What can Toyota teach us about marketing green homes?

Here are a few suggestions for how marketers in the green home industry (and other industries as well) could benefit from emulating certain aspects of the marketing of hybrid cars:

2014 Toyota Prius hybrid“What can we learn from the marketing of hybrid cars that can help us market green homes?”

A LEED AP contractor posted this question as a discussion last month on the LinkedIn group Building Green.  “The cost premium for a high performance house is 5-10% for 90% better efficiency,” he added, “while the cost premium for hybrid cars is (only) 15-25% for 10-15% better efficiency.”

He didn’t elaborate, but I’m pretty sure he meant to imply that more consumers are springing for hybrids than are purchasing energy efficient homes, despite the better energy performance of the homes. In a quick search, I was unable to find hard numbers to back up this assertion. However, I do think he may have a point.

Here are my thoughts (in no particular order) on the topic:

  •  Marketing is (in general) less about logic than it is about appealing to the emotions. I hate to say it, but cars have the advantage here. They just have more sex appeal than houses for the average consumer. (Try creating a home ad that can even come close to this Porsche hybrid concept car ad in the sex appeal department!)

It’s great when your product has native sex appeal. However, there are plenty of other deep emotions that can be just as powerful. Look how Toyota openly uses the concept of non-romantic love to speak to their target audience’s desire for purposeful living in this hybrid ad:

(A nice additional touch: the YouTube post includes an invitation to join the conversation on other social media via the #LoveHybrid hashtag.)

  • Branding has merit. Toyota gets about 60% of the hybrid market. They have done an excellent job of elevating the Prius in particular to virtual cult status.
  • Related to branding, consider the mass media exposure that hybrid cars as a category enjoy. When was the last time you saw a TV ad for Passivhaus?
  • Despite the fact that people spend way more time in their homes, the energy efficiency of their cars is more top of mind. Think how many times per month people come face to face with their home energy bills. Compare that to the number of times they look at their gas gauge.  The act of driving (and fueling up) could also be functioning as a type of physical involvement device – a proven response-boosting marketing tactic.
  • Speaking of face-to-face, there are enough hybrids on the road now that their popularity is becoming obvious. (They are no longer just for tree huggers, either. My former neighbor, a deer-hunting, die-hard Green Bay Packers fan who throws all his recycling in the trash despite having access to curbside pickup, now drives a bright red Prius.) Thus, the all-important (in marketing) social proof is being offered. In contrast, it’s often difficult to tell from the outside whether a building has any progressive features.
  • Interest and accessibility. Start talking about R value and watch people’s eyes glaze over. Yet many in the green home industry continue to try to hook buyers with loads of energy efficiency data rather than presenting them with emotional benefits. On the other hand, watch a few car ads and see how technical they get. (I’ll save you some time: they’re typically 95% emotion, with a few MPG statistics thrown in.)

green roof buildingHere are a few suggestions for how marketers in the green home industry (and other industries as well) could benefit from emulating certain aspects of the marketing of hybrid cars:

1. Appeal to people’s emotions in your marketing.

2. Use language they can relate to. If you’re speaking to engineers, get as technical as you want. They love it. (Just make sure you’re accurate.) Otherwise,  translate your benefits into plain English.  Shoot for a middle school reading level. Your audience may be educated, but they’re also busy and distracted.

3. Get physical. Don’t just talk about R value and HVAC. Demonstrate energy efficiency in ways people can see and feel. Involve them. Have them handle samples of building materials. Hold an open house or expo. Sponsor a contest. Shoot a video that illustrates how your green technology works.

4. Address as many benefits as you can, including deep benefits. A lot of people don’t understand all the benefits of an efficient home. For example, a well-insulated room will feel warmer (in cold weather) than one kept at the same temperature that is not adequately insulated and air sealed. The benefit? They’ll feel much more comfortable in the insulated room. A deeper benefit is that feeling warmer reduces stress on the body (especially for older people and small children.) This means a healthier, happier family, fewer trips to the doctor, and lower medical bills.

5. Show social proof. Share testimonials and case studies of successful green buildings. Don’t just talk about meeting LEED standards. Show and tell how your type of building is meeting real people’s needs, saving them money, allowing them to enjoy a more comfortable experience, etc.

6. Try cooperative marketing. You may not have the ad budget of Toyota or Honda, but if you team up with other companies with similar target markets, you can certainly do a media blitz in your local community. Co-sponsor an event, form a local green building association, pool funds to purchase billboard space and other co-op advertising – the possibilities abound.

7. Don’t forget PR. Local press, especially, is always looking for interesting stories. Green building success stories certainly qualify – especially if you can tie in a human interest story or make a connection to a trend.

(One last thought: are green building sales really that far behind those of hybrid vehicles? Some recent research indicates that homes with green features are in high demand, and are commanding higher prices. Social proof, in and of itself!)

Lots to learn from Toyota – but should you emulate their marketing strategy to promote your construction business, architectural firm, manufacturing company, or other small to medium sized enterprise?

No way.

The image-building marketing strategy Toyota and the other major car manufacturers follow requires a huge budget and would bankrupt most smaller companies.

A much smarter and more profitable approach for most companies is to design and implement a multi-media inbound marketing funnel  – including lead-magnet pieces such as white papers and books, compelling sales letters and landing pages, events, and drip marketing campaigns such as print and email newsletters. One study found that on average, inbound delivers 54% more leads at an average of 13% less cost per lead than is typical for traditional outbound marketing strategies.

What successful marketing strategies have you used that could help market green homes?

Green Copywriter Earns Dan Kennedy Copywriter for Info-Marketers Certification

Green Ink Copywriting is proud to announce that its principal, Anne Michelsen, has earned the designation of ‘Dan Kennedy Certified Copywriter for Info-Marketers’ through American Artists and Writers, Inc. (AWAI), a leading publisher of direct-response copywriting, travel writing, photography and graphic design courses.

Dan Kennedy copywriter certificationFOOSLAND, IL –  Green Ink Copywriting is proud to announce that its principal, Anne Michelsen, has earned the designation of ‘Dan Kennedy Certified Copywriter for Info-Marketers’ through American Artists and Writers, Inc. (AWAI), a leading publisher of direct-response copywriting, travel writing, photography and graphic design courses.

Dan Kennedy is one of the most sought-after marketing consultants in the country. He is widely credited as having been instrumental in the development of the information marketing industry as well as the use of inbound marketing to promote traditional businesses.  He developed his copywriter certification course in conjunction with AWAI, in order to help remedy a perceived shortage of copywriters equipped to handle the unique demands of info-marketing clients.

Info-marketing refers to the online or offline sale of information products such as traditional books, audio programs, videos, or DVDs; magazines; newsletters; e-books; membership websites and clubs; teleseminars and webinars; telecoaching programs; and seminars and conferences—and combinations thereof. The Dan Kennedy Copywriter for Info-Marketers Certification is awarded to professional copywriters who have successfully completed a course of study in preparation for such copywriting.

InfoMarketing Association President Robert Skrob applauds the program. “Dan Kennedy’s Copywriter Certification Program creates a key resource for growing information marketers, copywriters who understand the business. In the info-marketing business, there’s always copy to be written, call notices, conference promotions and product sales letters. Having a stable of certified copywriters who understand the info-marketing business is a terrific shortcut.”

Anne Michelsen founded Green Ink Copywriting in 2008. She provides revenue-boosting copywriting, PR, and social media services to corporations and nonprofits as well as info-marketers. Anne has special expertise in sustainability and green product promotion, and is one of the most knowledgeable copywriters in the country on FTC green marketing compliance. Her free monthly green marketing tips and e-course on how to identify and sell to the 6 types of green consumer are available at GreenInkCopywriting.com.

For more information, contact Green Ink Copywriting here.

 

 

7 Ways to Capture More of Those Trade Show Leads

Next time you exhibit, don’t make the mistake of letting the bulk of your leads sink into the cold depths of anonymity. Hook ’em instead with one of the trade show lead capture methods listed here.

Iceberg
photo credit: mariusz kluzniak via photopin cc

A group of trade show prospects is like an iceberg. The number of attendees at any given trade show who are actively looking for what you offer is (like the tip of the iceberg) dwarfed by the number of attendees who may not be in the market for your goods and services NOW, but have a reasonable chance of needing them in the future.

I’m always amazed at how many companies invest countless hours and thousands of dollars into appearing at trade shows, yet routinely let these potentially lucrative future sales sink into the abyss.

Not collecting contact information from those “bottom of the iceberg” prospects and getting their permission to stay in touch with them is just as wasteful to your company’s long-term sustainability as leaving your windows open to the winter winds.

Well, ok, maybe it won’t change your carbon footprint. But it will hurt your ability to stay in business. And if your company goes belly up, why then all your corporate championing of the environment goes with it. And you’ll be working for the competition.

So, with that in mind, let’s talk about how to get those potential future prospects interested enough in your company to give you (at least) their names and email addresses, so you can continue to market to them.

Trade Show Lead Magnets

Here are some proven methods for trade show lead generation:

  • Your newsletter – If you are demonstrating the value of what you offer, which you should absolutely be doing at a trade show, many people will happily sign up to your newsletter list IF you have a sign-up form readily available. (You DO have a company newsletter, don’t you?)  You can sweeten the deal by offering a coupon or useful information as a reward.
  • Drawings for prizes – you’ll likely get a lot of leads for a prize drawing, but they may be lower quality leads (i.e., a lot of people who are really not interested in your product, but who would like to win the prize.) Choose your prize carefully to appeal primarily to your best prospects.
  • Offer of useful information in return for their contact information – white paper, book, video, etc. You’ll probably get fewer leads this way than with a prize drawing, but because the information you’re offering is (hopefully) highly targeted, they’ll be of higher quality; i.e. more likely to be real prospects. By the way, nothing wrong with offering multiple info pieces, each targeted towards a different industry problem and/or subset of your customer base.
  • Item giveaways – A lot of companies give out promotional items, but most of these are a waste. Try to figure out a promotional item that will actually get used (so your brand gets a bit of exposure) and can result in lead capture. Example: a Frisbee (pen, tote bag, whatever)printed with an invitation to sign up for a monthly prize drawing on your website. (For ideas on finding eco-friendlier promotional items, see my article on the topic here.)
  • Surveys – A carefully constructed survey can reveal a lot about your prospects and how to market to them. Many people are curious about the results of the survey they take; ask for their contact information and promise to send them this information once it’s compiled. (Of course you will use this as another opportunity to present the benefts of what you offer. Right?)
  • Samples – have people sign up to receive a free or discounted product sample sent to them. This can work especially well when you will be launching a new product soon, as it creates buzz around the product.
  • Contests – Run a contest and allow people to enter it right at your trade booth. This has the added advantage of keeping them engaged after the event.

How much contact information is too much to ask for?

The more expensive your product and the longer the sales cycle, the more information you should ask for. Also, the better the “goodies” you’re offering, the more information you should ask for.

If your product is of mass appeal and relatively inexpensive, your best bet is to go for sheer number of contacts. This is especially true if your product is likely to be an impulse buy. In that case, ask for just the name and email (or the minimum amount of information you’ll need to contact them).

If it will cost you a fair amount to contact them (i.e. if you’re offering to mail them a book or free product samples), always ask for their full information, including mailing address, email, phone and fax (if applicable.)

It is a good idea to disclose that you’ll be sending them periodic information. This need not be a turn-off, and you can even position it as a bonus. Just treat them with respect, and make sure they can opt out of any email correspondence, and you’re good to go.

Next time you exhibit, don’t make the mistake of letting the bulk of your leads sink into the cold depths of anonymity. Hook ’em with one of the methods above. (Or one of your own. Got any suggestions? Post ’em below!)

And then – don’t forget to follow up, respectfully but assertively. More on that in a future post!

 

The Silent Crowd of Customers Many Green Companies Ignore

Many eco-responsible businesspeople only market online because they think it’s more sustainable. But they’re out there – a silent crowd of customers who prefer to do business offline.

I was in the post office just before Christmas and couldn’t help but overhear the conversation taking place in line ahead of me:

“I just ordered a book from Amazon. It’s the first time I’ve ever ordered something online.”

“Oh really? Pretty convenient, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but I don’t know, it makes me nervous.”

“Oh, well, with Amazon I think you’re OK.”

“That’s right – they’re so big I’m sure they keep up with security. But I don’t think I’d trust most sites.”

If you’re like me and spend a lot of time online, it may be hard to believe. But they’re out there – a silent crowd of customers who prefer to do business offline.

Many of them may be your ideal prospects, especially if your products appeal to the older generations and/or a rural audience. Ignore them and their needs, and you may be shortchanging yourself badly. (As well as refusing them the pleasure and benefits of doing business with you, and potentially forcing them towards options that are less environmentally responsible.)

Many eco-responsible businesspeople avoid offline marketing because they believe digital media are more sustainable than traditional media – particularly because of the consumption of paper.

However, I believe that when done responsibly, print need not be any less sustainable than paper, and integrating print media into your marketing mix can really benefit your environmentally responsible business.

What’s your opinion? Do you avoid marketing your business offline? Why or why not?

Not sure what to put on Pinterest? Handy infographic offers dozens of board ideas for your pinning pleasure

Do you have a business you know could benefit from exposure on Pinterest, but you’re not quite sure how to start? No worries. Just check out this fabulous infographic, courtesy of Pinterest expert Andrea Ayers, for dozens of great ideas sure to attract not just traffic, but customers targeted specifically for your business.

Pinterest logoDo you have a business you know could benefit from exposure on Pinterest, but you’re not quite sure how to start? No worries. Just check out this fabulous infographic, courtesy of Pinterest expert Andrea Ayers, for dozens of great ideas sure to attract not just traffic, but customers targeted specifically for your business.

Notice especially Andrea’s suggestions suitable for all entrepreneurs. How many of these items are ones you already have at your fingertips? Do you have a blog? Pin your posts! Already have case studies or success stories written up? Pin ’em! Same goes with press mentions, your social media profiles, and any free reports or brochures you distribute. And if you have a smart phone, get into the habit of snapping photos your customers will find interesting – both within your business and outside of it.

All these things will load your Pinterest boards with original content, which is the very best thing for attracting relevant traffic.

launchgrowjoy 142-Pinterest-board-ideas-infographic

Do you use Pinterest for business? Have a board you’re especially proud of? Please share below!

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.

Your (Customer’s) Brain on Computers, Part 3

Some of these online customer characteristics represent challenges from our point of view as marketers. However, keeping them in mind when we structure our online content can help us craft more effective messages. Here are some suggestions.

Ten (plus) tips to reach and retain the online customer

Cartoon - where is everybody?
Ever feel like that little fellow at the top? Follow these tips to capture your online customers’ attention – and encourage them to stay on your site!
photo credit: HikingArtist.com via photopin cc

Some of the characteristics of online customers represent challenges from our point of view as marketers. However, keeping them in mind when we structure our online content can help us craft more effective messages. Here are some suggestions for keeping the attention of your online visitors:

  1. Do your keyword research. The more closely your copy matches a customer’s exact concerns, the more likely he will be to pay close attention.
  2. Pay special attention to headlines and leads. Use powerful, compelling, benefit-driven headlines to draw your reader in. Get right to the point in your copy ; this doesn’t necessarily mean push for the sale right away, but you want to be sure to give the reader ample reason to stick with you.
  3. Use subheads, captions, bullets and graphics. Most web users are “power skimmers.” For max effect, use these elements to tell the outline of your story so a reader can get the gist of your message in a short amount of time.
  4. Avoid large blocks of text. These can intimidate the reader, and encourage him to click away.
  5. Provide excellent, useful information. The online reader won’t stick around if you’re not giving him something on value. He’d rather be on Facebook.
  6. Provide leadership in your copy and design. Have a clear idea of what you want your visitor to do, and include strong offers and calls to action in order to direct him there.
  7. Make it entertaining. Insert a bit of humor where appropriate. Rhyming text and alliterative language patterns are fun and can have a mesmerizing effect. (Just don’t overdo it!)
  8. Use clean, uncluttered design. Your customer is distracted enough without an overly busy web design adding to the mess.
  9. Encourage interaction. When the customer’s involved, he’s more likely to stay around.
  10. Hyperlink mindfully. Hyperlinking is very handy for providing credibility-building references and when you want to encourage the reader to visit a particular page. But hyperlinks can be dangerous, too. They can suck your reader right off your site. That’s why I use them sparingly and strategically. You might want to reserve them for internal links (say, to a landing page), and use footnotes for references as I did in parts 1 and 2 of this article. Why encourage attention deficit in your reader?
  11. Bonus! Type additional tips into the comment box below, and I’ll tweet them out. Be sure to include a link to your site!

<<Read Part 1             <Read Part 2

Your (Customer’s) Brain on Computers, Part 2

Visitors come to your website in a very different mental state than when they’re reading your brochure or speaking to a sales rep. Here are a few of the major characteristics of online customers:

Customer attention and memory retention: a guide to your customer’s brain on computers

Seriously. Wouldn’t you speak to this guy differently? Spending time online really does change the structure of the brain. Make sure your internet messaging reflects the fact!
photo credit: University of Maryland Press Releases via photopin cc

Visitors come to your website  in a very different mental state than when they’re reading your brochure or speaking to a sales rep.  Here are a few of the major characteristics of online customers:

  • Online customers tend to be flighty. The average time spent on a web page is well under a minute – much shorter than the amount of time a casual newspaper or periodical reader typically spends on a page. Web users are usually searching for something in particular, and unless the page they land on speaks exactly to their needs, they tend to buzz off rather quickly.
  • Web customers are multitaskers. When someone comes to your website, you’re competing with phone calls and texts, email and Skype notifications, and other webpages that your visitor has open at the same time (one study indicated that users have open an average of 3.2 browser tabs, with 25% of respondents keeping 11 or more open at a time). 1 Any of these distracting elements can interfere with the amount of time your customer spends on your site.
  •  Internet users will read your content if you capture your attention sufficiently.  A 2007 study found that once online readers settle into an article, nearly two thirds of them will read to completion.2
  • Internet use affects your customers’ memory. Research by Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow indicates that Internet users tend to either remember information they find online, or where to find the information, but not both.3

<Read Part 1          Read Part 3>

 

References:

  1. Open This Story in a New Tab, Slate.com, Dec. 6, 2010
  2. Web News Readers Have Greater Attention Span: Study, Reuters.com, March 31, 2007
  3. Study Finds That Memory Works Differently in the Age of Google, Columbia University blog, July 14, 2011

Your (Customer’s) Brain on Computers, Part 1

no matter how much we limit our own time online, the fact remains: our customers probably don’t. To put it bluntly, our biggest source of competition anymore may not be our competitors, but what’s going on in our customers’ heads! So we need to take special care to structure our messages to both capture and keep their attention despite any adverse effects their brains may be experiencing.

The internet is more than a way for customers to find you. It actually changes the structure of their brains. This series of articles reveals how – and offers tips on attracting and retaining online visitors.
photo credit: Saad Faruque via photopin cc

How much time do you spend online?

If you’re anywhere close to average, it’s somewhere  between 25 and 27 hours per week. 1

That’s right. We spend nearly a quarter of our waking hours plugged in, and that’s not including the time we spend on other electronic devices, including our cell phones and our kid’s handheld gaming devices (admit it!)

Now, hold onto your chair. When you surf the web, you’re accomplishing more than shopping for shoes or chatting up your Facebook friends. Behind the scenes, what you’re really doing is rewiring your brain.

It’s true.  And you may not want to hear what you’re doing to it – but I’m going to tell you anyway.

How the Internet affects our brains

Research on the Internet’s effect on brain activity indicates that it contributes to attention deficit, addictive behavior, scattered thinking, loss of focus, and reduced ability to read human emotions.  In some cases, the effects can be physically measured: one recent study of 18 college students found that excessive internet use actually resulted in atrophy of gray matter in the brain. 2

Clearly, this is a serious issue. Due to my occupation, I admit to spending far more than the average amount of time online, and I can personally attest to feeling some of the effects.  I am starting to take steps to limit my (and my kids’) time online, and I highly suggest that you consider doing so, too.

But no matter how much we limit our own time online, the fact remains: our customers probably don’t.  To put it bluntly, our biggest source of competition anymore may not be our competitors, but what’s going on in our customers’ heads!

So we need to take special care to structure our messages to both capture and keep their attention despite any adverse effects their brains may be experiencing.

>Read Part 2            >>Read Part 3

References:

  1. Millennials Up Their Time Online, MarketingCharts.com, Jan.21, 2013
  2. Does Life Online Give You ‘Popcorn Brain?’, CNN Health,  June 23, 2011

 

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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