Recently read a Guardian environmental blog story on a new movie with a fantastically catching title: Greedy Lying Bastards: U.S. Filmmaker Attacks Oil Industry. Who could pass up reading that? Certainly not I.
The story is about an upcoming documentary film from American Craig Rosebraugh that “highlights the ‘influence, deceit and corruption’ of fossil fuel industry.” YouTube clips preview some of the interviews the film will contain. Smart previewing.
What a perfect excuse for a follow up to my Jan. 14th post on FUD!
You remember FUD — fear, uncertainty and doubt. It’s a natural reaction to the new, the unknown, the untried, the different. We may not like the status quo, but we know it. “The devil you know …” attitude. It’s one of the hurdles blocking the way to change of any kind.
Anyone marketing innovative ideas battles FUD. Sometimes, marketers that benefit from the status quo intentionally leverage that. Most of the time, those marketers are just trying to protect market share. In this case, the battle is more fundamental. If a majority of developed nations’ citizens agreed burning fossil fuels is a primary cause of global warming and that we have to act now to mitigate the resulting climate change — and actually did act right now — then the mega companies that make up the fossil fuel industry would soon be penning their own epitaphs instead of writing annual reports touting their stunning profits.
They’re fighting for survival. Surviving often requires fitting dirty. That’s exactly what the fossil fuel industry is doing. And they’ve got an enormous war chest to finance the battle. They’re even taking the fight into the U.S. public school system. Check out this New Scientist story, US Education Advocates Tackle Climate Change Skeptics, to get the dirt.
Why, then, is it surprising that they’re spending a fortune creating FUD around global warming? It’s a very effective strategy.
If you’re a clean tech entrepreneur, a politician, a philanthropist or an environmental activist, the problem is a tough one: how do you battle an unscrupulous street fighter?
It takes commitment, tenacity and unfortunately time. It’s the same scenario we saw play out with Big Tobacco. It took decades just to get warning labels on cigarette packages. A lot of bad things happened to individuals during those decades. This time the extinction of myriad species and the livability of the planet may be at stake. We don’t have decades to defeat these war lords.
You expected me to tell you how to do this, didn’t you? I wish I knew with certainty. We’re all a bunch of little, semi-organized Davids fighting a team of Goliaths. There are so many battle fronts. I’m beginning to come around to the view of Gernot Wagner, author of “But Will the Planet Notice?” He essentially argues that our most effective battle plan may be to get market dynamics involved. We need to put a price on greenhouse gases. If we could do that would it no longer matter if people “believed” in climate change or global warming? Could we get the behavior change we need without having to change attitudes?
What do you think?
My mother-in-law phoned Tuesday. It was sunny and headed for about 60 degrees in Iowa. “It’s really weird. But I like it!”
Thursday’s Environmental blog from The Guardian opened with this paragraph:
2012 has begun where 2011 left off with weird weather in Europe and the Americas, Arctic ice at almost its lowest extent ever recorded in midwinter, disastrous droughts and searing heat in Africa and Latin America, and one of the world’s biggest insurance companies warning that climate change will increase damages.
Friday’s New York Times featured photos of Jan. ’11′s snow-covered Central Park and this month’s grassy green lawn. And then there’s the 18 feet of snow in Alaska. There’s a reason some call global warming “global weirding.” Who knows what we’re in for?
Last quarter at the University of Washington, I taught the Environmental Innovation Practicum for the first time. A series of fantastic speakers came in to talk to the class including Michael Potts, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI); David Allen, executive VP of McKinstry; and James Billmaier, author of “JOLT!: The Impending Dominance Of The Electric Car And Why America Must Take Charge” (a terrific book! I highly recommend it).
We used “Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era,” a brand new book from RMI Co-founder, Chairman and Chief scientist Amory Lovins, as our course text. It was a little tricky since it was only available in ebook format when we started the quarter. Format aside (it wasn’t the most elegant electronic rendering), I like it a lot.
Continuing my quest to educate me on climate change and global warming, I also read “Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth” by journalist Mark Hertsgaard and “But Will the Planet Notice?” By Gernot Wagner, an environmental economist for the Environmental Defense Fund.
Yes, it was all enough to make my head spin. But the different approaches to the problem we’re facing were also simultaneously eye-opening, depressing and inspiring.
Hertsgaard exposes the reality that global warming is arriving about 100 years sooner than published predictions. He calls his young daughter’s generation “Generation Hot” because they’ll be the ones who really get to deal with the aftermath of our current lifestyles, particularly if we, as a global community, continue to do nothing to mitigate the problem. Hertsgaard argues we have to get off the stick on mitigation (reducing emissions) but we also have to get quickly on board with adaptation (dealing with the inevitable sea level rises and regional climate changes), because even if we suddenly did all the right things today (as if that’s possible!), there’s already too much CO2 in the atmosphere to manage an about-face. We have to adapt to changes we can’t avoid.
Hertsgaard also taught me the difference between global warming and climate change, which I’d used interchangeably, like everyone else. Global warming, he writes, is the man-made rise in temperatures caused by excessive amounts of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Climate change refers to the effects these higher temperatures have on the earth’s natural systems and the impacts that can result. So global warming is what we’ve done to the atmosphere. Climate change is what global warming is doing and will do to the earth.
Wagner’s book takes a different tact. He states that personal actions – while noble and cumulative if we all do them – are individually irrelevant to the global climate. The planet won’t notice. He believes only smarter economics will be able to mitigate climate change. He expresses hope because, he writes, smarter economics saved us before – from acid rain. “The solution is clear,” he states, “put the right incentives in place.” He advocates cap-and-trade as a market. He writes:
As much as this issue has been politicized, this is not about right versus left, Republicans versus Democrats, conservatives versus conservationists, or markets versus the environment. This is about liberating markets and consequently turning each and every one of us into a force for good; it’s about making sure that increasing GDP, gross domestic product, does not decrease collective well-being.
It’s about taking personal responsibility for costs we now socialize and impose in society and the planet as a whole. Our choices are already being influenced by forces much larger than ourselves. They always have been and will be. The question is whether the nudge we submit to is guiding us where we want to go, preserving life and the rotation of the planet as we know it.
“Reinventing Fire” is another animal all together, which is why I chose it for class. While Lovins acknowledges the hurdles to reinventing how we power everything from buildings to buses and power plants to planes, “Reinventing Fire” is about hope, about using what’s already available and working, and about how businesses can make a lot of money in a clean fuel world. That’s not an argument you often hear for ditching fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, I saw countless stories and blog posts about the challenges of getting people to accept, care about and act on global warming. I get the frustration – and the confusion.
In marketing, we talk about “FUD” – fear, uncertainty and doubt. It’s called the FUD factor. You can read quite a bit about it on Wikipedia, if you’re interested. Sometimes marketers battle it; sometimes marketers create it on purpose. Proponents for change, including both environmental groups and advocates for new technologies like electric vehicles, wind and solar power, smart grid, composites and myriad other exciting new developments, not only battle the complexities of talking about some of these innovations and issues, but FUD marketing budgets of entrenched industries whose very survival rests with a global majority making no changes in how they do anything.
I’ve been toying with a number of posts on this, so expect you’ll see me write more about it later. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear about your experiences with FUD and the environment!
Melissa Winters from the EPA came to UW Tuesday to talk to my Environmental Innovation Practicum class about Life Cycle Assessment, also known as Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). She talked about an assessment Proctor and Gamble did its Tide brand in which they discovered the greatest environmental impact happened when the product was used in the home. Hot water washing. So they reformulated Tide to create a cold water only detergent.
Melissa also mentioned an ebook analysis I’ve written about before. I’d discovered the analysis through Conservation Magazine, a favorite of mine, but it originated in a New York Times op-ed piece written by the folks who did the analysis, Daniel Goleman and Gregory Norris, both well known names and leaders in LCA work. Norris founded the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, which is a tremendous resource (check out this LCA on algae biodiesel as an example).
When I wrote about the e-reader analysis in July, I noted that you needed to read 40-50 books a year to make an e-reader the better choice over paper books, based on the report in Conservation Magazine. Melissa commented that if we took greenhouse gas emissions into account, it was actually 100 books. If we looked at human impact, it was somewhere in between those two numbers. My iPad is a lot more than an e-reader to me, but I still glanced at it guiltily.
Since Melissa works with the building industry, the whole conversation reminded me of a TEDTalk I really enjoyed a while back, so I want hunting. It’s Catherine Mohr on building green and I think it’s great! It playfully but powerfully demonstrates that obvious answers for what’s the “greenest” choice is often very wrong. Or as she puts it: “Sometimes the things you least expect … have a bigger impact than any of those things you’re trying to optimize.”
The next morning, I spotted a story from dexigner.com on how the Cascadia Green Building Council had commissioned an LCA study on the “Environmental Impacts of Wastewater Treatment Strategies” and had just released the report. It’s a good read for anyone connected to the building industry or anyone who just wants to get a handle on what a life cycle analysis can uncover.
From a marketing perspective, a life cycle analysis does two things: 1) it’s an insurance policy that you know the up and downsides of your product before a competitor figures them out and uses the latter against you, and 2) assuming you do well in the analysis, it’s a grabbag of positive messages you can take to the market. From a business plan perspective, it’s an insurance policy to demonstrate you know the risk associated with your business and a grabbag of positive messages to take to investors, employees and business partners.
The trick for cleantech and other green entrepreneurs is the cost. Conducting LCA is pricey. For startups, a true LCA may be out of reach. But you can still do a significant amount of digging for data, look for comparables in your industry or adjacent ones, and make informed decisions. You can get a primer on life cycle assessment on the EPA’s website and well as a list of resources to serve as a starting point for research life cycle assessment on any product or service category.
Get as smart as you can about the potential environmental impact of your products or services. It’s smart business.
David Allen, executive vice president of Seattle-based McKinstry, knows a thing or two about a subject covered in Tuesday’s New York Times: the enormous potential for turning old buildings “green.” The potential isn’t just in energy and resource savings, but profit. McKinstry is a substantial second-generation business. The company helps building owners save a great deal of money while providing comfortable spaces for occupants by improving building systems efficiency. Sometimes it’s about running the building with smarter systems. Sometimes it’s about doing old-fashioned stuff like weather-proofing and upgrading heating and cooling systems. Sometimes it’s about adding renewable energy sources like solar. Most often, it’s a combination of many things.
Because of McKinstry’s prominence in this emerging industry, David was asked by the Rocky Mountain Institute, “an independent, entrepreneurial, nonprofit think-and-do tank,” to review the chapter of its soon-to-be-released book Reinventing Fire on “Buildings: Design for Better Living.” David will be speaking on that very subject to UW’s Environmental Innovation Practicum class and its Environmental Innovation Speaker Series at UW on Nov. 1st. I asked him to tell me a bit about the problem and the opportunity.
Q. What are the biggest hurdles to making our built environment dramatically more energy and resource efficient?
David: “The next iteration of environmental and energy efficiencies in buildings will require a new way of thinking in many regards. Our country’s entire procurement system for designing, building and operating buildings is extremely silo’d and outdated. To gain efficiencies and performance based outcomes, the entire design/construct industry must move away from the fragmented system we are all used to where one industry conceptualizes (real estate), hands it off to another industry that designs (architecture and engineering), who hands it off to another industry who builds (contractors) then turns the project over to another industry to operate it (facility management). There is no guarantee of system-wide integration that will ensure a sustainable result.
Another aspect of hurdles involves policies, regulation and incentives driven by our government. In the future these policies must work better towards guaranteed performance outcomes, thus sustainability.
Finally, behavior must be addressed. You can design the most potentially sustainable building; you can build it with the best resource conservation methods; but its sustainability will only be driven by how its operated — and that will require major changes in occupant and operator behavior.”
Q. Besides initial costs, what are the most common objections McKinstry hears on upgrading existing buildings?
David: “No one wants to change!
There is a general lack of understanding and belief in the potential gains of energy efficiency. Many folks don’t get that there are myriad upsides to improvements that will affect their business model, including many soft issues like productivity, tenant retention and brand position. Utilities incentives generally are weak and must be re-designed to get the job done.”
Q. Will today’s college grads who want to become involved in improving our built environment need to know different things than their predecessors?
David: “This is all about ‘systems thinking.’ Tomorrow’s players in the green/sustainable, clean technology clusters will need to think in terms of ‘impact investing’ which combines the issues of environment, social and economic impacts into one thought process that make them codependent. Sustainability cannot be achieved without viewing the system as a whole. Finally with the explosion of new technologies, students must learn to understand and communicate within a much broader landscape of disciplines. Think integration!”
David’s talk on “Buildings: Design for Better Living” is open to the public Nov. 1st 4:30-5:50 p.m. in UW’s Douglas Forum on the main Seattle campus.
For more about the Environmental Innovation Practicum and its Speaker Series, check here.
Several articles about oil shale caught my eye this past week including one on grist.org explaining that oil shale isn’t oil at all but kerogen. They also noted that getting that kerogen out of the ground and into a usable form uses more energy than the usable we’d get out of it.
That made me curious: who “branded” the stuff “shale oil”? It seemed like someone had coined a term and gotten it to stick despite it being misleading. The name today creates an impression of usefulness that doesn’t exist, of easy availability that’s not, of an independence on foreign oil that’s a myth. And they did it all with the use of one simple little 3-letter word: oil.
Turns out that’s not at all what happened. Shale oil was discovered and used way back in the 1880s. No doubt they named it as it appeared to them then — oily stuff in shale rock. An organic chemist figured out what it really was and named it “kerogen” in 1912. But the original name stuck. That’s not all that surprising as it’s way easier to remember than “kerogen” and creates an immediate understanding (or actually a misunderstanding) of what it is. That misunderstanding persists today and is creating the perception of opportunity that doesn’t really exist.
All the debates aside, it seems to me there’s a great lesson to be learned here about the potential power of coining a term that creates the perceptions you want and endures.
I’m generally not a fan of trying to coin a new industry term to promote a new business or product. It isn’t that it doesn’t work; there are some spectacular examples of where it has. It wasn’t really that long ago that none of us would have known was a blog was, or malware, or cloud computing, or carbon footprint. Oxford Dictionary officially added a ton of new words to the English language with its summer update including “brain candy” and apparently a lot of “auto-” words like “autozoom” and “auto-complete” plus a bunch of social media terms. ”LOL” made it. Made me LOL.
A lot of new terms are merely contractions of existing terms, combined to better explain something new. Sometimes creators of the truly new have no choice but to coin a new term because no existing word accurately describes their creation. But coining a term and getting it adopted into common use, even among a fairly narrow subsegment of any market, can be a big investment in time and money. In the tech space, if you can’t get industry analysts to adopt your new term, it’s usually dead.
If you’re going to go out and coin a new term, which I’ve seen countless entrepreneurs want to do, learn from the shale oil example.
1. Make it facilitate acceptance. Consider the emotional response the terms you’re considering are likely to evoke. Align that with the action you’re trying to spark. All those “auto-” words, for instance, immediately evoke a sense it’s going to be simple, helpful, fast.
2. Make it easy to remember. Short, simple terms that use existing, familiar words or combinations that are easy to grasp will stick better in your target audience’s minds. One or two words, maybe four syllables tops.
And don’t go down that path unless you’ve some reserves of your own in financing and patience.
P.S. Can you do a P.S. to a blog post? The image came from a building in Silverton, Ore. Despite the fact I’m not personally a fan of oil companies, I have an emotional attachment to old Texaco signs. My dad, gone 20 years this past spring, owned a Texaco station until his retirement my junior year of college. It’s easy to picture my dad in his Texaco uniform. Smiling. Always. My dad was great guy. Despite being painfully shy (no, obviously I didn’t take after him), he greeted strangers every day and made them feel welcome and important. Taught me tons about excellent customer service and honest business. Great lessons.
Interesting story today courtesy of The New York Times on how primary through secondary students have performed on geography tests. I loved the Seattle Times’ headline for it as I thought it told the whole story: “Most students still lost on geography.” A Chicago Tribune sidebar offers a quiz to test each reader’s grasp of the subject, which I want you to go take! It demonstrates, among other things, that geography isn’t just about maps, but what’s happening in locations around the world.
When first out of college, marriage brought me to Upstate New York where I decided New York didn’t teach geography. “Iowa,” I’d answer when asked where I was from. “Oh, sure, potatoes,” was the response more often than you’d believe. Um, no, that’s Idaho, 1,400 miles further west. Oh well.
If you’re in the business of marketing clean tech products or advocating for environmental causes, you should care a lot if people in general and students in particular are geographically illiterate because it raises huge barricades to them understanding the story you’re telling.
An association of Italian cashmere sweater makers might subtly draw attention to the fact that demand for much cheaper Chinese cashmere has led to massive overgrazing which is turning swaths of China’s Alashan Plateau into desert. Shepherds are having to sell their goats because they’re starving. You can read more here if you’re interested. If consumers didn’t know China had massive grasslands and don’t grasp that overgrazing turns grasslands into desert, the Italian association has a much tougher story to tell.
A nonprofit encouraging different irrigation and farmland management practices might think they could leverage the massive Midwestern flooding to draw attention to their recommendations. But if the public a) don’t even realize we have huge rivers draining the massive center of the nation and b) can’t see the connection between land management and flooding and pollution, they have to start at square one to educate the public before they can get on with their real objective of affecting change.
As marketers look at how best to tell their story, they have to consider the basic level of understanding of the subject or issue around which they’ll be story telling. The old advice of “never assume” seems incredibly apropos. Apparently on even basic things like geography, we’d be wise to do a little research before setting strategy.
Do you know, for sure, what your target audience knows about the background they need to grasp your story?
Does the whole idea of “content marketing” scare you? Or are you wondering what the heck it even is? Then set those fears aside and pick up a copy of Content Rules by Ann Handley of MarketingProfs and C.C. Chapman, founder of Digital Dads.
The book is chock full of smart recommendations from successful content marketers, detailed how to instructions and case studies complete with “Ideas Your Can Steal.” Narrowing the good ideas down to a handful to cover here was tough. I focused on recommendations I hadn’t read elsewhere or ones with an interesting new angle to sage advice. Nearly all of them have entire chapters dedicated to fleshing out the details. These are merely highlights.
1. Reimagine; Don’t Recycle
The gist of this chapter is summed up pretty well by a quote from social media consultant Jay Baer: “deconstruct that white paper and create an array of info snacks you can sprinkle across the Web, or package into smaller pieces of content.” I love that “info snacks” term. It isn’t about repurposing content you created, but creating a significant piece of content that merits breaking up into smaller pieces, each of which delivers value to your readers. Sort of like taking the subject of Entrepreneurial Marketing and carving it into 20 classes, I guess.
Among the examples is MarketingProfs’ State of Social Media Marketing Dec. ’09 research report. The 242-page survey of 5,140 marketers became a webinar, a major article, a number of smaller articles and blog posts and fodder for lots of publicity as others covered the report and the stats within it.
2. Don’t Write Case Studies; Tell Customer Success Stories
Don’t just demonstrate the value of your offering. Tell the story to overcome objections early in the buying cycle. “The keys,” write the authors, “are to tell a story the intended audience wants to hear and to tell it with one simple imperative in mind. It helps to think of them less as case studies, which sounds clinical and detached and bloodless, and more like customer success stories, which sounds human and connected.”
3. Make Over Your FAQs
“This is an online customer service center,” the authors state, and just like Customer Service, your FAQs should genuinely help. How? A few of their suggestions included:
- Write answers, not descriptions.
- Solve problems rather than shill services.
- Show some personality.
- Make the FAQ searchable
4. Speak Human!
Organizations should sound like they’re run by people, posit the authors. Speak in a conversational tone, with personality, empathy and true emotion. Be appropriate to your audience, of course. But take a stand. Your readers need to know where you’re coming from, or how you feel about a topic.
5. Ban Buzz Words
“They make us sound like Tools instead of humans.” Handley and Chapman composed a list of 18 buzz words to ban with a little help from their Twitter friends. On the list are loads of terms I know well from my tech PR days — such as “drill down,” “solution,” “incentivizing,” “users” and “best-of-breed.” I confess to being guilty of using several of their banded terms, not just in writing, but speech. I hereby resolve to stop that.
Instead, use the language your customers use. How do you know what that language is? Here’s a tip Handley and Chapman offered from Lee Odden, CEO of Top Rank Marketing in Minneapolis: “The language on social sites is like the canary in the coal mine. It can tell you an awful lot about your customers and how you can engage them.” Go see what language they’re using as they discuss your industry online.
Content Rules also contains a great, detailed list of 25 (and a half. They sneak in an extra) ideas of what to talk about when you think you have nothing to say. Among them is to “find a LinkedIn question you’d like to address and answer it; then invite your readers to offer their two pesos.”
Content Rules will definitely be on my class recommended reading list. Whether you’re trying to wrap your arms around how to use build your business or looking for ideas to give your blog a boost, they’re in here.
Ann and C.C., do you license reprints by the chapter?
The choice of Bill Gates as the keynoter for this year’s Climate Solutions fundraising breakfast is an interesting one. Climate change and clean energy aren’t grant areas for The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, although there’s certainly some overlap when it comes to helping small farmers in underdeveloped countries be successful as their weather patterns change — without wrecking more havoc on the land. Microsoft as a company isn’t making the same types of investment Google is when it comes to clean tech or big energy-saving initiatives. But Gates is an investor in new energy and an avid student of … well, everything. He’s known for having an insatiable intellect.
He’s also a very effective draw to sell out the “Northwest at a Crossroads” breakfast Tuesday morning and a good lightening rod for ongoing discussion. Some of us in attendance tweeted during or right after the event. Grist.org taped the interview of Gates conducted by Climate Solutions Board of Directors Co-President and former Microsoftie Jabe Blumenthal. They also conducted an online noon chat with Climate Solutions Policy Director KC Golden, available at the same site.
It was fun to check out the online chatter about the event, having been there and heard the interview live. Most everyone used the #climatesolution hashtag to make tracking easier on Twitter.
Grist posted the interview and chat to its Facebook page. Tuesday, The Seattle Times and Seattle P-I both carried an AP article was headlined: Gates: Clean energy won’t be focus of foundation. KPLU’s Tom Paulson’s article titled Bill Gates says key to beating climate change is energy innovation. Is it?, which really was about asking that question. It referred to but didn’t include Gates’ equation of CO2 = P x S x E x C to explain what has to happen to change CO2 levels. Carbon dioxide levels equal the number of people on the planet times the level of services those people use times the energy those services require times the carbon they produce. “If you want the thing on the left to be almost zero,” he said, “you have to reduce something on the right.” That something, in Gates’ view, had to be carbon output, because we weren’t going to see big reductions from efficiency. Instead, he said we have to invest and pilot over the next two decades and deploy innovations faster than we ever have before. His goal is cheap energy that’s CO2 free seems a bit lofty of a goal to me, but it’d certainly be lovely if it could be discovered.
This morning, The Seattle Times and Xconomy Seattle had each taken slightly different angles in reporting on the event.
The most frequently tweeted Gates comment, from my rudimentary analysis, was “If we can get energy improved, it’s deeply empowering.” My favorite came just after that when Gates commented that pricing carbon and funding R&D should already be in place. But “these parts of it get messy and even disturbing, like to do facts matter?”
I think they should. I think we need to make R&D investments as a country. If we refuse to put a price on carbon, I’m not sure how we spark the innovation we need. And I figure efficiencies certainly will help, even if they won’t alone solve this problem, and we should do them. I found KC Golden’s comments more inspiring, liked the comment from Dean Allen of McKinistry that we shouldn’t rely on a silver bullet or wait for superman to save us more than any of Gates’ remarks, and didn’t walk away with the energy I felt after hearing Rocky Mountain Institute’s Amory Lovins speak last month, but I grateful to someone as prominent as Bill Gates for taking a stand on the need for investment that addresses climate change. So thanks, Mr. Gates. And thanks Climate Solutions. And thanks to the millions of people worldwide making sure the answer to a HuffPostGreen blog piece written by Peter Neill of World Ocean Observatory asking “Remember Climate Change?” can be answered: Yes! We remember. We know it’s real. And we’re willing to change and invest to deal with it.
If you read my blog, odds are decent you’ve read my bio and know that, among other things, I’m involved in a Seattle start up called GoGirl Academy that’s intent upon helping women succeed faster. I’m on the Leadership Council and I teach the Personal Branding class.
GGA recently announced a new product line up and pricing strategy designed to make the program more accessible for more women. Our little start up presents a great example of having to get out into the market place to test the founding team’s theories on what will sell for how much and to whom.
GGA’s original product was a single 10-week course of weekly 3-hour long classes covering a wide range of subjects from creating and articulating a personal brand to living and marketing that brand. Students hone skills in networking, teamwork, leadership, business writing, presentation skills and social media along with some fun counsel on wardrobe and even hair and makeup. There’s no other single source for all this content and nothing that comes close the value for the price tag. But it’s kind of a big scheduling commitment when you’re working or going to school full time. And paying 30 hours of instruction and role-playing in a lump sum (even on a payment plan) is tough in a down economy. Did we get it wrong?
Like most start-ups, we did a bit of research on a shoestring budget to get a sense for demand, price tolerance and intent to purchase. It all looked really promising. We piloted the first program last summer and got rave reviews. More than 50 women have been through the full 10-week course and all gave glowing feedback on the value they got from going through the program.
Yet 10 months after a soft launch, we were still struggling to fill classes on schedule. Why? Because intent to purchase only goes far in predicting actual purchases.
So we did what every startup should do in this situation: brutally examine every facet of the business and see what needs to change. We looked hard at the product offering itself, the class content. We interviewed graduates to see what they hadn’t told us in their regular surveys. They loved the content. The problem wasn’t that we were selling something the target market didn’t really want. In fact, the stories were amazing. One GGA grad had since been promoted to run a successful non-profit. Another landed her dream recruiting designers job thanks to a simple LinkedIn tip she’d learned at GG. Another student who’d been laid off landed a new tech sales job a week after her last GGA class. The product was great.
The problem was that product wasn’t all that accessible or all that affordable.
“When you’re bootstrapped, some times the shortest path to success is to just wade into the market, listen carefully and adapt quickly,” said Tom Eckmann, a serial entrepreneur and GGA’s CFO. “Fail fast and try something new! It isn’t always pretty, but it works.”
GGA’s new offering, branded GGA’s Success Series, packages all the original content, plus two new classes, into four three-week long courses. The first Define Your Brand course is a pre-requisite for all the others, but once a student’s completed that first course they can take the others in any order whenever it fits their schedule. The new product packages technically launch May 11 when GGA begins the first Define Your Brand course at The Four Seasons in downtown Seattle. Registrations are strong.
The other three courses are Polish Your Brand, Communicate Your Brand and Manage Your Brand. GGA’s testing a really creative pricing strategy, too. Maybe I’ll tell you about that next week. Meanwhile, all the details are at www.gogirlacademy.com.
I was reviewing the advice in Eric Koester‘s Green Entrepreneur Handbook on positioning green products. He references the work of Arnt Meyer of the Institute for Economy and the Environment, who has studied green buying habits in terms of the psychological processes.
Surprise, surprise, Meyer observed that “while many consumers had stated they wanted to purchase green products, while making the buying decision, the green benefits where not typically a significant part of the thought process while purchasing.” Meyer talked about environmental benefits being “selfless,” while the benefits of buying most products are selfish that “accrue directly to the purchaser.” The selfish benefits are way better motivators. We literally feel better when we’re the direct beneficiary of the purchase decision. That totally explains shoes.
Among other things, Meyer suggested marketers combine green benefits with conventional benefits to deal with this little conundrum. Please note the word BENEFITS. Not features.Yes, this is one of my mantras.
An example Koester covers earlier in the book is how Tesla launched its Roadster as a high-performance vehicle that just happened to be electric powered. You buy a fast, fun, flashy sports car. You feel extra good because it’s electric.
I grew up in a car family. I’m afraid I do like fast cars. And I like that sleek Roadster. I bet it’s super fun to drive. Reviews from test drivers of Model S Alphas and Betas indicate it’s fun, too. Fun is a benefit, you know. You doesn’t like fun?
Sadly, I haven’t driven a Tesla Roadster, but I have had some marketing class fun with their cars. As of yesterday, two undergrad classes and one grad class have now played with selecting the best target audience for the Model S from the segments identified in a foundation-funded 2008 segmentation study done for environmental groups. When limited only to the data provided in a fairly high-level summary of this study, which group did the students believe would derive the most benefit from a Tesla Model S sedan?
This particular study segments the American population according to their attitudes toward the environment. Last quarter, a number of the MBAs took umbrage (not a word I get to use every day!) with the labels and descriptions given to the folks with the least positive attitudes toward the environment. Understandable; they’re not exactly complimentary. The undergrads mostly just focus on the assignment. My point of view is that you don’t get your hands on free segmentation studies every day. Play with them when you can.
So we did. Nearly 2/3 of yesterday’s class thought the best target audience for the Model S were the “Greenest Americans.” The students’ argued that that group cares a lot about the environment, act on their concerns and have plenty of money to afford the $50k price tag (after the rebate). That segment usually gets the most student votes. Less than 20% of this class went for a group that represents nearly 1/4 of the U.S. population who care most about what’s good for their kids. No other segment got selected by more than 9% of the students.
Who really is the target segment for the Model S? I don’t know. Sure, I could just go ask Tesla. But I couldn’t publish the result. Enterprising future students just might search my blog, read this post and know the right answer before they come to class. That would defeat the entire purpose of the exercise. Then I couldn’t have classroom fun with Tesla any more. Can’t have that. Remember, fun is a benefit.