Transforming the Climate Conversation Through Social Video

Originally published on Greenbiz, June 5, 2014

Over the last two decades, non-profit organizations have tried to influence U.S. consumer belief in anthropogenic, or human-driven, climate change. During that time, many high profile campaigns have been launched, from the Evangelical Environmental Network’s What Would Jesus Do? campaign in 2000 to Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection’s bipartisan We Can Solve It campaign in 2008 to 350.org’s Do the Math campaign in 2012.

While each campaign recorded its own successes, consumer data suggests that their collective impact on consumer beliefs has been nominal. Today, only a slim majority of Americans (57 percent) believe that climate change is caused by human activity, a percentage largely unchanged since Gallup’s Environment poll started in 2001.

Of course, there are many reasons why such campaigns might not have had broader impact. The campaigns may not have reached enough skeptics of anthropogenic climate change, or if they did, may have delivered messages that did not resonate or were discounted relative to counterarguments made by media organizations such as Fox News.

Former hedge fund executive Tom Steyer is already planning the next climate campaign through his super PAC NextGen Climate Action. NextGen intends to influence voting behavior in the midterm election, with the goal of electing public officials more likely to pass climate change legislation.

Taking a page from Obama’s 2012 reelection playbook, NextGen plans to connect one-on-one with voters — including skeptics of anthropogenic climate change — through tailored messages believed to have the best chance at swaying votes. While this latest effort is laudable, NextGen faces challenges similar to previous climate campaigns, namely, motivating skeptics to listen to its message and trust in the messenger that delivers it.

Advertisers face similar challenges in influencing consumers today through traditional advertisements. A recent Nielsen study indicates that, for Americans, “recommendations from people that [they] know” is, by far, the most trusted form of advertising (84 percent, up 6 percentage points from 2007.)

What this suggests is that the best way to influence consumer beliefs on climate change is to have trusted family and friends deliver the message, not advertisers. But to do so, an advertiser still faces high hurdles in motivating some people to watch messages delivered directly from the advertiser and then share them, whether by email, text, social network or word of mouth, across social circles. Such shared messages are impactful, not just because they come from a trusted source, but also because they come with an endorsement — implicitly or explicitly — from that person.

So, how do advertisers motivate consumers to share ads?

Leading global advertisers such as P&G, Samsung, Chrysler and Ford have delivered repeated success by engaging hundreds of millions of consumers through choice — or user-initiated — video. This is how it works: video ads are placed amongst native content on publisher sites across the web. When consumers find them relevant to their experience, they click and view them. To an advertiser, choice video is still an ad. But, to a consumer, it is content — and content that consumers choose to watch, and share if compelled to do so.

Non-profits and green brands such as Seventh Generation and Method also have leveraged choice video to engage consumers. Advertisers leverage choice video not just because it generates media efficiencies as shared (or earned) views are free, but because it also drives real impact, as demonstrated in multiple brand studies conducted jointly by Visible Measures and Insights Express, a leading research company.

Let’s take a closer look at some successful non-profit campaigns. One example is the Kony 2012 campaign launched by the non-profit organization Invisible Children. This campaign featured a 30-minute, documentary-style video that engaged viewers with a gripping story of a boy forced into being a child soldier fighting for Joseph Kony, a brutal rebel leader in Africa. In all, more than 229 million viewers have watched this video, making it one of the most viewed video campaigns of all time.
The campaign’s success not only was measured by its viewership, but also by how many viewers felt compelled to share it.
So the question becomes how does an advertiser motivate viewers to share a video, even one with a storyline as dark as this? The answer is straightforward: viewers share when they feel rewarded for doing so.

In the case of Kony 2012, the campaign was positioned to viewers as a way to build awareness for Joseph Kony’s atrocities in the hope that by making him famous, governments would come under pressure to take action to stop him. Viewers readily shared and engaged with the video across their social networks and, in return, gained a sense of personal satisfaction in knowing that their actions were helping to bring Kony to justice.

Most social videos, fortunately, tell a more positive story than Kony 2012’s. One recent example is a video campaign launched by Thai mobile operator TrueMove H, Giving Is the Best Communications. This gripping three-minute video tells the story of a storekeeper’s generosity toward a small boy that is repaid 30 years later. It has garnered over 16 million views to date from around the world — many of them generated through social sharing.

Viewers watch this video because it tells a universally appealing story that transcends cultural and language barriers to emotionally connect with viewers. Arguably, viewers have been sharing it because they get satisfaction from inspiring others — or perhaps even bragging rights of sort from being the first in their social group to share it. Regardless, the sharing of this video comes with an implicit or explicit endorsement from a trusted source to watch it.

Now, a similar opportunity exists to leverage choice video to influence consumer beliefs about climate change. Success of such a video campaign hinges on at least three things.

First, a campaign must craft a compelling story that all viewers — climate change believers and skeptics alike — want to watch. There are many ways to do this creatively, of course, but those that tell a universal story may have the broadest appeal.

Second, a campaign must distribute content to influencers and audiences across the web in order to spark social sharing. While earned media is free, most campaigns spend significant dollars building social momentum.

And third, viewers must feel rewarded for sharing. People enjoy compelling stories. But it does not mean that they automatically share them. People need an incentive for sharing in larger numbers and more often. Certainly, it can be based on a sense of personal satisfaction from taking social action as in the Kony campaign, or from inspiring others as in “Giving.” There is no reason why a climate campaign could not be awe-inspiring or feature a celebrity in a way that would enhance the reputation of those doing the sharing as trendsetters.

Choice video is a powerful medium by which to influence consumer beliefs on climate change. It not only has the potential to engage climate skeptics, but also to influence their beliefs, especially when the message is shared from a trusted source. This is one medium that climate campaigns — including Steyer’s super PAC — should give a chance.

Advertisement

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

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.

Tapping the Emerging Celebrity Power of Online Influentials

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.

Green Content Syndication: Part III – Activating Diggers

Today, dozens of social news sites exist where users bookmark content for the site’s community to view and rate.  Specific content related to the environment is available on both general news sites such as Digg, Newsvine, Propeller (AOL) or Reddit and green vertical sites such as C2NN, Hugg, Five Limes and plant change (Aus).  Squareoak Media provides a fairly comprehensive list of social news sites categorized by vertical.

When syndicating green content, marketers should seek to activate influentials on each social news site by encouraging them to submit relevant articles that support and reinforce the marketers’ efforts.  Articles submitted by such influentials are more likely to become popular (see Marketing Green’s “Green Content Syndication: Part II – Top Environmental Diggers”) than if submitted ordinarily, resulting in improved reach and traffic to the host site.  

But, how do you activate influentials on sites such as Digg?  While all social news sites operate somewhat differently, learnings from Digg are relevant to most every other site.  Marketing Green believes that there are three key ways to influence article submission by Diggers.   

Make it relevant.  Each Digger has his/her own style and topic preferences.  Get to know each of them by reviewing their profile, past articles that they submitted (and especially those that subsequently became popular) and in what categories. Focus on activating those Diggers that most closely align with your content topics. 

Make it easy.  Diggers sift through dozens of blogs, sites and newsfeeds daily.  As such, make sure your articles  stand out: position them with a new spin, provide a catchy title or attach relevant visuals (ie, images, video) to accompany the content.  Moreover, when possible, refer articles written by a third-party source as it provides added credibility. 

Develop trust. Marketers should focus on developing a rapport with a select few Diggers and carefully seed articles to each – or give them a heads up in advance of their publication. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with two diggers on Marketing Green’s List of Top Environmental Diggers: 32-year old Jonathon Colman (#7 burkinaboy) of Washington DC and 18-year old Erik Bashatly (#10 sepultura) of Montreal, Canada.  It is important to note that Diggers are not paid (while “Scouts” and “Anchors” on Propeller are).  For them, the environment is an interest or a passion; submitting content is their way to help build awareness for issues of interest or concern.  Notably, Jonathon’s activities as a Digger aligns with his day job as the Associate Director of Digital Marketing at The Nature Conservancy.  

Separately, I asked them questions about their style as Diggers, their influence and how green marketers should best approach them with new articles for submission.  Here is what they had to say:

MG: When it comes to the environment, are there specific topics that you like to digg?

burkinaboy: I tend to submit stories about conservation, people and their interactions with nature, endangered species, and environmental science/data, but I tend to digg (vote for) quite a lot of “green living” and general sustainability-focused stories.  I always find reading these articles to be very intriguing and helpful in terms of reducing my own, personal impact on the environment and climate.

sepultura: I’m a strong believer in green technology, so I try to find as many stories as possible, which take on the positive effects that technology has on the environment.  For example, advances in automotive technologies are a strong plus for me when I’m looking for stories to submit.  The majority of the green tech articles I submit are from a blog called EcoGeek.org, which is focused on spreading the word on all the beneficial improvements of technology.

MG: What makes an article become popular on Digg?

sepultura: If a story gets enough diggs, it’ll become popular in time.  But, don’t we all wish it were really that simple?  Digg’s front page stories get there based on an a complex algorithm, which was very well explained by my friend and fellow digger Muhammad Saleem. While there is no fixed rule on how and when articles can or will become popular, the more experience you gain on the site, the more you’ll understand it.  I’d say that about 85 % of Digg’s top users have noticed the many patterns in the algorithm and have adjusted their submissions accordingly.

burkinaboy: I think that it’s a fun (yet sometimes awkward) balance of trust in the user submitting the article, “juiciness” of the title and description text, freshness level of interest in the news itself, reputation of the hosting site for the content, and (of course) luck.  That said, it’s well known that a good photo or multimedia feature can sometimes sell a story, as can other singular aspects, such as using the phrase “Top 10…” in the title.

MG: How much influence do individual diggers have in making an article popular?

burkinaboy: Quite a bit, assuming that the individual user is well-known, has a good reputation, and operates at an elite level.  For example, articles that are posted by or commented on by users like msaleem, zaibatsu, and mrbabyman tend to attract a lot of attention from the community.  That said, a relatively unknown user can use shouts, a catchy title, or even — gasp! — find outrageous, incredible news that hasn’t been posted elsewhere.  Beyond following best practices with story submissions, I personally use a combination of shouts, Twitter, Pownce, IM and my Facebook profile to attract diggs for the stories that I post.

sepultura: On the whole, it is relatively difficult to get a submission on Digg’s front page without having a strong presence on the site.  (This has become less difficult today due to Digg’s recent addition of the “shouting” system). Over the past few months, I’ve noticed that casual users can (for the most part) only get a story on the front page if the submission meets one or more of the following criteria: it links to a very popular site (Ars Technica, Cracked, Torrent Freak), it is breaking news, or  it’s something so amazing that no one has ever seen before (which is the hardest to come across). 

Digg’s so-called top users have an easier time getting their stories popular simply because they have built a following and have gained experience and have learned what other diggers want.  If you contribute enough, you start to know exactly what to do to be successful.  So I’d say that when it comes to top diggers, an individual digger has a lot of influence.  However, any other user does not have that much individual power on Digg.

MG: Do marketers send you or tip you off to articles for consideration? If so, how often do you dig them when they do?

sepultura: I get about 2 to 3 articles sent to me for consideration each day from people who get my email address off my Digg profile. If I like an article I’ll usually digg it (I’d say that I’ll accept about 60% of the articles sent me to me. However, it should be noted that I’ll usually getting these request from the same people most of the time, which I continuously like to support.

burkinaboy: I love receiving articles from other users and evaluate them for diggs as I would any other story… I look for fairness in coverage, journalistic integrity, newsworthiness, whether the source is primary or first hand in nature, etc.  I tend to only get a handful of requests each week from folks whom I don’t know.  That said, the bulk of my personal submissions to Digg are from a huge page of aggregated RSS feeds that I review frequently.

MG: Do you like when marketers send you articles?   If so, how would you prefer that they approach you?

burkinaboy: Being spammed by fellow diggers will not gain my votes unless the stories are of truly exceptional quality, which they most often are not.  I prefer shouts as my main method of inbound requests and review my incoming shouts regularly, parsing out the stories for votes.

sepultura: I generally don’t mind people sending me links to their own blogs, but I do mind the occasional “demand” (as opposed to the welcomed “request”).  Some people believe that saying “check out my story and Digg it on Monday morning so that it can get the most traffic possible” is a legitimate way of asking me to help them out. 

I also never accept money for submitting articles to Digg.  It wouldn’t be worth risking my reputation. 

I love helping people out, especially bloggers who are just getting started.  I will, however, deny a submission if I don’t approve of it.  It’s also quite obvious when someone is in it for the money instead of for their content.  As for tips from random people, they’re always welcome of course!

MG: Why do you spend so much time on Digg? 

burkinaboy: I do this because it’s a great way to market and promote stories about the environment, conservation, science, green living and sustainability to a large number of people who have an interest in and are affected by these issues, but who might not otherwise see the particular stories that I post. 

We all know that making a story popular on Digg tends to cause a large wave of traffic to the hosting site, but what gets talked about a bit less is the spike of blog and media sites picking up popular posts on Digg that drives a smaller (but longer) secondary wave of traffic, interest, and search engine visibility to those same stories.  Therefore, making a story popular on Digg doesn’t just mean that a marketer is promoting content to a closed audience, but to nearly everyone consuming media online.

sepultura: Many people believe that we either do it to gain some kind of profit or because we have nothing better to do with our lives.  Either way it’s a negative misconception.  We do it simply because we enjoy contributing to something that we love to use.  It’s that simple.

Green Content Syndication: Part II – Top Environmental Diggers

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.

top-diggers_dailygreen_for-blog.gif

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

mgs-top-environmental-diggers.gif

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.

 top-diggerv4.gif    

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

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 

 digg-widget.gif

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

foxnews.gif 

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”.

magnify.gif

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).

greenenergytv.gif

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.

Greener SimCity Virtual World as Channel to Influence Real World Behaviors

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.  

simcity.gif

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

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)

Greening Your Brand in a Web 2.0 World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gdp-vs-brand-value_v2.gif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

outside-thinkers.gif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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