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Want to avoid FTC Green Guide action? Watch your supply chain!

Bottles of chemicalsThe FTC’s latest industry crackdown presents an interesting twist on the green marketing best practice of substantiating one’s claims.

As I’ve noted in the past, the agency seems to be conducting industry-wide audits based on  specific green claims. Several of the FTC’s recent Green Guide actions (including those against three mattress manufacturers last July) have revolved around failure to provide solid scientific evidence to prove environmental claims.

Last October 29, the agency announced six enforcement actions against five plastics companies for inadequate biodegradability claims. Four of these actions were levied against companies that had based their own biodegradability claims on claims made by other companies. Specifically, their claims were dependent on additives (manufactured by third party companies) used in their products. Apparently they never tested to be sure the additives worked as claimed.

It’s a really good practice to maintain a substantiation file for every product for which environmental marketing claims are made; however in light of the plastics claims I believe it’s also very important to take it a step further and be vigilant about claims made down the supply chain as well.

Keep in mind the following statement from the FTC in regards to the recent actions:

The proposed consent orders…make it clear that ASTM D5511 (a test standard commonly used in the additive industry) cannot substantiate unqualified biodegradable claims or claims beyond the results and parameters of the test, and that any testing protocol used to substantiate degradable claims must simulate the conditions found in the stated disposal environment.

Don’t take any supplier claims at face value. If your environmental claims for your products depend on additives or other materials manufactured by another company, it is your responsibility to make sure that those materials really do perform as you believe they do. Ask your suppliers for scientific proof. If theirs is not adequate, work with them to develop adequate substantiation, take the job of substantiation on yourself, or find another supplier. Your company’s reputation is at stake.

 

 

photo credit: skycaptaintwo via photopin cc 

How Else Can a Skilled Copywriter Keep Your Green Business in the Black in 2014?

thumbs up and keyboard
A good copywriter can be a real asset to your business in more ways than meet the eye.

Everyone knows good copywriting can increase returns from a brochure, sales letter, or website. Many small businesses hire professional help for PR, blogging, and newsletters, too. But only a few realize exactly how much a skilled copywriter can help a business stay successful.

The fact is, a good copywriter can help make a company more efficient and more profitable in dozens of little-known ways.

Most large corporations take advantage of many of these opportunities. This may explain in part how they got big in the first place.

In contrast, the owners and managers of many small businesses (and this includes the majority of green businesses) are too busy trying to put out fires to think about developing or improving their written communication.

Which is really a shame.

Not only are they likely leaving money on the table by not improving these areas, but in many cases they are passing up a golden opportunity to reduce the number and severity of “fires” in the first place.

Here are just five under-utilized ways a skilled copywriter can give your company a real competitive edge in 2014:

  • Collections – How much do you have in past due accounts receivable right now? What percent do you write off every year? What would you do with the sudden influx of cash should a chunk of that money suddenly became available? Or even better – what if there was a way to reduce future delinquent accounts proactively, with no little to no extra effort on your part? Optimizing your written and scripted communications with your customers could potentially do just that.
  • Negotiations –With so much business being done via email these days, doesn’t it make sense to take advantage of the medium? A writer trained in the art of persuasion may give you an unprecedented edge in your negotiations, and even help cement your relationship with your vendor or customer in the process.
  • Customer Complaints – My grandfather worked for 40 years at Eastman Kodak. One of his primary responsibilities was to write letters in response to dissatisfied customers. He had the knack of defusing a customer’s anger, while still upholding the best interests of the company. Often, his letters even turned the irate customer into a loyal fan of Kodak! If handling complaints makes you uncomfortable, or if your attempts to deal with them always seem to backfire, you might consider hiring a writer with experience in customer service to help you in this area. (Be aware, though, that in this age of instant messaging companies are expected to respond to complaints immediately. So if you think you might ever need help in managing them, it’s a good idea to connect with a writer or consultant in advance.)
  • Sales scripts – Almost without exception, sales experts like the late great Zig Ziglar advocate scripting sales conversations. Developing scripts for your sales or retail team can really boost results (especially if you track and tweak).  Scripts can also help ensure that your company is always represented in a professional manner. When choosing a writer to help you with your sales script, it’s a good idea find one who has retail and/or phone sales experience. Hiring a writer who has used scripts herself as a salesperson will go a long way towards getting you a script your employees will actually use!
  • Job descriptions and employee manuals  – Why should your green business have an employee manual? A better question is, “Why on earth would you not have one?” A well-written employee manual can be an indispensable aid to helping your employees work efficiently. It can decrease the time it takes to train in new employees, and make it easier for your managers to help run your business, so you can spend more time growing your company or taking a much needed vacation. And, while no one ever plans to have employees who don’t work out, having all your policies laid out in an employee manual can make the process of reviewing and/or firing employees much easier and more equitable for all involved. While company policy is best developed internally, a competent writer can help you put it together into clear, professional language that will earn your employees’ respect, and help them perform to their highest potential.

These five examples illustrate just a few ways companies can benefit from “outside the box”  copywriting. Can you think of any more? Post them below with a link to your website, and I’ll mention your solution in my next social media shout-out.

photo credit: Adrián Pérez via photopin cc

How to create a customer survey using Google Docs Forms

One of my clients wanted to create a survey to send to her customers, and asked me how I would recommend setting one up. I suggested using Google Docs.

Survey graphicOne of my clients wanted to create a survey to send to her customers, and asked me how I would recommend setting one up.

Since her budget is limited, I recommended going with something free. I know of at least two good free survey platforms, Survey Monkey and Google Docs. In this case, I steered her towards Google Docs, since Survey Monkey would have limited her to only ten questions, and she needed a longer survey for her purposes.

Don’t be put off by the fact Google Docs are free. You can create a very professional-looking survey with Google Forms.

Setting up a customer survey in Google Docs is easy. Here’s how, in x easy steps:

1. If you haven’t already, you’ll need to set up a free Google account. You can do this here.

2. Click on “Drive” in the menu bar at the top of the page.

(If you are accessing Drive from your Gmail or other Google account page, you can find it by clicking the little “Apps” grid in the upper left.)

3. In Google Drive, click on the “Create” button on the upper left.

4. From the drop down, choose “Form.”

5. This will pop up a window where you can type in the title of your survey and choose a theme for its appearance. (We chose “Purpleicious.”)

6.Click OK.

7. Now it’s time to fill in the questions for your survey. In addition to the question, it will allow you to select the type of question (multiple choice, text, etc.) and/or ask for information (date, etc.)


7. If you want more than one question, click “add item” to fill in the next one.

8. When you have entered all your questions, scroll down just a bit to select what your viewers will experience once they’ve finished the survey (Google forms lets you choose from several options – just click the box(es) to select your choice(s) ), and hit “Send Form” in the lower left.

9. You’ll get a pop up that offers you a link to your survey, as well as the option to share on your social networks and/or email your survey to your contacts.

10. Once you have copied the link and/or shared your survey, it will prompt you to create a new Google spreadsheet (or a new page in an existing spreadsheet.) You do this by going back into Drive clicking the “Create” button again as in Step 3, but this time you’ll want to select “Spreadsheet” rather than “Form.” Your customers’ responses will appear in this spreadsheet (which you can find listed in your Google Drive) when people start filling out your survey.

And that’s pretty much it! 🙂

Surveys are great for all sorts of applications. My client wanted hers to use as part of a free diagnostic service for new customers, but they’re also excellent for getting feedback from customers, testing marketability of a potential new product, etc.

Do you use surveys in your business? Do tell!

Why Pinterest Rocks, and the Best Way to Schedule Pins

Viraltag logoIf women – especially well-heeled U.S. and Canadian women between the ages of 25 and 45are an important demographic for your retail business, and you are not yet using Pinterest regularly, here are a few facts you should know:

  • Pinterest rocks social sharing in the retail category, snagging 41% of shared content vs. Facebook’s 37%, according to a survey by social login provider Gigya.
  • Pinterest users spend significantly more on the average transaction than traffic from any other social source, including Facebook.
  • Pinterest continues to enjoy robust growth, particularly in the mobile sector.
  • It is now possible to schedule pins in advance, making adding Pinterest to your social media strategy so much easier.

Scheduling regular pins does make a difference. I recently started scheduling just one pin a day for one of my clients, and she reports a five-fold increase in Pinterest trafffic as a result.

The best way to schedule pins

Unfortunately, most comprehensive social sharing applications, such as Hootsuite and Buffer, don’t yet include Pinterest in the mix. That leaves just three Pinterest scheduling options that I am aware of: an app called 10Alike (formerly Reachli), Piquora, and Viraltag. (Let me know if you come across any others.)

Let me tell you about my experience with 10Alike/Reachli: it sucked. Enough said. Although to be fair, they were undergoing a major restructuring during the time I began using the app. So they may turn out to be OK after all. The service is free, so you won’t lose much if you want to try them out. Except for, possibly, a fair amount of time and patience. If you try them, be sure to read the instructions in the initial pop-up carefully, since you may not get another chance once you dismiss it. (If you should happen to have a good experience, please tell me about it – I might reconsider my evaluation once they’ve figured themselves out.)

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to use Piquora, but I’ve been using Viraltag for a couple of weeks now and love it. It is very easy to use. Once it’s set up you can pin right from your browser toolbar. It takes just a few seconds, and you can customize the title and exact timing of your pin, as well as choose which board you want to pin to. (Just one word of warning: I had trouble using Firefox with the app, but it runs flawlessly for me on Chrome.)

Viraltag is not free (although it does come with a free 2-week trial), but with price points starting at $4.99 a month it’s affordable enough for anyone. If you have been neglecting Pinterest because you just don’t have the time to pin regularly, do consider testing this option.

(Or, if you’d rather not deal with it at all, but would still like to find out how an increased presence on Pinterest might improve your traffic and sales, drop me a line – I’d be happy to talk to you about taking it off your hands.) 😉

 

Affiliate disclaimer: I am not an affiliate of Viraltag, Piquora, or (God forbid) 10Alike.

Social Media: A Support Tool or Menace for Sustainability in Business?

Social Media Butterfly Iliyana Stareva shares research and insights on using social media to promote sustainability and green products and services

Iliyana Stareva, Social Media Butterfly
Social Media Butterfly Iliyana Stareva shares research and insights on using social media to promote sustainability and green products and services

A few months back I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Iliyana Stareva, then a graduate student in management and marketing at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Dortmund, Germany, as part of her research for her dissertation, “The Power of Social Media as a Communications Channel for Creating Business Sustainability Value: a Support Tool or Menace?”

As you might guess, Iliyana’s research is an excellent resource for anyone marketing sustainable products or services, as well as any company interested in sharing its sustainability initiatives publicly.

On her blog, Iliyana graciously invites sharing of her findings. So it is my pleasure to include an excerpt from her post about the project. Here (in Iliyana’s own words) are the main conclusions of her research (I have emphasized certain key ideas and phrases that I think are highly important for green marketers):

  • There is a need for a new business culture based on the ability to feel and show empathy and the ability to change and move away from traditional horizontal and vertical business approaches towards a web, ecosystem and dialogue-based mindset for more innovative and value-driven collaboration. Consequently, there is a requirement to change the currently very dry, technical and preaching-like nature of sustainability communications towards making it more relevant, emotional, fun, provocative and engaging in order to better reach audiences on a larger scale.
  • In this regard, social media can be that new tool because, since it shares the same values as sustainability (community, transparency, authenticity, innovation, creativity and collaboration), combining and aligning the two concepts could have a powerful impact on effectively balancing the triple bottom line. Social media can thus be an asset that companies should capitalise on, as it can provide competitive advantages and allow brands to become pioneers. But, real commitment to social media sustainability communications is nevertheless required. Most importantly, both practices need to be embedded throughout the organisation – only then can they be effective.   
  • Social media allows companies to be creative, authentic, honest and transparent in their sustainability communications approaches and offers them the platforms to attentively listen and directly respond to what customers and other stakeholders are saying. Hence, social media provides tremendous benefits for organisations to increase brand awareness, promote sustainability initiatives and efforts, engage with stakeholders, integrate them into the company processes, facilitate knowledge management, advocate green activities and inspire sustainable lifestyles.
  • As a support tool social media can not only serve as a communications channel, it can go beyond just sharing information to being a collaboration and co-operation tool that can create value and drive real change through storytelling, community building, crowdsourcing, open innovation and co-creation. Thus, social media can be a strong differentiator and a source of transparent and engaging competitive advantage for business sustainability and so help create a sustainable brand.
  • On the other hand, as social media gives everyone a voice and allows for information to spread rapidly like a virus, brands have lost control over the conversation and it becomes a challenge how to deal with stakeholder scrutiny and negativity expressed online. Those, who try to control the conversation in persuasive and manipulative manners or by deleting comments, are put at the risk of a crisis that can seriously damage or even destroy a company’s reputation. Organisations that lack transparency and honesty in their communications are inevitably found out.
  • Not understanding the nature of social media and ignoring its transparency requirement by, for example, choosing practices such as greenwashing is a main reason for inducing the menacing role social media can play. But because on social media nothing stays hidden brands are required to ‘walk the talk’, aligning content with context.
  • The benefits of social media outweigh the risks for most organisations; those who fail to understand the new social landscape will be endangered of having their business disrupted by social technologies.

(If you have read my white paper on FTC compliance, you might recognize many of the key concepts echoed in Iliyana’s findings.)

Iliyana ends with a profound thought: that it is the responsibility of businesses to be leaders in the shift towards a more sustainable world.

To enhance the present and preserve the future companies must play their role in educating society… Education, though, starts with communication – if society is not made aware of the issues and their extents, then solving them is not possible. As Galileo once said, “you cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself” – people cannot be forced or driven to agree or act in the way others want; people need to be gently and friendly led, inspired and engaged to change their minds. This is where the potential of social media lies because it is first and for most about people and relationships.

This is an especially important point.  With all the risk of greenwashing it can be tempting to steer clear of addressing sustainability, but ultimately it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep it top of mind publicly as well as when planning one’s own corporate sustainability initiatives.

One last gift from Iliyana (who, by the way, received an A+ on her dissertation and is now the Social Media Account Manager at Brandzeichen Markenberatung und Kommunikation GmbH in Duesseldorf – congratulations, Iliyana!): this awesome Best Practice Guide infographic you can use to help your company stay on the good side of social media:

 Sustainability Social Media Best Practice Infographic

 

Thanks to Writing to Make a Difference for the repost

Writing to Make a DifferenceA belated “Thank you” to Leslie from Writing to Make a Difference for republishing my post, Your Customer’s Brain on Computers.

If you are involved in any sort of nonprofit, Writing to Make a Difference is an awesome resource to help you in your fundraising efforts. They offer all sorts of fundraising tips and insights, including free tip sheets you can use to improve your marketing and/or social sector job search. Check them out!

FTC Strikes Again with Green Guide Enforcement

sleeper on mattress
Time to wake up to the importance of monitoring your messaging for Green Guide compliance!

Don’t look now, but the Federal Trade Commission is at it again.

(On second thought, DO look. Hard – at your green messaging if you are a manufacturer or retailer of green products.)

Late last month, the FTC charged three mattress manufacturers with making deceptive  claims for their memory foam mattresses. The claims violated the FTC’s Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, or Green Guides.

In each case, the manufacturers in question had made “No VOC” claims for their products, but were unable to produce evidence supporting these claims. One of the companies, EcoBaby Organics, also made unsubstantiated claims that its products were free of formaldehyde and other chemicals.

The stuff hit the fan even harder for EcoBaby Organics and its alter ego, Pure Rest Organics. Turns out that their products are “certified” through the “National Association of Organic Mattress Industry” (NAOMI) and bear the seal to prove it. Only problem is, NAOMI is a complete fabrication. Although it appears to be a third party certification organization, it is actually part and parcel of EcoBaby/Pure Rest, which award the seal to their own products.

All three companies will be settling with the FTC – an arrangement that not only entails revising all their relevant messaging, but also a host of other red-tape items, including extra reporting and a 20-year probation period.

Not fun.

So, what are the takeaways here?

1. FTC Green Guide crackdowns are occurring in a predictable pattern.

Typically, the agency targets three or more companies within an industry at once for the same or similar infractions. (Some examples: paint and mattress manufacturers for unsupported “No VOC” claims, window manufacturers for unsubstantiated energy efficiency claims, and clothing retailers for false environmental claims regarding bamboo products.)

My suspicion is that once the FTC receives a complaint about a company, they will audit the entire industry. (Trade associations, take note!)

2. Every company making environmental claims should keep a substantiation file. 

Look through all your materials and identify your environmental claims. Then be sure you can back them up with reliable, scientific evidence. If you don’t have it, you may need to retract or modify those claims you can substantiate them.

You don’t necessarily need to exhibit the substantiation publicly (especially if it’s proprietary information), but if you ever do get audited, you’ll be glad to have it on file.

3. Be wary of using proprietary environmental seals or logos.

Seals can be very misleading to consumers, who often interpret them as meaning your product has been certified by an independent third party organization. The Green Guides offer very specific guidance regarding seals and logos. Make sure you understand and follow it.

4. Revising your materials may be a hassle, but it beats the alternative.

Yes, going through each and every web page, brochure, and advertisement is a royal pain in the you-know-where. You may not feel you have the time or the resources.

But not doing so is kind of like having unprotected sex. Your chances of ending up with something nasty may not be huge, but if it does happen to you it’s painful, embarrassing, and is likely to affect you for years.

Do the safe thing and take care of it now. If you need help, I’m here.

[stextbox id=”custom”]If you haven’t yet read my green compliance report, The FTC Green Guides Made Simple: A Companion Guide for Achieving Green Marketing Compliance, request your FREE copy today. [/stextbox]

 

photo credit: jafsegal via photopin cc

 

Could anti-child abuse ad backfire in the long run?

Child abuse is a serious problem, and needs to be addressed. And the ANAR ad is a well-executed, well-intentioned attempt to do so. But I’m concerned that in their short-term attempt to help solve the problem, the creators of this ad may well be exacerbating the problem long-term.

I recently wrote a post about a bad ad. This ad used a scene of attempted suicide to make a point about a product. Needless to say, it was  almost universally recognized as being tasteless. And of course it did nothing to improve the company’s image, let alone sales.

Anar child abuse poster
A Spanish anti-child abuse poster offers targeted messages to potential victims and perpetrators of abuse. But could it backfire in the end?

But there’s another ad out there that is receiving all kinds of applause. It is clever. It is well intentioned. It might even help save a life. And yet, I have grave reservations. I suspect that this ad, too, might actually do more harm than good.

The ad was created by the Spanish division of the Grey Group for the the ANAR foundation, a Spanish child advocacy organization. The outdoor poster is intended to combat child abuse by sending separate targeted messages to both children and their potential abusers. In order to do this, the ad incorporates lenticular printing, which allows different images to appear when viewed at different angles.

An adult viewing the poster sees a child’s face and the message, “Sometimes child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it.” However, when viewed from 4’3″ or lower, the child’s face appears bruised and the message changes to “If somebody hurts you, phone us and we’ll help you,” along with ANAR’s child abuse hotline number.

The concept is brilliant. And for older children, it could prove to be life-changing, if not life-saving.

As I said, though, I have reservations. The hotline portion of the ad is targeted at children ages 10 and under. But only about half of this population is even literate. Children under about 5 won’t get the all-important verbal message. All they’ll see is a child’s bruised face.

Think about that for a minute.

Pre-literate children are sensitive to the world in a way that you and I haven’t been for many, many years. They live in a world of images and sensations largely untempered by logic.

What will a four year old child think when he sees the bruised face of the boy in the ad?

I can think of a lot of possibilities, but none of them involve picking up the phone and calling for help.

If the child has not personally experienced abuse, perhaps he will assume that the boy fell off his bike. Or maybe he will mistake the bruising for jam.

But what if the child has himself been abused? What if he carries similar bruises on his own small body, or has seen them on his siblings or friends?

Don’t you think – in the absence of a verbal explanation – that the message he receives might be the very opposite of that which the ad is intended to convey?

Mightn’t the prominent public display of the image of an abused child serve as a validation in the child’s mind that the abuse he has experienced is normal?

The concept of the development of normative beliefs  – the formation of beliefs and world view based on what is perceived as usual or normal in an individual’s environment – is well documented. In a 2003 paper entitled Imitation and the Effects of Observing Media Violence on Behavior, University of Michigan Professor of Communication Studies & Psychology L. Rowell Huesmann writes:

Children’s own behaviors influence the normative beliefs that develop, but so do the children’s observation of the behaviors of those around them including those observed in the mass media…

…(T)he size of the correlation between media violence viewing in childhood and later adult aggression was …higher than the correlation between exposure to lead and IQ loss, between calcium intake and bone mass, between exposure to asbestos and laryngeal cancer, and exposure to passive smoking in the workplace and lung cancer.

Granted, Huesmann’s study focused on active media violence observed through video. However, he also mentions a phenomenon called “desensitization,” in which repeated exposure to blood, gore and violence (including images thereof) eventually negates the innate negative reactions to such things that most humans experience. People who have been desensitized to violence in this manner have been proven more likely to become perpetrators themselves.

Child abuse is a serious problem, and needs to be addressed. And the ANAR ad is a well-executed, well-intentioned attempt to do so. But I’m concerned that in their short-term attempt to help solve the problem, the creators of this ad may well be exacerbating the problem long-term.

I’m no psychologist (and I have no idea if the ad has been effective in its purpose), but doesn’t it seem like exposing young children to images of abused children could easily contribute to the desensitization of young (and older) children to the horrors of abuse, and to the formation of subconscious beliefs that child abuse is normal and acceptable?

Is this ad acceptable? Do its potential benefits outweigh its potential harm? How else could the message be relayed?

What do you think?

One Bad Ad: Hyundai’s unfortunate blunder

Every once in a while an ad catches my attention, either because it’s unusually clever – or unusually bad. Like the ad released last April in the UK by Hyundai Motors. To me, the story is doubly tragic. I’m saddened by the insensitive depiction of human tragedy for no other purpose than to promote a product. And I’m disheartened that the world’s first mass-produced, zero-emissions, hydrogen fuel cell vehicle’s marketplace debut had to be marred with such negative psychology.

hyundai-ix35-1
The Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell is the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen powered vehicle. Will it survive the negative press generated by its debut UK television ad?

I don’t always keep abreast of image advertising, since I’m more involved in the content marketing and direct response arenas. But every once in a while an ad catches my attention, either because it’s unusually clever – or unusually bad.

Sometimes, bad ads can be (painfully) fun to view. Sort of like watching an old Godzilla movie.

But others are just plain tasteless. Like the ad released last April in the UK by Hyundai Motors, depicting a man attempting to commit suicide by piping his exhaust fumes back into the passenger compartment of his car. At the end, he is unsuccessful because – ha, ha! he owns a Hyundai zero-emissions vehicle.

(I decided not to include the video in this post because I don’t want anything that crass on my blog, but if you really must see for yourself, you can do so here.)

Was Hyundai expecting their “clever ad” to go viral and result in blockbuster sales of zero-emissions cars to people wanting to protect their loved ones from suicide?

Or maybe the brand simply had a death wish. Because the ad did go viral, thanks in large part to Holly Brockwell. The U.K. copywriter wrote a tearful and outraged blog post raking Hyundai and its advertising agency, Innocean, over the coals for making her relive her father’s suicide using the same method depicted in the ad.

“I understand better than most people the need to do something newsworthy, something talkable, even something outrageous to get those all-important viewing figures,” Holly wrote. “What I don’t understand is why a group of strangers have just brought me to tears in order to sell me a car. Why I had to be reminded of the awful moment I knew I’d never see my dad again, and the moments since that he hasn’t been there.”

Why, indeed?

To me, the story is doubly tragic. I’m saddened by the insensitive depiction of human tragedy for no other purpose than to promote a product. And I’m disheartened that the world’s first mass-produced, zero-emissions, hydrogen fuel cell vehicle’s marketplace debut had to be marred with such negative psychology.

I’ve said it before, and this incident brings it home: harping on the negative does nothing to promote green products. People want to feel good about what they buy. Who can feel good about a car that conjures up images of attempted suicide?

There’s one more thing that has me scratching my head – Hyundai’s statement after pulling the ad:

The ad was created by an affiliate advertising agency, Innocean Europe, without Hyundai’s request or approval. It runs counter to our values as a company and as members of the community. We are very sorry for any offense or distress the video caused.

What? The ad was created and aired without Hyundai’s request or approval? Huh? I find it awfully hard to believe that Innocean could or would create and run a major television ad without at least a nod from its client. And if so, then shame on Hyundai.

Hyundai slipped up bad by allowing an ad agency that obviously doesn’t have a clue about green marketing psychology (nor, apparently, human decency) to represent their brand. And they slipped up again by neglecting to protect their own reputation and values, and then attempting to shift the blame.

I don’t mean to come down too hard on Hyundai. The company has an exemplary diversity policy, has donated millions to charitable causes, and is a pioneer in eco-aware vehicle manufacturing. I just want to point out that in green marketing, (and increasingly in all marketing), it’s so important to talk your walk as well as walk your talk.

5 Simple Ways to Let Your Customers Know You Care

A little bit of personal attention can make the difference between a prospect who walks away and one who converts to a happy customer – potentially bringing in even more business through word of mouth.

Man playing guitar
It’s OK to strum your guitar while speaking to customers. Just be sure to look up and smile while you do it!
Illustration ©2013 by Anne Michelsen, courtesy of Kids Celebrating Earth

Back when I worked in retail music, I’d frequently hear comments like this from customers:

“To be honest, I was going to rent my son’s trumpet at the other store in town. But I walked in there and the store tender was too busy picking at his guitar to pay me any attention. So I walked out and came here instead. I’m so glad I did. Thanks for all your personal attention. I’m going to tell my friends.”

A little bit of personal attention can make the difference between a prospect who walks away and one who converts to a happy customer – potentially bringing in even more business through word of mouth.

It doesn’t have to be anything earth shaking, either. In my case, all I did was offer a genuine smile and a “What can I do for you today?” to anyone who came through the door. No matter their age or the condition of their clothes.

But what if you’re not involved in brick and mortar retail? What if you never actually see a single one of your customers?

No matter. There are still plenty of ways to help your prospects feel appreciated and acknowledged. When they do, they’ll be so much more likely to stay around and buy.

Here are five things you can do to roll out that virtual red carpet to anyone who comes your way:

  1. Speak to your customer’s needs and desires. This is so basic, I’m sure you’ve heard it a bazillion times before. But I still come across home pages that are nothing but rants on How Great We Are, with nary a thought given to what the customer wants. (Ironically, the worst offenders I’ve come across have been marketing agencies.) Seriously, you might as well go play your guitar to the wall.
  2. Use language your customer can relate to. Ever read an article or white paper you thought might be useful – only to abandon it midway because you just don’t have time to read every paragraph twice? Business writing should be easy to read. Period. Think middle school reading level. And no, that doesn’t mean you’re talking down to your reader. (For example, this article rates at grade level 5.2). It just helps busy people stay focused.
  3. Embed a smile in your words. I have one corporate client who is very formal in his emails to me. Every time I got an email from him I used to wonder if he really wanted to be working with me. This went on for months, until one day I stopped by his office to take care of some business in person. He came out grinning from ear to ear, loudly praising my work to everyone in sight. (Kind of embarrassing, but in a good way!) Now, I’m not picking on my client. He’s not dealing with customers. But if you are, make sure the warm feelings you have towards them come through in every single thing they read from you.
  4. Offer something of value. Of course, your customers want value from your products or services. But how can they be sure they’ll get it from you? When you give them something useful, they don’t have to wonder. Free samples are great. So are coupons. But information is often at least as effective. Try a tip sheet, white paper, or idea book that explains fun or useful things other customers have done with your products.
  5. Keep delivering value. Once you have permission to contact a customer, don’t stop. They’re guaranteed to forget about you if they do. Keep drip feeding them good stuff via newsletters, blogs, or even postcards. Just be sure it’s relevant to their needs and desires. And don’t forget to make it easy and fun to read!

What’s your favorite way to let your customers know you love them? Post it below. If it’s a good tip I’ll tweet it out!