeaStorm engages its stakeholders as change agents by encouraging them to promote their ideas and discuss them online with Dell and other users.

dialogue_v3_dell.gif

General Motors: Chevrolet just announced a bold move in the green space by inviting the public to enter into a direct dialogue regarding GM flagship division and actions that it is taking to reduce its environmental impact. Through a New York Times advertisement, Beth Lowery, GM Vice President for Environment, Energy and Safety Policy asked the public to “talk” with Chevy about mutual concerns for the environment and what Chevy is doing to address them.   

Lowery asks the public to submit questions through a New York Times microsite that will be published in the Friday Op/Ed section.

dialogue_v3_gm.gif

While many marketers perceive direct dialogue as too risky, many companies have fully engaged with stakeholders on many sensitive topics including the environment.  For many, a direct channel to the customer provides a way to generate feedback as well as to solicit new ideas.  Others focus on creating a more human way to connect with stakeholders. 

Regardless, dialogue is consistent with key attributes of leading green brands including accountability, transparency and credibility. More companies need to overcome their fear of potential negative feedback and join the dialogue on green issues. If done correctly, dialogue will more likely mitigate than engender consumer backlash in the future.  

(Full disclosure: GM is a Digitas client)


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. 

 engagement-tactics_2.gif

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. 

 engagement-tactics.gif

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)


Portal Strategy – Part I: Engaging Green Consumers on Yahoo!

December 28, 2006

Yahoo Auto’s Green Center is a powerful auto buying portal focused on hybrid and other eco-friendly vehicles.  Its web pages are packed with engaging content, tools and community features that help users evaluate, compare and find the green car that is right for them.   

Site features target consumer needs at every stage across the purchase funnel – from building awareness of green cars and technology to enabling comparison of available choices to facilitating purchases at the dealerships.  Moreover, Yahoo built the site using relevant proprietary applets such as Yahoo Answers, Groups and News that are used across its portal, while forming partnerships to do the rest.  In doing so, Yahoo is able to integrate best-of-breed tools within the site experience.

 

Yahoo Auto's Green Center

yahoo-auto-center_screen-shot_3.jpg

Green Center Site Features and Partners

Features

Partners/Yahoo Applets
Content  
  Car information including pricing (MSRP and invoice), rebates and incentives, features & specifications, performance reviews, photos and videos JD Powers
Exclusive “Green Ratings” Environmental Defense
Federal and state purchasing incentives HybridCars.com
Gas saving tips; Hybrid newsletter HybridCars.com
Relevant news articles Yahoo! News, del.icio.us
Tools  
  Car comparison  
  Gas mileage impact calculator (consumption, costs, emissions) HybridCars.com, ACEEE's Green Book
  Alternative fuel gas locator US Department of Energy
  Financing (rates + quotes) CapitalOne, CarsDirect, Bankrate.com
  Insurance (quotes) Allstate, Progressive, GEICO
Community  
  Groups Yahoo! Groups
  Q&A Yahoo! Answers
  Opinion polls  
  Most popular/viewed cars  

One of the most engaging tools is the Gas Mileage Impact Calculator which enables direct comparison of vehicles based on gas milage, fuel costs and emissions.  Here I have provided a direct comparison between the Camry and the Camry hybrid.  Note the 2,500 lb reduction in carbon dioxide emissions when shifting to the hybrid.

Gas Mileage Impact Calculator
gasmileageimpactcalculator.jpg

One of the best community features on the site is Yahoo Answers which allows users to pose questions and others to provide answers. Users then select the best answer through popular vote.

Yahoo Answers on the Environment & Ecology


yahooanswers.jpg


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 59 other followers

%d bloggers like this: