On Brand, Climate, and Thoughts on Moving Forward

Extreme climate change is coming, perhaps already causing havoc in some areas of the world, yet we as society can’t seem to agree on whether to take any action to stop it. There are feel good personal and community actions that help, but won’t by themselves solve the problem. There are a few states and cities adopting laws and regulations to help fight the problem. But the kind of economy wide, national and international action we must adopt now to avert the worst outcomes is beyond our reach. It has been for decades. We need to try something new. Perhaps one approach would be to reconsider how we environmental advocates brand climate change and our call to action. In other words, if we were to be selling this product, as environmental advocates, what category does it even fall into and what are the primary drivers or assumptions of that category?  Who are our competitors in this category?

I don’t think there’s agreement about what category our product is in. There are some who put it in the political issue category, in which case it is competing with other political issues for priority and voter attention. Others put it in a consumer product kind of category, in which it’s competing with other products or services in the sustainability realm. Still others think of it as a part of the protest category, part of a suite of issues that generate non-violent direct actions, protests, and marches. I’m sure there are others, but these examples suffice to make the point that the actions we take, and the messages we create can vary greatly depending on the category we think extreme climate change belongs to.

The products or services that we sell as part of our campaign depends on the category as well. Our call to action could be an email to a legislator, a vote, or participation in a rally. Or our call of action could be the purchase of green electricity or certain kinds of climate friendly products. Frequently, our call to action is a donation to an environmental NGO.

The competitors in our category also depend on our definition of the category. Our competitors could be issues vying for political action or they could be other services or products aimed at the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) market. Our macro competition is inertia, but that’s the case with almost every product out there.

So now that we have some ideas on category and competition, we may be able to better “market” our product and the consequent call to action. This means we’ll have to decide on just a few approaches rather than dilute our brand with too many competing messages.

What do you think our category is? Our brand position? Our competitors?


Authentic Marketing Through Community Engagement Part Three

 This is part three of a three part series. Please visit deepergreenblog.wordpress.com to access the first two parts. 

There are many example of great CLM campaigns.

One personal example is the Green Neighborhood Challenge (GNEC) I created and directed at Clean Currents.  GNEC was fairly simple early on, evolving over time as we learned how to perfect this particular form of CLM. We found the deep green, environmentally focused activist and worked with them to sign up their community to GNEC. The fact that the pitch for the campaign came from a community volunteer was huge. The premise of the campaign was that for every clean energy enrollment we got, we would donate money to a green project the group was working on. In the campaign execution, we would provide material and speakers to talk about the threat of climate change. We also would send out an eNewsletter highlighting positive actions of GNECs and providing additional educational information. The GNEC leaders had open access to our staff and were brought into the office on a few occasions for food and drinks. If they ever had any problems, I would personally get involved. We created unique presentations for GNECs to use, such as a fun wind power “demonstration” for elementary school students. In one of our later iterations, we had a summer picnic where the entire company came and we recognized the efforts of the best GNEC leaders, with everybody in the company personally thanking them. GNEC cemented Clean Currents firmly in the communities where we operated it. The credibility of the campaign rested on the brand’s credibility as a company that was environmentally and socially conscious, plus we didn’t pay the GNEC leaders anything. The donations never financially benefited the volunteer leaders, but rather went directly to the community project.

Another campaign that looks like CLM is the SweetGreen Passport program. In this initiative, SweetGreen (a restaurant chain focusing on healthy and local salads) partners with health and fitness providers that are local to their restaurants. These partners provide free classes (yoga, dance, etc.) that are exclusive to SweetGreen Passport participants. When the classes happen, participants often share the experience via social media. In addition, and perhaps the part that really makes this “community,” is the connections people make with each other at these events based on their shared interest in health and wellness (or anything else!).

CLM is a leading edge marketing strategy that is still evolving, but fits a powerful need in our society – the need to belong to something. By creating a community where likeminded people can come together and feel “at home,” CLM is addressing this need directly. At the end of the day, you will not only have new customers, brand ambassadors, and high morale among your staff, but you’ll be using your organization to make society a little bit of a better place.

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.


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

To Win the Fight Against Climate Change, We Need to Change the Game

Sometimes watching the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people over climate is like watching a tennis match, with each side blasting a powerful ground stroke across the net only to see their opponent do the exact same thing. The problem for those of us in the reality world (ie. the world where we listen to the overwhelming consensus of scientists), is that our opponent isn’t the only one smashing the ball our way. He has about a dozen tennis machines shooting balls at our side of the court as well. The climate deniers have an arsenal of money, media, think tanks, and lobbyists on their side so that they can take any argument, no matter how false, and turn it into a “valid” counterpoint.

ImageThe latest example of this is a radio and print ad sponsored by the National Mining Association (NMA), attacking forthcoming EPA carbon regulations on new coal fired power plants. The NMA ad takes a quote from a government official completely out of context in an attempt to scare people into thinking that reducing carbon from new coal plants will cause electricity prices to spike as much as 80%. The Washington Post Fact Checker says the ad doesn’t “pass the laugh test” and it’s clearly false. Not surprisingly, the 80% claim found its way into conservative media outlets such as the Washington Examiner and others in the right wing blogosphere. How long until conservative officials running for election start using it in their political ads this year? This completely bogus claim will become reality for a good part of the nation simply because it was repeated often enough by sources that are trusted by people of a certain worldview.

The fact that polluting energy industry groups will say anything to protect their interests isn’t new. I remember vividly sitting in the audience for a committee hearing on the Maryland Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) bill that I championed, when the lobbyist for the state’s largest polluters said that if the bill passed, half the companies in the state would go out of business and the other half would leave the state. He was actually serious. He claimed that the bill would send electricity prices in Maryland up by 2 cents/kwh, which was about 20% of the total back in those days. Unfortunately, some legislators believed him, but luckily enough didn’t and we passed the bill. Needless to say, the RPS didn’t push rates up by anywhere close to his doom and gloom figure, and in fact may not have had any effect on rates.

For years, we in the environmental world thought the best way to counter such preposterous claims was to educate the public with the real facts, and then surely they would ignore the lies (ie. hit the ball back over the net). the Chamber of Commerce, seemingly in sync with the NMA, just put out a report saying these carbon regulations will kill jobs and the economy. I’m sure some on our side will put out a report to counter that bogus claim.  It’s important to put out the true facts. But with the tons and tons of cash behind these disinformation campaigns, combined with the echo chamber in the media, it’s really impossible to get our message across.  So, what’s the answer?

Some, like Tom Steyer, think the answer is to spend oodles of money on our own ad campaigns to counter the other side’s. Getting our own tennis machines may work.  But the campaigns the green side run have to be more than a recitation of the facts behind climate change and other environmental issues. The other side screams bumper sticker ads and we recite fact sheets. We have to adopt the challenger brand mentality, so aptly described in “Eating the Big Fish,” where brands with less resources and reach are able to compete with and beat larger, more established and wealthier brands. There are eight credos to the challenger narrative, some of which may apply more than others to our case here. I will be taking a look at the applicable credos and how they can help those of us in the real world think better about winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people when it comes to action to fight climate change. The first thing we need to do is stop playing Tennis.