I have been reflecting on the challenges that the environmentalists have faced in getting people to listen to their message, and I think that there are some mistakes that have been made in delivering the message that have been costly. Any time you see messaging that isn’t working (or conversely IS working for that matter) it’s worth paying attention to – it could be applicable to your marketing efforts. Messaging that tells people that what they are doing is wrong, and is essentially attacking in nature, does not really work. It simply isn’t effective. You lose people, because they don’t like being told what to do. Even if it’s valuable, even if you may be right, even if there is an incentive for the person to act differently – none of that matters. Your influence is lost when you start telling people what to do. There is always going to be natural resistance to being told what to do – and you want to be aware of that resistance, because it could turn people away from your product or service.
The environmental “movement” has, until relatively recently, been focused on telling people what they are doing wrong, and trying to make them feel bad about doing this wrong. I happen to believe in most of the concepts that environmentalists do (we should be concerned about how we leave the earth for future generations, access to clean air and water is a right and we should treat it as such, our impact on the earth is growing and is severe, and we need to do something about it).
I also happen to disagree with the message that is sent, and the delivery of the message. Eco-Terrorism is a great example of this. Eco-Terrorists are people that believe the basic tenets that I outlined above. They are also angry that people are not changing quickly. They take this anger and turn it into attacks on the people that they see as “the enemy,” usually organizations that are, in fact, doing some sort of harm to the environment. This may be momentarily satisfying for them, as it provides them with some sense of power, but it is pretty much the worst way you could ever try and get someone to change.
The same thing holds true for your marketing efforts, particularly if you consider yourself (and market yourself) as a sustainable business – Don’t focus on what people are doing wrong (buying mainstream competitor’s products, for example). Focus on what they could do to change (buy your product), and what the benefits are to this change, and give them something tangible to know what their impact is.
A great example of a business that does this well is the Seventh Generation “counter” that appears on their website which counts the trees and barrels of oil that are not being used as a result of their making products differently. This is a pretty cool measurement. It’s tangible. It feels good to be using their product and knowing that I am having an impact. It doesn’t make me feel bad that I sometimes use petroleum-based products or regular paper products in a pinch, but it DOES remind me of the impact of that choice. If I were doing the marketing for Seventh Gen, I would probably suggest adding the calculation of trees/barrels for each of their products onto the packaging, and display it prominently. My purchasing dollar has power – I am supporting an organization that is trying to act differently.
What do you think a more effective environmental narrative would be? Why doesn’t the doomsday narrative work? What has been effective in getting YOU to change your behavior?