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.


Green Marketing Leverages Social Networking on MySpace

February 19, 2007

Social networking sites such as MySpaceFriendster and Facebook have become enormously popular, with membership topping 200 million today.  Such sites allow users to create personal profiles and interact with others by sharing content and communicating through IM and chat.  Users establish links to each other, creating networks that facilitate the sharing of information between friends and introductions between strangers. 

As Jupiter Research points out, advertising on social networks provides a powerful channel for marketers to reach online consumers in an “environment which they helped create” rather than on “traditional portals and destination sites”. In doing so, marketers can leverage social networks to build brand awareness, in large part by leveraging the word-of-mouth impact of the network. (“Social Networks”, September 26, 2006). 

For marketers, however, advertising on social networks is not without risk.  One challenge faced by all marketers is how to appear ‘genuine’ rather than purely commercial in such consumer-created environments.  Faced with this dilemma, mass market brands must tread carefully when advertising on such sites.  For example, a search on MySpace for Wal-Mart yields a profile page targeting college students with music, electronics and dorm accessories.  It also yields a “Don’t Shop Wal-Mart” page with many links to negative news reports about the company.  Ironically, green as a category may be better positioned than most to exploit social networks as a marketing channel.  There are a couple reasons for this positioning, as the green category may exhibit one or more of the following characteristics: 

  • Emerging product category: Social network users like to share content as there is an excitement, and even competitiveness, about being first in the know.  Emerging products and brands provide the opportunity to exploit the “novelty” factor that motivates viral marketing. 
  • Social cause:  Many consumers are linking to sites or sharing content if these sites or content support an underlying cause.
  • Lifestyle brand: Social network users express their online identities, in part, through the connections that they make online.  Links to lifestyle brands (or social causes) are ways for consumers to express this identity online. 

So, how should green brands take advantage of this consumer-driven social networking environment?  In terms of opportunity size, MySpace is in a league of its own with more than 100 million registered users.  A review of current activities on MySpace reveals learning for green marketers.  Here are a few considerations: 

Create profiles.  Increasingly, companies and non-profits are creating their own profiles on MySpace.  At first glance, they look similar to profiles created by individual users (as the templates are the same).  But, in fact, they are branded pages with content posted by a company or non-profit organization. One proxy for the marketing impact generated from placement on a social networking site is the number of people that have linked to a particular profile.  Based on this measure, promoters of the movie An Inconvenient Truth have enjoyed significant success for a green brand with nearly 85,000 links to date.   

Many not-for-profit organizations also maintain profiles on MySpace.  Interestingly, Greenpeace has one of the most popular profiles of any green non-profit.  However, this may not be surprising as MySpace is in large part about expressing online identity.  Given its grassroots base and edgy tactics, Greenpeace may make for a more unique expression of identify than more mainstream organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund. 

Non-Profit Organization MySpace Links
Greenpeace 38,311
Wilderness Society 16,603
World Wildlife Fund 14,366
Earth First 10,337
National Resource Defense Council* 5,624

* Joint campaign with punk rock band Green Day 

A quick survey of eco-friendly companies, however, revealed very few brands with profiles on MySpace but include Annie’s Homegrown (organic), Ben and Jerry’s and green*light magazine.  Not surprisingly, user links to these corporate sites are relatively low, indicating that users do not want to associate with the brands within this environment or simply that it is too early to tell.   

Nonetheless, opportunity may exist for other niche brands (that are emerging, aligned with a specific lifestyle or support an underlying cause) to create a presence on MySpace.  Examples include companies as diverse as Tom’s of Maine, Seventh Generation, Method and Clif Bar to experiment with profiles on MySpace. 

Associate with celebrities. Association with celebrities provides credibility for a brand and expands it appeal across a wider audience.  One way to do so is to encourage celebrity links on branded profiles.  Currently, environmental non-profits are using this tactic as a de facto endorsement and broadening their appeal to a wider audience.  Most celebrities linked to environmental groups are musical bands which is not surprising given MySpace’s musical heritage.  Several examples include Pearl Jam for Defenders of Wildlife and the Dixie Chicks for the Nature Conservancy.  Promoters of An Inconvenient Truth have a link to the Black Eyed Peas while the unbranded profile StopGlobalWarming tapped the military and political figure, Wesley Clark.  

Tap into “New Influentials”.  Jupiter Research defines “New Influentials” as “active broadcasters of information” across the Internet due to their high consumption, creation and sharing of online content.  By doing so, they have significant influence in building brand awareness – spreading information quickly online via blogs and social networking sites. (“Marketing to Influentials,”, November 7, 2006).

Interestingly, many popular green blogs, including TreeHugger and GristMill, maintain profiles within MySpace and include similar content as their blogs. Seeding environmental blogs with engaging, and perhaps exclusive content (including videos, quizzes or even advertising clips themselves) is one way to facilitate viral distribution by New Influentials within social networking environments.  

Integrate marketing campaigns with MySpace presence.  Advertisers have created profiles within social networking sites in order to extend marketing campaigns to those environments.  Marketers should consider linking directly from the creative or corporate site associated with the online campaign to these profiles. These marketers should engage the consumers that visit their social networking profiles by soliciting their participation (eg, quiz, vote, content creation) or by facilitating the viral distribution of posted content.  There are two great examples of organizations that maintain integrated profiles on MySpace:  

National Resource Defense Council linked up with band Green Day to launch an unbranded campaign, Move America Beyond Oil.  The associated campaign site enables users to view video commentary by band members about environmental issues, send messages (eg, email, text) to government officials, learn about what they can do to reduce environmental impact and download free stuff (eg, wallpaper, icons).  

The campaign is tied to a profile page within MySpace which includes the video from YouTube and messaging information.   While the profile itself has fewer than 6,000 links, significantly, much of the content can be viewed or accessed from Green Day’s own profile which has more than 211,000.  

Green Mountain Energy, the largest US retailer of renewable energy, recently launched an ambitious unbranded campaign, BeGreenNow, which relies heavily on social network capabilities through its website as well as in MySpace.     The campaign itself features a highly engaging website that is intended to:

  • Educate consumers about their carbon footprint (eg, through content, blog, carbon calculator)
  • Motivate action to mitigate impact (eg, planting a tree, purchasing carbon offset)
  • Connect with likeminded people through community functions (eg, join BeGreenNow community, add link to other social networking sites including MySpace, social shopping site Wists and web site bookmarking and sharing sites like Simpy, Spurl, Furl and del.icio.us)
  • Spread the word through a combination of awareness (eg, add BeGreenNow button to personal pages or blogs) and viral tactics (forward to a friend).

The BeGreenNow site also features a video contest where users can submit a video about what they do to be green.  What is most interesting about this tactic is that marketers have cleverly embedded the video on its MySpace profile, rather than on the site.  Thus, a click on the site’s video banner takes the user to the MySpace page where one can view all of the submitted footage, vote on a favorite video and forward to a friend. 

When in doubt, stick to paid search.  Consumers are more accepting of advertisements when companies are open and honest about their intentions.  If there are any doubts about brand acceptance by social networking users, test the water first with paid search. For example, buy relevant key words to assess demand for a product or brand in the context of a social networking site before you invest in an ongoing presence.


Sharing Green Videos Online

December 26, 2006

According to Jupiter Research, more than 20% of online users in the US regularly view videos online today.  This segment is growing rapidly, driven by the adoption of broadband and emergence of video sharing sites such as Grouper, Veoh, vSocial, and YouTube, recently acquired by Google.  Marketers are taking note.  Once the domain for sharing consumer-generated content, such sites are increasingly being seeded with professional content including movie trailers, TV commercials and news stories. 

For green marketers, video sharing offers a powerful new channel to reach consumers and promote their message.  Specifically, video sharing enables marketers to:

  • Engage consumers through compelling, multimedia experiences
  • Facilitate word-of-mouth marketing efforts
  • Attract highly influential online users they can leverage as brand advocates.  In fact, 28% of users that view online videos regularly “ranked themselves as the first person people come to for recommendations about TV and movies, compared with 12 percent of all online consumers” according to Jupiter Research (Online Video Search, 11/06)

To assess the state of green video sharing, Marketing Green recently surveyed YouTube’s top “green” videos (based on number of views).  Here is what we found:

  • Green marketers are experimenting with online video, though with varying degrees of success.  Green videos can be categorized as either pro-environment or anti-environment.  They are being produced by an array of organizations – including Hollywood film studios, non-profits and news agencies – as well as independent filmmakers.  Somewhat surprisingly, no product companies made the top list, though a quick search yields content from eco-friendly campaigns by GE and Toyota.
  • Overall, the most popular videos had a mix of entertainment and celebrity appeal.  Moreover, most top-viewed videos were distributed to support more extensive, multi-channel marketing effort – say to promote Al Gore’s movie or TBS’s Earth to America! comedy, rather than produced as stand alone content in of themselves. 
  • Only three videos, all directly related to An Inconvenient Truth, have been seen by more than 100K viewers* to date.  This is significant because it says that most environmentally related videos appeal to niche audiences that perhaps have high pre-existing levels of awareness and understanding of these issues. 

Top 10 Pro-Environment Videos on YouTube 

Video Title

Topic Source Celebrity Views
“A Terrifying Message from Al Gore”

Global warming

Paramount

Futurama Al Gore

1,287,858

An Inconvenient Truth – Trailer

Movie trailer

Paramount

Al Gore

659,940

Will Ferrell on George Bush on Global Warming

Global warming

“Earth to
America”, TBS

Will Ferrell

137,710

Robert Redford on Saving the Arctic Refuge

Protect ANWAR

NRDC

Robert Redford

106,910

Water Powered Vehicle

Hydrogen-powered vehicles

Fox News

NA

102,968

A Global Warning…

Global warming

Independent Film Maker, WordofMouth

NA

56,619

Global Warming: From ‘If’ to ‘When’

Global warming

Health Politics.org

NA

43,248

Blue Man Group video featured on ‘Earth To America!’

Global warming

“Earth to
America”, TBS

Blue Man Group

42,359

The Bush Administration’s approach to Global Warming

Global warming

TheDaily Background. com

NA

34,984

Greenpeace anti-SUV Commercial

Anti-gas guzzler

Greenpeace

NA

32,448**

Top 5 Anti-Environment Videos on YouTube 

Video Title

Topic Source Celebrity Views

Al Gore’s Penguin Army

An Inconvenient Truth Parody

Anonymous

NA

471,871

Global Warming – Glaciers

Refutes Global Warming

Competitive Enterprise Institute

NA

105,042

Global Warming – Energy

Refutes Global Warming

Competitive Enterprise Institute

NA

43,849

Michele Bachmann doesn’t believe in global warming

Refutes Global Warming

Individual

NA

41,705

Al Gore: An Inconvenient Story

Anti-Al Gore

Competitive Enterprise Institute

NA

30,177

 

Jupiter Research reports that the top three ways for video users to “discover” videos include recommendations from friends, search engine results, TV/movie preview or trailer and directly from online video sites.   For green marketers to have significant impact, they must leverage these tactics in order to appeal to a mass audience. (Programming for Three Screens, 12/06).

 

Tactics for green marketers to consider:

  • Facilitate word of mouth.  Embed “pass-along” tools with content.  Identify key influencers and seed with content.
  • Enable search. Pay for relevant keywords and align ad copy.  Optimize landing pages for natural search.  Tag online videos to enable video search engines to crawl them. 
  • Create compelling content.  Content does not have to be associated with the latest blockbuster movie for it to be compelling.  Our quick assessment of green videos on YouTube suggests that comedic formats have broad appeal.  Case in point: “A Terrifying Message from Al Gore” produced by Paramount was by far the most viewed video – 2x over the actual trailer for the movie – through a clever parody of Al Gore using Futurama characters. 

Yet, serious documentaries can play to broader audiences but may require celebrities that leverage the affinity of the actor to legitimize the cause and broaden its appeal to do so.  Two examples include Al Gore and Robert Redford, the latter paring up with the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) in a video that promotes saving the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling. 

News articles may be more challenged to generate broad appeal, not by the nature of the content, but rather by its apparent lack of exclusivity which may diffuse the audience base across multiple channels.

  • Distribute through existing video sharing sites.  This may include organic seeding or paid placement of content when appropriate.   In addition, links can be created from popular blogs, boosting reach.

*Interestingly, the top anti-environmental video, “Al Gore’s Penguin Army”, was released by DCI Group, a PR agency, while the producer and financial backers remain anonymous.   

** Listed twice.  Other listing has 25,733 views. 


Taking the Online Pulse: Green Marketing in 2006

December 23, 2006

As 2006 draws to a close, it is important to reflect on the trends that are emerging globally on “green marketing”.  Free web analytics tools can help marketers quickly take the pulse of this space online.

“Green marketing” references clearly increased in the blogosphere during 2006, perhaps by 50-100+% according to Technorati Charts tool.   

 bitmap-image-jpeg.JPG

The year started off with more than 100 references daily, but soon increased to an average of 150-200+ for the remainder of the year.  Many factors contributed to this, perhaps none more than the release of The Inconvenient Truth in May or rising gasoline prices which spiked in April and hovered near $3 throughout the summer.

Searches for “green marketing”, on the other hand, held relatively steady throughout 2006 according to Google Trends, a prototype analytics tool from Google Labs. It is difficult to assess the broader significance of this, however, as the term is hardly a bellwether for consumer interest in green products, but more likely a reflection of (lower volume) interest by marketing professionals.

What is interesting, however, is where the dialogue is taking place.  On a normalized basis, searches for “green marketing” are happening globally – and especially within the developing markets of Asia. (NOTE: normalized basis is defined as users’ propensity to search for a topic on Google on a relative basis)

Top “Regions” based on (normalized) search for “green marketing”

  1. India
  2. Malaysia
  3. Thailand
  4. Colombia
  5. Ireland
  6. United Kingdom

  7. Australia

  8. United States

  9. Canada

  10. Finland

 

I look forward to monitoring these emerging trends in 2007.


Media-Driven Conservation

October 22, 2006

An Interview with Jason Heller, SVP, Horizon Interactive, and Founder, “Profit the Earth”

With a personal passion for underwater photography, Jason Heller may sometimes think of himself more as an “underwater policeman” than as a director of a digital media agency. But, his real passion may lie at the intersection of the two.

Through his “Profit the Earth” initiative, Heller intends to secure funding from major corporations for marine conservation projects across the world. In return, Heller hopes to provide corporations with a positive ROI on their investment through a mix of traditional and non-traditional brand media including event sponsorships, naming rights, PR and buzz (e.g., consumer generated content in discussion forums and blogs. 

In fact, the value of the media generated from such a project may offer a significant return while doing good for marine conservation efforts, with a pilot generating potentially more than 3x in equivalent media value for the sponsor.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Heller this week. Here are his words:

MG: What is the origin of “Profit the Earth” and how does it reflect your core beliefs?

JH: “Profit the Earth” is a unique marine conservation company that seeks to bring corporate marketing dollars to under-funded or non-funded projects in the form of media and sponsorships.

Because I am an avid marine photographer, I am focused on marine conservation. I want to leverage my contacts and expertise to fund projects and return value in terms of PR and media. 

MG: Tell me about your current project to protect a reef off of Bali. What will it mean for the local economy and eco-system?

JH: Bali is considered a pilot project to prove the model out first. 

Bali is purely an environmental project that stems from the natural degradation of an artificial reef and turning it into a press event. The current reef is a wreck, the USS Liberty, a World War II warship. It serves multiple purposes: dive site, habitat for fish, support for local community, as divers come to dive the wreck and eat at local restaurants.

The idea came from Michael Cortenbach, founder of Bali Hai [Dive Adventure]: procure a boat and sink it so that when the old boat degrades, a new boat will be in place.

The dive industry has major events around sinking ships to create artificial reefs. One such event was the sinking of the USS Oriskany off Pensacola, Florida. [The Oriskany, an aircraft carrier that saw combat operations in Korea and Vietnam was sunk in May 2006, becoming the largest artificial reef in the world.] The sinking was a major event. To sink a ship in the US costs millions, in Asia it costs a few hundred thousand dollars.

[The artificial reef, including the sinking event, has received significant press coverage by major news organizations, dive organizations and bloggers alike. It also has generated significant ongoing brand awareness for the reef off the Florida coast. For example, a search on Google under “USS Oriskany” and “reef” generates 21,300 results.]

MG: What are the specific media tactics planned for the event? What is the media worth? Will the event generate a positive ROI?

JH: Procure a ship, bring it to Bali, and create a press event out of the sinking. The project requires securing a sponsor with naming rights to the wreck. PR will be generated from the event and generate residual value over time for the sponsor. It will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to sink the wreck but generate a million in PR.

The event itself will be covered extensively by dive magazines, travel magazines and environmental publications. This generates immediate PR, let alone residual PR. For the sponsor, naming rights for the artificial reef have ongoing value: dive operators take out Google ads with the name of the site and consumers generate media by discussing the reef [by name] in chat rooms. [The current dive site off Bali] is one of the best sites so dive magazines write stories about it every year.

MG: And your plans longer-term?

JH: A project on the Galapagos Islands will have larger, global impact. I consult companies in the dive industry on the side, including one of the largest operators of land and diving tours in Galapagos, where there is much concern about illegal fishing. My goal is to help get corporate dollars to help save these areas. The goal is to raise $1MM per year over 5 years to enforce illegal fishing and generate media by exposing tourists that visit the Galapagos to the sponsor.

MG: Does this model scale?

JH: Scalability is not the number of projects, but the size of projects that have larger impact on marine conservation. I am trying to create the infrastructure so that a handful of marine projects can find funding. My goal is to do 3 to 4 large [marine conservation] projects per year. It is only newsworthy if there are a few projects per year, as there is overlap in coverage by publications.


%d bloggers like this: