When Best Practices Can Land You in Trouble

Every industry has its best practices – methods and techniques that have been proven time and again to bring exceptional results. But best practices are based on what has worked in the past. What happens when an industry – or perhaps an entire society – is in flux?

in troubleEvery industry has its best practices – methods and techniques that have been proven time and again to bring exceptional results.

And few industries test their techniques so brutally as direct response copywriting.

After all, a slight tweak to a sales letter can mean a difference of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of dollars in profit – or loss.

So when three of the highest-paid, most successful copywriters in America all endorse a technique, don’t you think you’d better listen?

Normally, I’d say, “You bet! Listen and emulate!”

But heads up – and this is important.

Best practices are based on what has worked in the past. What happens when an industry – or perhaps an entire society – is in flux?

Then you’d better watch your tail. Because blindly following best practices – even when endorsed by giants in their fields – can land you in trouble.

The Magic of False Logic

Bob Bly is an extremely well-known, top-tier B2B copywriter.  Bob publishes an insightful e-newsletter in which he shares many of his excellent copywriting, marketing and personal productivity tips. (It’s worth following.)

A couple of months ago Bob published an e-newsletter article titled The Magic of False Logic.

“False logic,” he explains, is “copy that manipulates (but does not lie about or misrepresent), through skillful writing, existing facts. The objective: to help readers come to conclusions that those facts, presented without the twists of a copywriter’s pen, might not otherwise support.”

He uses the example of a metal broker who claims that “95% of orders (are) shipped from stock,” even though he does not have a warehouse. When questioned, it turns out they are shipped from the metal supplier’s stock, not his own.

­­Green vs. the Three Giants

Bob Bly isn’t the only master copywriter to endorse the “false logic” technique. I’ve seen Dan Kennedy and Michael Masterson encourage it, too.

Now, each of these individuals belongs to the upper echelon of the copywriting world. To put it in perspective, they are the Donald Trumps and the Bill Gates of their profession. They know what they are talking about, and then some.

So when I say they are wrong, I’m risking my reputation.

But I’m going to say it anyway.

THEY’RE WRONG.

They’re wrong, at least, if you are selling anything that might be considered “green.”

What the Green Guides Say

False logic is an effective, proven technique. And it’s endemic in conventional marketing.

However, when applied to green claims, it’s an approach that is likely to violate the FTC’s standards for environmental messaging.

In Section 260.2 (Interpretation and Substantiation of Environmental Marketing Claims), the Green Guides state:

“A representation, omission, or practice is deceptive if it is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances and is material to consumers’ decisions…To determine if an advertisement is deceptive, marketers must identify all express and implied claims that the advertisement reasonably conveys. Marketers must ensure that all reasonable interpretations of their claims are truthful, not misleading, and supported by a reasonable basis before they make the claims.”

Preventing deceptive claims is the primary purpose of the Green Guides. The FTC doesn’t care about the literal truth – the only thing that matters to it is whether or not customers might find your statement misleading.

The FTC’s Zero Tolerance

Last October’s FTC action against two paint companies is an excellent example. The paints in question were labeled “Zero VOC.” This was technically true – for the paints as they came in the bucket.

However, depending on the final colors used to tint the paint, the customer could end up going home with paint containing measurable VOC content.

The FTC showed zero tolerance for truth twisting in this case. This, even though one of the companies had included a disclosure in their marketing collateral.  (The disclosure wasn’t obvious enough, according to the agency.)

A Better Best Practice

Best practice or not, I would be very careful about using false logic when marketing and advertising green products and services.

And given the trends I am seeing towards greater transparency even amongst mainstream companies, I would hazard a guess that it’s not the safest bet for anyone anymore.

Despite Bob Bly’s assurance that false logic is not lying or manipulation, it’s a fine line between truth and misrepresentation, and the technique can dance you dangerously close to the edge. All it takes is one or two dissatisfied customers who feel they’ve been lied to (whether or not it’s true) to smear your name all over social media. And then, of course, there’s the FTC.

A better best practice?

Use real logic.

Figure out how to position the truth of your service, product or company as a benefit to your customer.

Like that metal broker. It seems to me that instead of pretending to be something he’s not, he could position himself as having a unique business model (which he does; instead of being a dealer with a big warehouse like all his competitors, he’s one guy in an office.)

He could explain how his business is based on relationships, and how he uses those relationships to meet his customers’ needs better and faster than the competition.

In fact, a true story like that might even be more compelling than his dicey false logic claim.

Just sayin.’

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photo credit: CircaSassy via photopin cc

Make your Green Marketing Fun!

How to educate your customers effectively without causing confusion or turning them off

Part 4: Make it Fun!

As people become more aware of the problems facing the environment, they begin to feel guilty.  They often react by going into denial or shutting out the bad news.  This can easily result in their shutting you out as well.  Overcome this problem by making your presentation interesting and fun.

Annie Leonard’s eco-educational films are a great example.  Using storytelling, engaging animation and generous doses of humor and hope, she manages to address very serious environmental problems in an engaging, entertaining and informative way.  (By the way, Leonard’s Story of Stuff and other works are also a great example of messaging that creates a buzz and spreads virally like wildfire.)

Try integrating stories, contests, events, jokes, food and the arts into your Green marketing.  Involve your customers.   Ask them to invite a friend.  Don’t be afraid to do the outrageous, if it’s consistent with your personality.  And by all means have fun yourself! People who are having fun are invariably attractive to others.  You’ve doubtless noticed this fact at social gatherings, right?  The same is true in business!

How to Overcome Green Business’s Biggest Marketing Challenge

One of the most difficult challenges we face when selling sustainable products and services is the complexity of sustainability itself. People frequently don’t comprehend the true value of our products without a lot of deep thought and intricate systemic understanding. And as any veteran salesperson can tell you, convoluted thought processes often pose a barrier to sales.

One of the most difficult challenges we face when selling sustainable products and services is the complexity of sustainability itself.  People frequently don’t comprehend the true value of our products without a lot of deep thought and intricate systemic understanding.  And as any veteran salesperson can tell you, convoluted thought processes often pose a barrier to sales.

That’s why it’s a good idea to come up with simple reasons to buy our products. Statements like “it saves you money,”  “it tastes better,” and “it’s the healthy choice for your kids” give people clear reasons to buy that benefit them personally in ways that are easy to understand.

So should we steer clear of environmental messaging for fear of confusing our prospects?

In most cases, emphatically NO! The environment is becoming an increasingly important concern, especially for certain segments of the population.  We certainly do want to talk about environmental benefits.  For one thing, concern for the environment can often tip a consumer’s decision in favor of your product.  But more importantly, keeping the environment top-of-mind benefits the planet and society as a whole by shifting society’s preferences towards more sustainable options.

That’s why consumer education is such a crucial part of Green marketing.  Take every chance you get to engage people and gently help them understand the complex issues our world is facing, as well as the role your product or service plays in protecting it.

But don’t be pedantic or overbearing.  The trick is to break it down into digestible chunks.  Over the next few days I’ll share some  guidelines for creating environmental messages that will both inform and engage your customers.  Stay tuned!

28 Sustainable Ideas for your Green Lumpy Mail Promotion

pebblesFollowing are some ideas for eco-friendly objects you can use in your next 3-D mail campaign, as well as sample concepts for working them into your promotions.

Natural objects:

Nuts – “I must be nuts to be offering discounts this deep” “Are high heating bills driving you nuts?” “Let’s get cracking on a solution!”

Acorn –  “Mighty oaks from tiny acorns” – could work for insurance, any kind of investment.

Pine cones, leaves – Marquette, Michigan home improvement contractors The Window Store once sent a mailing to existing customers promoting their gutter cleaning services.  Along with the sales letter, they included a handful of pine needles and leaves raked from an employee’s back yard.  The letter was extremely successful, bringing in enough business to keep their crews busy for several weeks.

Seashell – gift from Nature; emphasizes your company’s respect for the environment.

Shark tooth – “Eat your competition alive!” (Or, if your business has been around a long time or you’re selling a product that’s been successful for decades, make an analogy to the shark. Most of the critters that evolved at the same time as sharks are long gone, but sharks are still supremely successful creatures – you can’t really improve on their design.)

Fossil – “Still using fossil fuel?” or “Don’t let outdated [technology, etc,] make you look like a fossil.”

Flower seed packet – Great tie-in if you’re representing a product that helps businesses (or consumer savings) grow!

Live bamboo plant http://www.epromos.com/product/8815209.html – Also good for a growth theme, or for healthy living (plants are their own little air purifiers.) Or call it a “desktop meditation garden” and let people know your product will save them so much time they’ll now have time to relax.

Small rocks or pebbles – “Help is just a stone’s throw away.”

Office supplies:

Eraser – “Wipe away your troubles” (could work with a microfiber or organic cleaning cloth as well.)

Pen/pencil – These are tried and true promotional items when imprinted with your company’s name.  Promotional pens and pencils are available now in a number of eco-friendly choices, including bamboo, corn starch, and recycled paper.  Pens and pencils make great practical promotional items because they’re almost guaranteed to get used, and frequently get passed from person to person.  Make full use of them by including an involvement device in your package for which they’ll need a writing implement.

Pencil sharpener – “Let’s sharpen your advantage.”

Flash drive (USB stick) – Load it with your promotional materials. “Flashy” packaging your prospects are guaranteed to appreciate!

Sticky note pad (recycled) – Everyone uses these and they often get passed around.   Print some up with your logo and URL.  Make sure you indicate some reason to visit your website or call (white papers are great for this) – but leave plenty of room for notes!

Edibles:

Fair trade coffee – “Wake up to [your favorite benefit]!”

Organic tea bag – or how about two?  You could do a “Two for Tea” promotion or fundraiser, using the tea bags as tickets to your event.  The tea bag then gets redeemed for a prize; the extra bag lets them get their friends in on the fun, encouraging referral business. (Extra points for snide copy related to Tea Baggers!)

Organic nuts – “My wife (husband, kids, boss, dog, etc.) think(s) I’m nuts (to offer prices this low, etc.)” or  “High heating bills driving you nuts?” or “Let’s get cracking on a solution!”

Organic candy –“For the sweetest savings of the year…”

Fortune Cookies (probably best sent in a box) – Fortune cookies have insanely high open rates, and you can order them with custom messages.  And did you know you can now even get organic fortune cookies?  Why not have your prospects break theirs open to find out which one of several free gifts or discount offers they win? (The message then becomes a coupon.)

Other items

Marbles – “The boss is losing his marbles (to be offering a deal like this!)”

Pressure gauge – “Feeling pressured?” or “Take the pressure out of _____.”

Origami – From lotus flowers to sailing ships, no matter what you’d like to represent in your mailing, somebody’s probably made an origami version of it.  These folded paper objects are beautiful, intriguing and much more eco-friendly than plastic objects. True, they may not be readily available commercially, but most origami pieces are quick to make and if your mailing is small you should be able to find someone willing to earn a few bucks for folding paper into pretty shapes.  (My eleven year old daughter comes to mind!) 😉

Wooden/bamboo spoon – “Stir yourself up some savings.”

Coin – You’ve probably received mailings that had a penny or other coin glued to the sales letter, perhaps visible behind a window in the envelope.  They’re effective because no one wants to throw away money, so you can almost guarantee it’ll get opened.  Just make sure you have a killer headline to draw them in once they’ve ripped it open!

Balloons (biodegradable) – If you’re sending birthday greetings to your customers, good for you!  Make them even more special by including balloons.  Or use the balloons to spread the news of your company’s “birthday” or the birthday of a famous person related to your industry (link it to a sale or promotion, of course.)

Candle – Could be a great involvement device, especially for a nonprofit.  For example, you could ask them to light the candle on a certain night to show their support for a cause – then visit your website to pledge that they’ll do so (and hopefully make a donation, too!)

Switchplate – If you offer energy-saving services, consider printing up switchplates with your logo and a “Turn out the lights to save energy” message for your customers to use at the workplace or in their garage, basement or attic.  You could include them as a courtesy gift with your direct mail promotion, or send them as a thank-you to recent customers, along with a survey for gathering feedback and testimonials.

Book – Who would throw away a book? Especially one that addresses their needs or interests.  Books make terrific lumpy mail additions.  For maximum impact, send them one you’ve authored (or co-authored) yourself.  Best if you can subtly weave persuasion into your book along with useful information – and include a bio page with your contact information at the end.   This could well be the most powerful sales tool you ever lay hands on. (If you’re not into writing, no worries. Just hand your ideas over to a ghostwriter – like yours truly!) 🙂

As with any promotion, when you send a 3-D mailing just make sure to keep it targeted, relevant, clear and focused.  And if you’re planning a large mailing, be sure to test it on a small portion of your list first (500 names is ideal for a test run.) Good luck, and have fun!

 
photo credit: Free HDR & Photomanipulations – www.freestock.ca via photopin cc

Creating an effective lumpy mail campaign for your green business

direct mail packageEver open your mail over the recycling bin?  You’re not alone.  Nationwide, about 44% of sales letters sent through the mail never get opened.

So if you’re trying to minimize your impact on the environment, should you avoid direct mail at all costs?

Perhaps.  But if you’re marketing a product or service that ‘s truly sustainable, you have to keep in mind that you won’t help the planet at all by going out of business.  And the fact is that direct mail creams email not only in terms of open rates (approximately 80%  of commercial emails are clicked out of existence without ever being opened) but also in overall response or conversion rates (DM scores on average at about twice the rate of email.)  When you send a real letter you’re less likely to annoy people and more likely to catch them in a mood to pay attention to what you have to offer.

Direct mail has a higher upfront cost, but many savvy businesspeople swear by it as one of the most effective tools in their marketing arsenals.  So you may want to at least try adding direct mail to your marketing mix, especially if the product you’re selling is on the pricey side.

Using 3-D objects to increase your open rates – and sales

Including a three dimensional, or “lumpy” object in your direct mail package helps boost response in several ways.

  • Including dimensional objects in your mailing is a sure way to pique your prospects’ curiosity and increase your open rates.  This is important, because just getting the darn envelope opened is your biggest obstacle to the sale!
  • 3-D mailings get the prospect involved.  They give him something to touch, puzzle over, listen to, and sometimes even smell or taste.  They may have symbolism that gets him emotionally involved as well.  And they may prompt him to take action in a way that he wouldn’t otherwise.
  • If the object has value to your prospect, it works like a gift – making him psychologically indebted to you.  This can prompt him to give more time and attention to what you have to say.
  • Lumpy mailings are out-of-the-ordinary, and thus are more likely to be remembered and talked about.  This can be a real advantage if you’re using your direct mail sales letter as part of an orchestrated marketing campaign.  For instance, if you’re following up with a sales call, referring to the unusual object you sent them can be a great way to break the ice and engage your prospect.

Making sure your 3-D mail objects make sense

It’s a good idea to choose objects that have high perceived value or ones that your prospect is likely to use or pass on.  (Stay tuned – in my next post I’ll detail some good picks that are also easy on the Earth.)

It’s also best to tie your objects in to your direct mail promotion in some way that makes sense. For instance, if you’re having a promotion centered around a holiday, you might want to include objects associated with that holiday.  (Say, a small dreidel for a  Hannukah promotion.)

Telling a story about your object and why you’re sending it to your prospect is also a great way to engage their interest. Or you can treat the object like a coupon that can be exchanged for an offer or reward.

Integrating lumpy mail into your marketing campaign

Don’t feel you have to sell directly with your lumpy sales letter.  Depending on your product, you may want to use it to offer an information kit or other lead generation device.  You can also use lumpy mail to drive people to your website (be sure to offer a juicy incentive for going there) or as an invitation to an event such as a workshop, teleseminar or webinar.

Often, 3-D direct mail works best as part of a sequence.  Try sending a lumpy sales letter to your list, then following up with a couple post cards and then a sales call.  Or send a sequence of three related lumpy mail pieces for maximum impact.

Another idea is to use dimensional mail to reinforce a recent sale, raise perceived value and prevent buyer’s remorse – especially if your product is relatively intangible.  A good example of this is the elegant package American Express sends  their new Business Platinum cardholders in lieu of an ordinary letter, along with their new charge card.  This could be a good strategy to allow you to realize some benefit from the power of direct mail while minimizing the resources involved.

To mail, or not to mail

Direct mail isn’t necessarily for everyone.  As a green marketer, you may not feel comfortable sending direct mail, especially if you’ve ever been vocal about “junk mail.”

If your business is doing fine without it, by all means carry on. More power to you!  But if you’re struggling, or just have the nagging feeling you could be doing better, why not give direct mail a try?  And if you do, why not consider including a lumpy object (a sustainable one of course)?  You just might surprise yourself with how well it does for you!

photo credit: donovanbeeson via photopin cc

An Eco-Hedonistic Approach to Green Marketing

woman enjoying natureA few months back I took part in a fascinating exchange on the LinkedIn group “Women Growing Green Business.” The conversation kicked off when one member of the group posted a link to Green marketer Joel Makower’s post Earth Day and the Polling of America, 2010: Me First, Planet Later.

In it, Makower dolefully detailed a number of studies indicating that “with the exception of committed environmentalists — a relative sliver of the populace — the mood (of American consumers) has switched from ‘What can I do to be helpful?’ to ‘What’s in it for me?'”

Perhaps Makower is rightfully cynical.  But in the eyes of this particular group of women – many of them talented Green marketing experts as well – this “Me First” attitude regarding Green products represents not just a challenge but an exciting opportunity.

Eco-Hedonism

In fact, one participant, Green market researcher Wendy Cobrda of Earthsense, has gone so far as to coin a term for it.  She calls it “eco-hedonism” and insists it’s not a bad thing.  In her own words:

Instead of Lifestyles of Health & Sustainability — the great majority of people are motivated by Lifestyles of Hedonics and Economics, doing things that bring them pleasure and those actions are shaped in many ways by their means or economics.

For example, for the longest time, I’ve been a fan of Muir Glen fire-roasted canned tomatoes. While I’m not a gourmand by any stretch, I do enjoy cooking, and even more so when what I cook brings smiles of pleasure. On a whim, I tried those tomatoes and for years now, that’s all I buy (unless I can’t get them!) Why? Because they taste good. I appreciate that they are organic, I like the mission of the company, but I come back time after time because I like how they taste.

“K.I.S.S.

Remember the old saying, “Keep it simple, stupid?”  Green marketers would do well to heed it.  Like it or not, the act of shopping is the modern equivalent of foraging for food, shelter or other primitive necessities.  Foraging usually doesn’t involve complex, ethical decisions.  If it looks good, tastes good, smells good, take it! f it doesn’t appeal, leave it.  And by all means, if it’s scary or suspicious, run!  Simple. That’s what we’re wired for at a deep animal level.

It’s not that people don’t care.  It’s just that the environment and the challenges we face as a species and as a planet are anything but simple.  The average person has a very hard time grasping the importance of the issues themselves, let alone how their choices may influence those issues.  Choosing a product based on its eco-friendliness involves thought patterns that may also include feelings of uncertainty and confusion – not emotions that readily lend themselves to buying.

When your product appeals to a person’s hedonistic self-interest you’re speaking to them on a super-simple level that requires little thought.  We’re talking animal instincts.  Great taste.  Comfort.  Savings. Sex appeal. It may not be spiritually enlightened, but it’s powerful stuff, and that’s where the main thrust of your marketing messages should be.

And Green messaging?  Should we even bother with it?

Absolutely.

As Green marketer Jacqueline Ottman noted in the thread,

What I believe is that people do care about the planet — that is evident– but when they go into supermarkets and put on their “shopper hats” they have to make sure that the products they buy satisfy their primary reasons for buying the products in the first place —getting clothes clean, buying nutritious and tasty food, etc. This is even more important in a recession when consumers need to ensure they are getting value for their money.

This doesn’t mean that they don’t care about the planet. For the entire 20 years that I have been tracking green marketing, environmental, and increasingly social, benefits have played an important secondary role in influencing purchases. (One of my colleagues coined the phrase, “The tie goes to the dolphin”.) Green then is the added source of value that can break a tie at the shelf. But, when truly integrated into the value proposition, green can enhance primary benefits —the organic produce that tastes better. That is true green marketing heaven!
So absolutely weave green messaging into your promotions. (As long as you can do it ethically and truthfully, of course!) But don’t make it the main dish.  Think of it as a scrumptious dessert to top off an already mouthwatering meal – tipping the balance from tempting to irresistible!


P.S. Just a small but very important caveat: this article was penned with the generic, mainstream American consumer, or mildly Green consumer, in mind.  Your company’s target market(s) are unique and may require a different approach ranging from not mentioning sustainability issues at all, to making them the main focus of your messaging.  It’s all about understanding the prospect!

Do you have a lot on your plate? Need someone to come up with just the right words to tempt your prospects to indulge? Leave a comment detailing your needs, or visit me at GreenInkCopywriting.com to find out more!

Subscribe to my bi-weekly tips and insights into Green marketing and sales writing, and get a complimentary copy of my Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.


photo credit: Guttorm Flatabø via photopin cc

Thanks to GreenBiz.com…

…for publishing my green marketing article “Are Green Marketers Selling Their Souls?”

GreenBiz is a great resource for anyone interested in sustainable business and it’s truly an honor to be included as an author.

Thanks again, guys!  And kudos on a terrific site!

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Kids develop preferences and beliefs through their experiences. You can help your customers do the same.

You know how sometimes kids say the wisest things?

The other day I was down in the basement putting in a load of laundry.  Pretty routine – except I was trying out this new detergent.

Actually it’s not detergent at all, it’s these nut shells that contain soap-like compounds.  You put a few in a little muslin bag and throw it in with your wash, and the clothes come out clean.

Like I said, I was trying it out for the first time.  And I had my doubts.  How could these silly nuts possibly clean a whole load of wash?  But when I unloaded the machine, the clothes smelled sweet and fresh.

“WOW!  These things really WORK!” I exclaimed.

My daughter looked at me in surprise.  “Of course they do!  Why wouldn’t they?

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Her comment stopped me cold.  Indeed – why wouldn’t they work?

I realized that as much as I believe in the need for environmental products, I still struggle with the deeply embedded cultural belief that more technologically “advanced” products will do the job better.

My daughter, on the other hand, has been growing up listening to my lectures (and, I have to admit, sometimes my lip service) about environmental values.  More importantly, for the past eleven years she’s observed my admittedly imperfect striving to live in harmony with Nature.

Clara herself thrived on Nature’s perfect food as an infant.  She was present during the many La Leche League meetings I led, helping other breastfeeding moms nurture their babies as Nature intended, and used to carry her dolls around in her own little organic sling.

She watched as I composted kitchen and garden scraps and returned them to the Earth, enriching our garden soil…then again as the seeds we planted in that soil blossomed into thriving plants…

…and she feasted on the bounty our garden provided – without unnatural chemicals or fossil fuels.

She helped clean our home with vinegar and baking soda, and never picked up the idea that “sqeaky-clean” can only be attained with the help of chemical cleaners.

In the end, she’s internalized it.  Clara has accepted – at a gut level – the power of natural products.

Why?

It’s the power of experience – and of demonstration.

The Power of Experience

Remember the old parenting joke, “Do what I say, not what I do?” It’s funny because we all know it doesn’t work.

In marketing, too, as in parenting, we’ve got to do more than talk about our products.

Did you ever have a Kirby sales rep come to your door?  Sure, they talk about the vacuum cleaner and what it will do for you.  But the real magic in their presentation comes when they dump a bunch of dirt on your carpet and vacuum it up with your own machine – and then throw a filter into the Kirby vac’s hose and suck up a ton of dirt out of the very same spot – thus proving through experience the benefits of owning their product.

Do you think they’d sell nearly as many vacs if all they did was talk?

Not on your life.

Experiencing is believing.  One of the reasons many people still distrust the effectiveness of green products is because they have no experience using them.

In-person demonstrations are an ideal way to dispel doubts about a product.  But it’s not always possible.

Here are a few ways to show (rather than just tell) your prospects just how effective your product is, even if you’re restricted to print or web:

  • Free samples
  • Videos
  • Photographs
  • Diagrams, charts and graphs
  • Testimonials (yes, it’s telling, but it allows your prospect to vicariously share the experience of a satisfied customer.)
  • Stories (again, it’s telling, but storytelling activates the “experience” part of the brain.)
  • Analogy – if you can link your product to something they’re familiar with, you’ll tap in to their already existing experience.

Can you think of any more?  If you can, share them below!

Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer who helps Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.

Subscribe to Anne’s weekly tips and insights into Green marketing and sales writing, and get a complimentary copy of her Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.

For more information about Soap Nuts and other eco cleaning products, or to find out about a business opportunity that will help you make a living while making a difference, visit Eco4Me.biz.

The Chrome Scrotum

It's not just a motorcycle...

Right after we got married, my husband Dan and I flew out to Oregon with two touring bikes, eight panniers, and as much lightweight camping gear as we could pack in them.  After landing in Portland, we pedaled over the Cascades, dipped our back tires into the Pacific and turned around and headed across America.

You don’t survive 4,000 miles of saddle sores and extreme weather with someone without developing a few inside jokes.  One we got a lot of mileage out of (sorry, can’t resist the pun) was the “third testicle.”

You see, one of the great things about bicycle touring is the silence.  It’s just you and the wind, and the little crunch of gravel under your tires.  You can hear the cows mooing, and the birds singing…

Until some great big hairy guy on a Harley comes roaring out of nowhere, shattering one’s peaceful reverie into a bazillion ear-splitting exhaust-laden slivers.

It’s not like you can’t buy a motorcycle that’s quiet.  It’s like these guys have to prove their manhood with their machines.

Same thing with pickup trucks…

And snowmobiles and 4 wheelers and jet skis…

The Third Testicle

So we jokingly started to refer to anything with souped-up horsepower as a “third testicle.”  Got low testosterone?  Just rev your engine.  Who needs Viagra?

That was almost 17 years ago.  The joke has gradually faded from our repertoire.  But just this morning I saw something which brought it sharply back to mind.  In fact, I almost snorted my beverage up my nose when I saw it.

There , dangling under and a little behind the towing ball on the pickup truck in front of me, was – unmistakably – a scrotum.  Made of chrome.  Swaying realistically side to side with the movement of the vehicle.

It’s that Sex Appeal thing

The guy who bought that pickup truck may have needed a work truck – but just as likely he could have gotten away with a high-milage sedan, saving money on gas as well as the original purchase.   He bought the vehicle that made him feel powerful. He may be just a lackey at work (or even unemployed), his wife might not look up from the TV when he comes in the door, but by golly getting behind the wheel of that truck transforms him into an alpha male.

The quest for power is a natural survival instinct in all animals, including humans.  And it’s tied to biological reality.  In general, the fitter, more powerful you are the easier time you’ll have attracting a mate and passing your genes on to the next generation.

The challenge we face in attempting to replace fossil fuel isn’t just one of replacing infrastructure.  It goes much deeper than that, into the primitive recesses of our brains and egos.   Fossil fuel represents power.  Plain and simple.  There’s something about it that gives us that alpha rush.  (Even I have to admit that as pleased as I am to get 50 mpg driving our diesel Jetta, I also seriously enjoy the car’s powerful, responsive engine that eats up hills and allows me to pass at will, which of course proves my dominance on the road.)  (Sorry, can’t help it.  It’s that primitive brain of mine. )

It has nothing to do with logic.

Logic: Necessary but not Sufficient

Of course, people need logical reasons to buy.   But if we want to convince people to give up their muscle cars, chemical cleaners, and other unsustainable products in favor of our greener, more responsible products, we have to dig deep and figure out what it is they really want, on a primal, animal level  – and then present our offerings in such a way that they light up those hot buttons in people’s heads.

A product like the Tesla Roadster Sport makes the process easy.  With its sleek lines and slam-you-back –in-your-seat acceleration of 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds, it’s just plain sexy.  Only a real Neanderthal would miss the noise and exhaust.

But any product worth bringing to market is bound to resonate with someone’s “hot button.”  (It doesn’t have to be sex, although that’s a powerful one.  It could be security, comfort, pleasure, greed…any of a number of motivations linked to our primal emotions.)

The challenge is twofold: to identify the primal urges that drive our prospects, and to present our products in such a way as to strike that hot button in their soul.

I’ll discuss ways to do the latter in future posts.  In the meantime, though, I have an assignment for you.  Be on the lookout for “chrome scrotums”- telltale clues people unwittingly reveal about their deepest , darkest desires.  Post ’em below when you discover them!

Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer specializing in helping Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.

Subscribe to Anne’s bi-weekly tips and insights into marketing, sales writing and sustainability, and get a complimentary copy of her Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.

Are Your Green Claims FTC Compliant?

FTC seal
It's a good idea to be aware of FTC guidelines when making green claims in your marketing.

In 1992, in response to a flurry of green marketing claims (the first wave of the green deluge we’re now experiencing), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a series of guidelines for environmental advertising and marketing messages.  Known as the “Green Guides,” these rules are strictly voluntary and are not enforceable by law. (Yet.)  However, they are based on Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which declares false or deceptive advertising illegal.  So don’t take them lightly.

If you’d like to read the Green Guides for yourself, you can do so here.

Otherwise, read on for the quick ‘n’ easy Green-Guides-in-a-Nutshell.

For today, let’s take a look at the four main points set forth in the “General Principles” section of the Guides.

1. Qualifications and disclosures: Language addressing green claims should be clear, prominent and understandable.  You should be able to back up any claims with proof.

2. Distinction between benefits of product, package and service: Make sure that if you make a claim for your product, it’s clear whether you’re referring to the product itself or its packaging.  (For instance, when using words like “recycled,” “recyclable” or “compostable”.)

3. Overstatement of environmental attribute: What if your manufacturing facility cut its use of chlorine bleach by 50% last year?  Sounds great, right?  You could get all sorts of great press!  But hang on.  What if your reduction consisted of your janitor using ¼ cup instead of ½ cup a week of the stuff when he cleans the urinals?  Pretty negligible – so button your lips.

4. Comparative claims: When you’re making comparisons you should:

  • Make clear what’s being compared.  Avoid vague statements like “10% less packaging.” It’s meaningless unless you qualify it like this: “10% less packaging than the leading brand,” or this: “New package – 10% less plastic!” (The word “new” makes it clear that you’re comparing it to your own old packaging.)
  • Be able to back up your claims with proof.

Of course, there’s more to it.  For example, the Guides go into far more detail on use of specific words like “refillable” and “ozone-friendly.”   I’d encourage anyone making claims of sustainability or eco-friendliness in their advertising to familiarize themselves with the Green Guides.  But there’s no need to sweat.  The suggestions just make good sense, and echo two of the major principles of green marketing: clarity and transparency.

What do you think?

Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer specializing in helping Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.

Subscribe to Anne’s bi-weekly tips and insights into marketing, sales writing and sustainability, and get a complimentary copy of her Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.