Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Green is a verb" or "How to market an eco-cause"

I recall a TV commercial where a customer checking out at the grocery store panics as the cashier asks, "paper or plastic?" The customer begins to flash between scenes of chemical factories pumping out black clouds and deforestation clips of trees being pulled out by the truck load. I ask how well we really understand the environmental impact for anything we purchase?

Do we really know what's behind a campaign with the latest green/eco/earth-friendly buzz word surrounded by an obligatory green leaf? Is it a symbol of a true systemic business model focusing on sustainability or an effort to grope toward greater market share in a segment customers are willing to pay a premium for?

Newsweek just posted Green Rankings of the top 500 corporations. As they conducted research for the story, they mentioned the difficulty gathering accurate information on many companies who tend to hide eco-sensitive information. While Trucost was used to project the environmental impact for many companies, 77 of the largest 100 were transparent enough to provide actual information. Kudos to them! Many are reticent to provide this information since it can mean a black eye, even when environmental sensitivity is a priority.

Daniel Goleman's book Ecological Intelligence addresses many of these issues. Goleman points out that there are over 650 steps in the process to produce glass packaging. Greening up one or even 100 of these steps is a move in the right direction, but at what point is it considered a green product? There are no generally accepted or federally established regulations that define what counts as a green product. Because of this, Goleman suggests that "Green" is not an adjective or a noun, but a verb. It is an active process, weighing the relative good against the opportunities to improve.

Marketers seeking to pursue environmental causes should strive to create a business environment of transparency, open dialog, and ritualistic if not religious fervor of every environmental impact throughout the entire supply chain. This is the only way to reveal those who claim the "green" title under false pretenses. While removing the cloak may be uncomfortable for some, it will educate the customer base and endear them through respect and intelligent dialogue. Firms like HP, who is reaping the benefits of steps taken years ago, and Nike, who has made specific efforts to repair PR damage from controversies surrounding contracted factories, deserve to be applauded. Their work has created a competitive advantage and illustrates a model for others that shows these efforts result in real benefits. Be virtuous and trust that your customers will carry you forward!

P.S. Bonus points to anyone who can find a video link to the ad mentioned in the opening paragraph.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Library of Free Downloadable Marketing Material

With the recent buzz around the release of Kodak's guide to social media and Jeff Klein's free e-book, 26 Principles of Working for Good, I thought I'd take a second or two to compile a couple free downloadable marketing publications into one spot for those interested in these topics. It isn't comprehensive, and I welcome your additions, but these are the ones that I enjoyed and thought were good references.



Friday, May 8, 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Power To The People

Mass marketing took off with the distribution of the radio and television in homes across the world, but as we know, this was a one-way format that allowed companies to rain down their message of choice on the consumers.  The mass of consumers were often too fragmented and disorganized to create a message clear and loud enough to reach the ears of the companies leadership.  The Internet certainly revolutionized this dynamic to give the people a voice, but what does this mean for the marketer at the company looking to spread a message?

The marketer must realize first, that the company no longer enjoys a position high and above the consumer base, but has been pulled down to equal footing surrounded by consumers, both loyal and disgruntled.  Secondly, in a pseudo-coming of age story, the consumers have shown now that they have less and less trust in the messages being generated by large corporations, but they have faith in the recommendations of their peers.  In this way, the public, with their blogs, 5-star review ratings, and social networks have taken over the marketing of the firm.  The CMO at the corporation, no longer sets the message.  The public does.

As a result, the marketer’s role has shifted now to become more of a public relations manager.  For the company, having a customer base of thousands willing to share a key message to a friend is invaluable.  The trouble is getting a critical amount of momentum generated to carry it through and creating a monitoring system to limit its break down.  Remember playing the phone game where a group of people would stand in a line and the first would whisper a message into the ear of the person next to them, who would repeat it to the next all the way down the line until the last would say out loud what they heard?  That is a perfect example of message entropy.  This happens to marketing messages as well, but it can be reduced if the message is married to something the audience is already associated with.

Just like name associations that help you remember the name of someone you just met, tying a positive and relatable association to the companies message will increase the number of customers who carry the message through their network as well as its ability to stay clear.  Social causes are a perfect vehicle for this.  Undoubtedly, there will be some marketers who stick to the old methodology of raining mass messages down through every media channel they can get their hands on.  As the world moves forward though, it will be those who have started early to build strong and vigorous networks of customers well skilled in the art of message dissemination that will have a sustainable competitive advantage in the future.  The people own the brand and they will be the champions of it, as long as we give them something worth carrying on.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Cause Marketing with Maslow

When considering a partnership for your next Cause Marketing campaign take a look at it from the consumer's perspective.  Buyer behavior takes Maslow's Hierarchy of needs and applies it to the purchase process.  Certain products are purchased to meet specific needs for each individual.  Clearly, toothpaste plays into the equation at a different level than the purchase of an 80' yacht.  While not everyone is walking out to buy their next boat, you get the idea that different purchases bring different things to the buyer.
Now consider the needs organizations can provide for relative to this scale.  Certainly, the largest portion of organizations focus on the physiological needs since they are the foundation to life, but there are plenty out there that can go beyond this category.  As an example, America's Second Harvest = Physiological, Boys and Girls Clubs of America = Belongingness, Museum of Modern Art = Self-Actualization.
Understanding the need the buyer is meeting in the purchase of the product will allow the matching of a corresponding organization.  The end result will create a more intuitively consistent transaction from the buyer's perspective that will increase the returns to the organization.  The consumer can relate to the need in a more intimate manner creating empathy and appreciation for the need as it is presented.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Expanding the definition of Return in your ROI

I was chatting with a local coffee shop manager about the latest social responsibility initiatives he was organizing out of his store.  He expressed the benefits in terms of customer relations, where it clearly strengthened the bonds of loyal customers, but also provided a great venue to attract new customers into the fold.  So I asked him what kind of return on investment he was getting from his corporate philanthropy.  With the expense of monetary donations, volunteer hours, and gifts in kind, he clearly stated he was still getting a positive return.  But this is where the conversation had its key point.
Return is about more than the money coming into the cash register and to limit our value of cause marketing to this one quantity is highly inaccurate and sells these initiatives short.  As his team built a Habitat for Humanity home, it was not with the intent of marketing to the new homeowners in order to persuade them to patronize the shop.  Honestly, he acknowledged he wasn't likely to see anything more in the cash register as a direct result of customer growth in that neighborhood.  So where was the positive return?
As companies take on cause marketing initiatives the benefits are greater then the external result that rewards an organization, community, or individuals.  There is also a very real internal benefit.  Experience shows that the staff increases their own job satisfaction and loyalty, which decreases employee turnover and the resulting HR training and administrative costs.  Furthermore, the bonds between fellow employees strengthens and leaves the workforce working more efficiently and effectively, reducing lost productivity due to personality conflicts, absenteeism, and low morale.
This in no way discounts any return that does come in a cash form from increased customer traffic, but we must have the awareness to account for all the benefits incorporated in order to accurately determine the value of each cause marketing initiative.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Obligatory Super Bowl Ad Recap

Well, they warned us that the ads would be more subdued.  After checking the O.E.D. I realized what they were saying was that subdued should be interpreted as a lack of effort and creativity, lame regurgitation of every cliche known to advertising, and a general disregard for the current economic times.  Anyone who can blow 3 million on 30 seconds with nothing to show for it should feel obliged to donate their paycheck to someone who could find better ways to spend it.  In any regard, what it is, is what it is and chat about a few that did create some buzz.

I guess I'd give the nod to Pepsi here.  They have really done a great job in the relaunch of their rebranded beverage.  This ad makes it appear as a natural continuation in an evolution of the brand.  Coke had the Mean Troy ad, which was a clever retake (some scene for scene) from the Mean Joe Green spot.  But my favorite from Coke was the "Avatar" commercial for its captured nuances and recognizing the need for human connection in an increasingly electronically disconnected society.

I have to give some credit to Miller and SoBe for creating some real definition from the mass in their innovative presentation of the material.  These two excelled in getting people talking and creating mentions of the brand.  The tie beaker for Miller is the ROI.  When comparing the production costs for a 1 second product shot with a 3-D cinematography special requiring the distribution of millions of glasses, it becomes quite clear.  Not to mention the loss of the effort for those who never actually picked up their set of 3-D glasses, free or not.

Sugar intake aside, Frosted Flakes of all, came through and saw the light.  Their "Plant a Seed" campaign created a virtuous message in front of the largest ad focused audience of the year.  The spot conveyed a great message and utilized the website to continue the dialogue online.  You can see nominated fields near you, nominate your own, and vote for a final location.  To further the brand, you might even download the positive tune that played in the ad.