Tuesday, October 26, 2010

HOW-TO: Locating "The Beginning"

First things first:  Many thanks to each of you for your good will and best wishes since the launch of this blog.  I’m glad you’re enjoying these initial posts and especially appreciate your many comments and questions.  Based on your feedback, I’ve been working on a scheme for future postings that will guide my inexorable “stream of consciousness,” and [with any luck] be useful to all of you as readers.

It’s simple. In the coming weeks, posts will fall into any one of three categories:  “How-tos,” “Insights” and “News of Note” – with at least one “How-to” per week. After a few weeks, it would be great if you’d let me know what you think.  Deal?  Deal.

And now, for our inaugural “How-to.”

Where’s the Beginning?
Sometimes, it’s not about starting from The Beginning; it’s actually about locating The Beginning.

The overwhelming majority of questions I receive from readers, clients, and colleagues deal with “Where do I begin marketing in an eco-friendly way?” Some folks want to start with the easiest, some want to start with getting permission, some are concerned with cost, and others want to be sure they’re going to do the most impactful thing.

Whether you're looking for easy, impactful or inexpensive, the first step in transitioning to a sustainable business model -- whether you’re talking about your Marketing department or your whole organization -- is to first determine where you stand on the “Green Bell Curve.”   You may call it a self-assessment, a pre-test, or a diagnostic, but the fact is that if you don’t know where you are, how do you know what path will best lead you to your destination?

In practical terms, this means surveying when, where, and how you are currently using energy and resources. Starting within the Marketing group you will need to collect information, organize it, tabulate it and analyze it.

To give you some guidelines, the following is a list of areas to examine:
  • Paper use/paper waste
  • Frequency and nature of travel (both commuting and off site)
  • Energy use (heating and a/c, lighting, equipment)
  • Purchasing (local vendors vs. long distance shipping; eco-conscious vendors vs. conventional)
  • Waste materials (how it is disposed of and/or recycled)
  • Office equipment (Is it standalone or multi-functional? Is it certified as energy efficient?)
  • Printing practices (Paper stock content? Soy ink? Is hard-copy really necessary?)
  • Mailing practices (How much can be sent electronically instead?  Bike messengers vs. Overnight vs. Cabs/delivery drivers?)
  • Swag/Promos
  • Events
  • Packaging (Too big?  PVC content? Recycled materials content?)
  • Distribution Methods for product
Over a period of at least two weeks, take notes, take measurements, record your findings and extrapolate your data out to reflect a year of use and consumption.  Use this data when you’re ready to make a presentation to your team and your organization’s decision makers.

I don’t recommend going this alone, but it is do-able.  If you have a team, recruit them to handle several areas apiece. Remember: The more involvement you generate among others in this phase, the more likely their participation and buy-in when it comes time to implement changes.  If your colleagues in other disciplines are predisposed to working smarter, share these areas with them then get together regularly to compare and consolidate your findings.  Information is the currency of progress, and ownership is the key to buy-in.

In my next posting I’ll outline a few easy tips in measurement, as well as smart criteria to strengthen your business case for transitioning to sustainable policies and procedures.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Perils of Passionate PSA Production

It's a sad day when I find myself anywhere near the same position as Fox News on anything -- let alone marketing.  Yet, here I am, partially in agreement; and I have to say I really resent it.  (Glad it doesn't happen every day).

Here's the back story:  In the UK, several charities pooled their resources to produce a public service ad promoting their carbon emissions goals: Reduce emissions 10% by 2010.  The resulting piece is offensive and the charities have publicly disowned it.  There's really no room for disagreement on the offensive bit, unless the viewer is a masochistic, homicidal sociopath.  But, please, view it for yourself and don't take my word for it -- or anyone else's.

Here's the link, now go ahead and watch it -- I'll wait here.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSTLDel-G9k .  BTW, don't let your younger kids watch it over your shoulder.  Seriously.

Back? Having seen it, can't you just imagine someone in the planning meeting for this video saying how important it will be to create a PSA that "resonates with the public on a visceral level?"   And off they went ... 

On the bright side, it does provide us with a profoundly bad example of environmental cause marketing.  And it's not even greenwash -- it's just disturbing.

Which raises the question, how does this happen among people who are not masochistic, homicidal sociopaths?  You may not realize it, but something similar happens rather often in marketing.  

The "No Pressure" video you just saw is an extreme case of what can happen when a team with lofty goals becomes too isolated in their pursuit of impact.  At some point the collaborative process breaks down and the cohesive unit starts putting the notion of "Impact" ahead of the goal itself.  They cheer each other on to increasing levels of bad judgement and lose complete track of the message.  In the end, you get a memorable ad, video, or commercial where the message is overpowered by graphics, special effects and/or sensationalism.

Ever remember a televised commercial, but not the product it was pitching?  Same thing, only tamer.

When this applies to a cause people are passionate about, the stakes become higher, the team often becomes more insular (i.e., less collaborative with other stakeholders), and the desire to make an indelible impact on the market becomes more pronounced.

How can we avoid this happening to us?
1.  Involve at least two experts over the age of 40 in managing the project -- so you have someone who knows what to watch for when the creative process starts to take on a life of its own, plus a spare.  S/he will need back up.
2.  Avoid trying to be too cool, too smart, too avant garde -- speak to your audience in their language vs. your own.
3.  Do not settle for drinking your own bath water, as my mother would say; i.e., make sure your team is not too insular, a variety of points of view are part of the process, and a decision maker on the client side is part of that team.
4.  Build sanity checkpoints into the process.  At those points, run your progress by an outside party(ies), get their impressions/feedback, then incorporate it.
5.  Screen the final version for a well-constructed focus group, record their feedback, use it.
6.  Don't release anything publicly without your clients' approval.

That should keep you out of Fox News -- at least for your marketing efforts! ;-)

As always, just thinking out loud ...