Why is Contempt for Customers so Common?

For a long time, I thought the thing that differentiated Clean Currents the most was our exclusive commitment to clean energy and the fact that we walked the real green walk. Now that I’ve got some perspective on things, and I can see the broader electricity market, I realize that there’s another attribute that can compete for the key differentiator of the company. In a word, I’d say it’s “Integrity,” and it most relates to one of the most overlooked parts of business – customer service.

Check out the web sites of pretty much every retail electricity supplier and they all claim in some respect or another to have amazing service. While I can’t speak from actual direct experience, I know that when we presented Clean Currents business plan to industry experts and insiders, the most typical response was something like, “wow, you guys have incredible customer loyalty, but you spend too much on customer service.” See, it’s hard to trace a direct line from customer service to increased profits. Thus, these experts would point out that almost every supplier simply outsources customer service or pays some hourly wage employees to answer the phones. When it comes to customer service, unfortunately, there are no Tony Hsieh  (Zappos) types in the energy industry.

There’s also an attitude that acquiring customers takes precedence from an organizational perspective over keeping customers. This is in part because many consumers simply sign up for an energy supplier and don’t change for a long time. Following business as usual practices, thus, will mean you get to keep a good chunk of customers anyway.  In this rush to acquire customers, ethics and integrity go out the window.

In one recent example, a class action suit filed against the electricity supplier, Viridian in District Court in Maryland alleges that Viridian mislead consumers into signing up with them by making it seem like there could be “savings.” “At a minimum, Defendant exploits ambiguities in their representations by creating the expectation of competitive pricing, when in fact the promise of savings in their energy bills is illusory,” the suit alleges.

Viridian is not alone in these questionable marketing tactics. I remember small commercial customers complaining to us that they got switched when a rep from the utility came in and told them they could lower their electricity rate. Turns out the rep was actually from Liberty Power, a retail supplier who had switched them to their service. This deception happens in the green power field as well. One direct mail piece making the rounds seems like it’s coming from your local utility offering you a “clean energy option,” that you didn’t have before. You simply check a box and send a form back and poof, you get clean energy. However, the small print reveals this is a mailer from a competitive electricity supplier and not from your local utility, and the rates are variable. Several people, some of whom are in the energy business, have asked me about this, saying that they didn’t know the utility was offering clean energy now. The deception, which could very well be legal, is used because it works, but is it the right or ethical thing to do?

Unfortunately, until consumers fight back, these deceptive tactics and lack of concern about customer service will likely continue.

Cap and Dividend – the Greatest Idea for Fighting Climate Change that Nobody’s Heard of

Congressman Chris Van Hollen has a well-earned reputation of being one of the smartest people in DC. His bill to dramatically cut the greenhouse gases that cause global warming is just the latest exhibit to support this contention. Along with the Mike Tidwell at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN)  and Peter Barnes, Mr. Van Hollen has crafted a piece of legislation that solves the puzzle of fighting climate change while not harming the economy, and particularly lower to middle income people. The bill is only 28 pages (unlike the cap and trade bill of years past, which was over 1,000 pages) and puts forth a very simple proposition. The companies that create pollution upstream have to pay for permits to the U.S. government, which then takes 100% of that money and writes checks to every American adult. The framework would stay in place until we reach an 80% reduction in emissions, though that can be adjusted based on the latest science.

The beauty of the bill is its simplicity. It does not require a massive trading system, or thousands of pages of new regulations on millions of businesses. It simply requires the big guys upstream (think Exxon-Mobil) to pay, and then has the American people collect. A study by U-Mass Economics Professor James Boyce found that 80% of American households would come out ahead financially. That means, in effect, a “tax cut” for most Americans. And who are the 20% that might not come out ahead? The most affluent, who will easily have the ability to reduce their energy use and thus come out ahead as well.

So, what’s the problem?

Nobody outside of green circles and the Beltway will know a thing about this bill. It will not be brought up in the House, and there’s no Senate version. How can the American people embrace an idea they never hear about?

So, the #1 priority for climate groups right now should be to get the word out. We’ve got such a great concept that we should welcome debate on it in the public forum. To that end, here’s my idea:

Create a series of Lincoln-Douglas style debates in every Congressional district in the country. Identify our team of experts who will represent our side, and invite a rep from the other side. There have to be clear rules to keep the debate civil and organized. No screaming sessions. Invite local groups, the local media, and local officials. This will spark a lot of excitement among activists, will get the word out to the average American, and be a great organizing tool for advocacy. Unlike television or other media based ads, you can debate the points the other side brings up, and when we win these debates, people will not doubt the credibility of our claims. I volunteer for the Maryland 8th district. Let’s get it going!






How Intelligent Naivety Can Help the Climate Movement Part 2

A continuing series on Challenger Brand Credos and the Climate Movement

Sometimes, or I should say, for some audiences, emotion can be more powerful than facts. What intelligent naivety brings to the table is an ability to inject new emotion into a tired, or stale category. The climate movement definitely matches this description and could use a little more intelligent naivety.

In the book, Eating the Big Fish, they bring many examples of brands that brought new emotions into a category and did very well. Examples include Bratz putting an “urban sassiness” into the Barbie doll category, and Altoids putting “pain” into the breath mint category. The idea of putting new emotion into the category isn’t just about making something fun or different. As Eating the Big Fish notes, it’s about dramatically simplifying choices for consumers by creating new criteria for choice and thus giving them a new way of thinking and feeling about the category.

In the climate movement, we present consumers with far too many choices, from the fact-based scientific choices to the policy heavy legislative choices, and everything in between. Yes, we sometimes use emotion as in the times we try to use polar bear families as a way to illustrate the dramatic loss of sea ice from climate change. On the other hand, if you look at the broader “climate” category, there really seem to only be four choices at the moment – it’s happening , man is causing it and man can solve it; it’s not happening; I don’t know if it’s happening or not; or it’s happening but part of a natural cycle and we can’t do anything to stop it. In the climate movement, we of course made the first choice. What emotions does that choice evoke? I say fear is front and foremost. When we throw in the part about solutions, we put hope into the equation.

What emotions cause people to fall into one of these “choices?” Is it possible to get people to move from one choice to another (kind of like getting them to switch breath mints)? What would a marketing campaign, using intelligent naivety, look like if we were trying to eliminate some of these choices or get consumers to switch? What if we started with the premise that our campaign will not involve either trying to prove to people that climate change is happening? That would be an interesting way to restart the climate movement.


Loss May Be the Best Thing that Happened to You

A short break from my series on the Climate Movement and Challenger Brands.

John Lennon, as always, said it best:

Oh my love, for the first time in my life
My eyes are wide open
Oh my lover, for the first time in my life
My eyes can see
I see the wind, oh, I see the trees
Every thing is clear in my heart
I see the clouds, oh, I see the sky
Everything is clear in our world

(lyrics from “Eyes Wide Open”)

While I didn’t go through the intense pressure of a decade in the Beatles, I identify with these lyrics, written not long after the end of the Fab Four. I’m proud of the many great things we accomplished in eight years at Clean Currents, and the real difference we made in the fight against extreme climate change. But I look back now and see a robot in the place where a person should have been. I am so grateful that I’ve got my soul and my humanity back. Everything is clear in our world once again.
Remember this the next time you lose something (a business, a relationship, a job) and you think it’s the end. It may just be the first step in the return of you.

Dedicated to all my friends and loved ones who have lost, and for everyone.
To: MT, AN, TG, VM, NZ, AR, MB, HW, AS, SC
And especially to my Yoko, PP.

How Can Intelligent Naivety Help the Climate Movement?

Part 3 in my series on how adopting a challenger brand approach can help change the climate movement.

Now that we’ve got a good grasp of the climate brands, we can move on to exploring the first Challenger Credo, Intelligent Naivety.  The concept here is simple – sometimes the more you know about a subject, the less you are able to look at it with discerning eyes. This applies to messaging to non-experts, examining organizational structure, and coming up with the clichéd “outside the box” solutions that sometimes work the best.

Intelligent naivety refers to a person who lacks experience in a given category, but of course is smart and perhaps experienced in other related areas. For example, somebody who is an amazing communicator but doesn’t know anything about the energy industry could bring intelligent naivety to the industry and figure out a new way to motivate people to switch to clean energy. Some notable examples of people whose intelligent naivety revolutionized categories are Richard Branson, going from selling rock albums to starting an airline business, and Jeff Bezos, going from managing a hedge fund to starting Amazon as an on-line book seller.

In the climate movement, we could dearly benefit from some new perspectives. Many of us have been immersed in the field for more than a dozen years, with some leaders in environmental NGO’s harking back to the original Kyoto Protocol negotiations in the 90’s. Yet our “consumers,” the audience we want to reach has not had even close to the day-in, day-out exposure that we’ve had. So, yeah, how do we communicate to them in a way that makes sense?

As pointed out in Eating the Big Fish,  approaching a category with intelligent naivety allows one to step back and ask what they call the “upstream” questions that those of us immersed in the area have forgotten to keep asking. Basic questions like, ‘why does our movement have to be about this, and not about that,” and “why do we lead with this frame and not another frame?” I’m talking about the type of questions that go at the very beginning of our work, before we had all these NGO’s and other interest groups. A key approach for one with intelligent naivety is to skip over the part where we ask the public how they feel about the category (‘what’s your view on climate change?’) and go to the fundamental question – how can we change the relationship we have with the public as it currently stands?

A specific example might help clarify this vital point. A few years back, if you had done market research, including focus groups and polls with the public about what they want in dish soap, you’d probably almost only hear about more effective products, maybe at a lower cost, and maybe with less chemicals. In other words, better benefits to fit the typical “problem-solution” marketing approach. This is what I mean when I talk about asking the public about a category. In Eating the Big Fish, however, the author relates the story of method.  Eric Ryan, the company’s founder, found a way to change the public’s relationship with the category by asking more of a “why not” kind of question. His question in essence was, why couldn’t a household cleaning product attract the millions of homeowners who care deeply about their home’s appearance and style? The result, of course, was a line of products put in exquisitely designed containers that look good sitting on the counter in your re-designed kitchen. The main point is that Ryan couldn’t have poll-tested or focus grouped his product into existence because consumers wouldn’t have even articulated a need for a product like method had he done so.

What’s our equivalent in the climate movement? What questions could be right below the surface that the public can’t articulate just yet? The answers to these questions could change the very nature of the public’s relationship with the climate movement.


Defining our Climate Movement Brand(s)

Part two of my series on how adopting a “Challenger Brand” mentality can help the movement to stop climate change.

Before we go into the Challenger Brand credos laid out in “Eating the Big Fish,” we need to understand what exactly is the “brand” part of “Challenger Brand?”

Definition of Brand.  Brand used to simply mean the name given to a product or service, but now it has morphed into generally speaking, the consumer’s perception of your company or of a specific product. This perception can be based on values, quality, price, etc.  Seth Godin has a good definition:

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.

Considering those definitions, let’s try to figure out what our brand is in the climate movement.

Brand Description Strength Weakness Target Audience Best “Product”
Brand A Expert scientists or science-based groups Knowledge Communication Govt’, Intellectuals Reports, Statistics, Facts
Brand B Left wing activists fighting against “the man,” especially college age students. Passion Credibility Youth, deep greens Call to Action, Organizing
Brand C Serious policy wonks, politicians, and political insiders Access Vanilla Politicians, partisan elites Talking Points for Leaders
Brand D Renewable energy companies Economic Dev Financial Motives Geo targeted by jobs, business elite Economic argument
Brand E Wealthy individuals, actors, musicians, and other well-known celebrities Broad reach Credibility Youth, business elite Hipness
Brand F Other “progressive” type businesses Unique Voice Knowledge of issue Their consumers, politicians Hipness

There’s No Use Arguing

Here’s a reminder to my friends and colleagues in the saving-the-world work of fighting climate change – know your audience! Don’t bother arguing about climate change with people who think it’s a hoax or some plot to turn the world socialist. They will never be convinced to do the right thing. As a real-world lesson on this, allow me to share a recent Facebook exchange I had with my cousin’s friend. My cousin would never call himself a tea party guy, but his FB posts are filled with hatred for Obama, liberals, and environmentalists. I normally ignore most of his posts, but unfortunately took the bait this time. My cousin’s friend, apparently, is even more to the fringe. A recent post on his FB page has the headline, “New Evidence Reveals Obama and Hillary Found Conspiring to End Criticism of Islam in America.”

After reading the debate, I hope you draw the same conclusions I did:

  1. I need to ignore my cousin’s Facebook rants.
  2. We should NEVER engage the deniers in debate. It doesn’t get anywhere, unless it’s in front of an audience of persuadable people, but even then is likely not worth it.
  3. Their knowledge is only surface level. If any of us has even a small amount of actual knowledge, they are very easy to defeat.
  4. Al “Bore” is a great straw man character to create (I got dibs!).

I’m interested in hearing other conclusions we can draw from this, if any.

Out of privacy concerns, I’ve renamed my cousin and his friend, picking at random from a names dictionary I came up with Cousin Cletus and his friend Goober.

I’ll take a little Editor’s prerogative and point out that my mention of the ice melting in 100 years refers to Antarctica, not the polar ice caps. Otherwise, here’s the debate  exactly as it happened, with links to content as well.

Cletus shared a link via The Daily Caller.

June 13

SHHHHHH ! ! ! ! !


Study: West Antarctic Glacier Melt Due To Volcanoes, Not Global Warming


A new study by researchers at the University of Texas, Austin found that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is collapsing due to geothermal heat, not man-made global warming….

Top of Form

Goober:  AL effing Gore SAID the ice sheet would be melted by 2014 DUE TO carbon emissions. All you ever here from people who support this hoax when antithetical science is published that totally skewers the idea is “yeah well that doesn’t matter”. Its still……..fart.

June 13 at 9:13am ·

Gary Skulnik Amazing how the media can distort science. If you check out the press release from the actual scientists who did the study (and published it in the Proceedings of the Natl Academy of Science), you’d see that they don’t come anywhere near to the conclusion that a) global warming isn’t happening bc of man-made emissions, and b) global warming has nothing to do with the glacier’s ice melt.

June 13 at 10:27am ·

Gary Skulnik Check it out here: http://www.utexas.edu/…/06/10/antarctic-glacier-melting/

Researchers Find Major West Antarctic Glacier Melting from Geothermal Sources | News


Thwaites Glacier, the large, rapidly changing outlet of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, is not only being eroded by the ocean, it?s

June 13 at 10:27am ·

Gary Skulnik In fact, from their press release: “Knowledge of the heat distribution beneath Thwaites Glacier is crucial information that enables ice sheet modelers to more accurately predict the response of the glacier to the presence of a warming ocean.”

June 13 at 10:28am ·

Gary Skulnik Anyway, this paper’s publishing should dispel one myth at least – that anybody who “contradicts” the global warming conspiracy scientists and their illuminati allies will get “silenced.” These guys got published in one of the journals that is the engine, which runs the global warming “myth” machine. Hmmm… I guess the chief censor was asleep at the wheel the day they submitted the paper, or maybe he took a bribe of some really good sprouts, tofu and wheat germ.

June 13 at 10:31am ·

Goober: Amazing how MSNBC (the media) can distort science. Agreed.

June 13 at 11:01am ·

Goober:  weather patterns and hurricanes have been sited. I cited (due to what? Empirical research) there hasn’t been a major hurricane in the Atlantic in 8 years. Al Bore, via his information, cited the ice sheets would be GONE in 2014 and sea levels could increase as hight as 3 feet. The Northeast and Midwest just had one of the coldest winters on record. Then evidence comes out that a big chunk of the cap melting is due to geothermal volcanism. Then the other ice cap has seen to expand at a huge rate. Yet, the opposing view is dismissed.

June 13 at 12:04pm ·

Gary Skulnik wow, Goober, this Al Bore guy sounds like a whack job. Somebody should lock him up before he causes more harm. Strange, but his name sounds a lot like the former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore. Maybe they are connected like the way Superman is connected with Bizzaro Superman. You know, where everything is the opposite of our world? Al Gore – “global warming will cause the ice sheets to melt by the end of the century (ie. 2100).” Al Bore -“the ice sheets will melt by 2014!” Al Gore – “climate change due to ghg emissions will cause extreme weather patterns, but generally there will be a significant warming trend over the planet.” Al Bore – “you’ll never see a cold winter again!!” Al Gore – “the extreme weather conditions that will result from global warming may cause hurricanes to grow in intensity and frequency over time.” Al Bore – “we’ll be hit by 100 hurricanes a year on the eastern seaboard of the United States!”

June 13 at 12:32pm ·

Goober:  Al Gore Warns Polar Ice May Be Gone in Five Years:http://youtu.be/MsioIw4bvzI Very clever. But NO

Al Gore Warns Polar Ice May Be Gone in Five Years

Complete video at: http://fora.tv/2009/12/14/COP15_Gore_and_Store_Report_on_Arct… See More

June 13 at 1:02pm · Like

Goober:  https://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/…/florida…/ And that should say ATLANTIC hurricanes. Very clever. But NO

Florida Hurricane Strikes In Sharp Decline


NOAA records going back to the 1850s show that Florida used to average about one…

June 13 at 1:04pm ·

Gooberhttp://m.accuweather.com/…/record-breaking…/24831365 Yeah we know. Its DUE TO warming. Got it.

One of the Coldest Winters in 20 Years Shatters Snow Records


Record-breaking temperature lows and snowfall totals mount as parts of the country remain in the stranglehold of winter’s icy grasp.

June 13 at 1:06pm ·

Goober:  http://www.wunderground.com/education/webster.asp This is the best one where there is actual debate and no hysterical lies. It refutes a renound hurricane meteorologist with some others. Instead of silly diatribe

Are Category 4 and 5 hurricanes increasing in number? | Weather Underground


In September 2005, a paper published in Science magazine reported that worldwide… See More

June 13 at 1:29pm · Edited ·

Goober:  And one more since this is so much fun. Huge I’ve blocks were found floating in lake superior this week That may last well into the summer. But hey….Bizzaro

June 13 at 1:32pm · Like

Gary Skulnik Goober, indeed this has been fun and a good learning experience for me. Thanks for that. Out of respect for you, I clicked on all the links you sent and read them. After getting past the “ignorance of Barrack Obama” link and something about fighting the Borg on Steven Goddard’s “scientific” web site, I found nothing I didnt already know. The accuweather link also told me something I know, it was a cold winter. Finally, your last link looked like it might actually be a real scientific debate and I welcome that. The question of recent hurricane activity and global warming is unsettled, clearly, but there’s a lot less doubt about future activity. Of course, in the end, we are lighting a match to an infinitely complex system and hoping the results are ok. I’d rather not take that gamble.

June 13 at 1:44pm ·

Gary Skulnik Oh, but one last thing before I go (i will be out of pocket for a few hours, so have at it!)… the “Al Gore warns polar ice may be gone in five years” – did you listen to the clip or just read the headline? First, he’s talking about polar ice, as in the north pole, which indeed is heading towards being completely ice free within the next few years. There’s no debate on that. But secondly, he cites one scientist who based on his observations says the ice MAY be gone by 2014, but then in the next sentence he cites another scientist who says the ice may be gone by 2030. I know, it’s more fun to talk about Al Bore saying stupid shit, but that doesnt make it actually true in the real world.

June 13 at 1:49pm ·

Goober:  After that whopper of tale about the south pole (Editor’s Note – what whopper is he talking about? Al Gore’s comments were on the North pole), why should he or his sources be taken seriously. The North Pole had a massive loss in 2005, and then it stopped. It has not really shrunk since then, except for brief period in 2007 i think it said. Goddard? He cited the NOAA, which directly disputes your claim and Gore’s claim about storms. So what is it that you “dont already know”. (you didnt address the points, but contradicted yourself a tad) Then you said he said something about the year 2100, which contradicts both of his claims. (as the Southern ice cap area increases, though they dont know if that will be a quick melt yet). And to beclear I do believe there is something going on, because science has indeed shown temp increases. It the degree of man made input i hav an issue with.