One of the most interesting lessons from the book Switch, by the Heath brothers – which, admittedly, I am obsessed with – is that we humans have a built-in tendency to follow the behaviors of others in our group. We are more comfortable taking actions when we know that other people are doing the same thing. TV producers having been using this fact for decades. Take the sitcom, for example. If we were in a live studio audience, we’d follow the behavior of others in the crowd by laughing along with the group. But when we watch a sitcom at home we are often alone, without a group to follow behaviorally. So producers built in fabricated crowd laughter that automatically triggers our urge to laugh along.
Which begs the question, how do we follow the herd in the age of YouTube, when so much video entertainment does not include a laugh track – and we are even more often a singular audience watching video at our desks (when we should be working)? YouTube and other channels wisely include the number of “likes” and views per video. They also make it easy to search for the most popular videos in a given category. We don’t have fake laughter to tell us what’s funny, but the herd nevertheless guides our viewing choices. To experience this, check out Battle at Kruger, arguably the most fascinating wildlife video ever captured on camera – and by a couple that just happened to be in the right place at the right time while on a safari. It has over seventy-five million views. We humans quite literally “follow the herd” when we watch this video.
We think of our species as smarter than all others. But we are all animals nevertheless. So, when you’re making a film you want your target audience to see, think about how to create the perception that others in the same herd are heading in the same direction. One way to do this is to recruit a thought leader in a category, or celebrity, that your target group is used to following (perhaps quite literally following on Twitter). The people you want to reach will be far more likely to follow along. It’s our nature.
Cape Wind has been stalled for years and recently lost its contracts with utilities, a potential end to their dream of being (as their site currently claims) “America’s first offshore wind farm.” Deepwater Wind, however, recently got a green light on a major financing deal and will begin construction in 2015. Deepwater will in fact be America’s first offshore wind farm.
Why was one wind company brand successful while the other may fail? While many factors were at play, it’s clear to me that the power of wind company branding played a significant role. Full disclosure: my company created the brand for Deepwater Wind. I point this out not to boast, but to share with you some insights gleaned from the brand’s development that can help other companies be successful, whether they be in clean energy, automotive, or dog food.
First, take a look at the names and logos of each company. The Cape Wind name includes “Cape.” What does that name evoke? Sunny days at the beach. Relaxing by the water. Beautiful scenery. Now add “Wind” to “Cape.” Just the juxtaposition of the two implies the intrusion of wind turbines into our mental image of the Cape. The Cape Wind logo rubs beach sand into the wound by including a graphic of a big wind turbine. The project itself, which has been planned for Nantucket sound, hit a firewall of protest from day one, which continued for over a decade. Lawsuit after lawsuit, delay after delay. Why? The name and logo and the project had one thing in common: visibility. The turbines would be highly visible, and most people – rightly or wrongly – don’t find the turbines to be an appealing addition to the skyline.
Now look at the Deepwater Wind name and logo. The name “Deepwater” came about because the company had a technology that allowed them to erect turbines farther from shore, in deep water, where they would be less visible. “Deepwater” does not conjure images of a national treasure. It conveys a sense of, well, deep water. Places farther from shore. When you site a turbine in deep water farther off the coast, they tend to be in places with the wind is stronger, allowing for greater energy to be gathered efficiently and at lower cost. And most importantly, they’re less visible from shore. Note that there is no wind turbine in the Deepwater Wind logo. The word “wind” says enough, without emphasizing the one thing most people don’t like about wind energy – the big turbines. Note also the logo is in various shades of blue, a color that instills a sense of financial solidity and trust. In addition, the font we used is bold, conveying power. The upturned lines above the word “wind” convey a range of positive associations, such as waves cresting, and the rush of wind across the deep ocean waters. Everything about the Deepwater Wind name and logo mark makes you feel good about them. This is no accident. It’s by design.
Customers will only say “yes” to your company if they like you. To make this happen, your brand has to be engineered with as much thought and care as your technology. And the essential value of the brand has to run like an electric current through your whole company and culture. A great brand isn’t a label, it’s a true and compelling representation of what your company believes and values right down to your core.
To be clear, Deepwater Wind is a success many years in the making; they did a lot of things right, and their brand was only one of the things that played a role in their success. But what’s significant is that it was one of the first things they did right. They were able to build on this solid foundation to tell their story to the world and become a trailblazer in American clean energy.
Big data-fueled market segmentation is by no means new marketing strategy, but it is increasingly being exploited in sectors beyond consumer goods (e.g. clean energy marketing) to serve up targeted messages and content to niche audiences. Despite this positive shift towards brands providing more than coupons and product ads to consumers, the majority of segmentation infrastructures are still reliant on push marketing tricks—not adapted to a new era where people are savvy information seekers, resistant to being interrupted with generic directives. As content marketers, market segmentation is key to all of our content development efforts. But we do it—and think of it—differently.
Though there is always economy of scale to consider, our version of “market segmentation” is best represented in targeted message roadmaps and executions that help our clean energy clients reach their hardest-to-reach microswaths not by interruption, but by influence; providing material that is tailored to their distinct needs and designed to ameliorate their crucial pain points, wherever they are at on their conversion journeys. Our approach isn’t reliant on algorithmic wizardry, but rather on deeper storytelling—fostering authentic client-to-consumer conversations with distinct value adds, whether for wind and solar developers who are simultaneously cultivating investors while trying to get community buy in, or for utilities trying to incentivize energy efficiency updates for niche demographics. After all, the common push for reach and frequency only works if you are shooting in the loose direction of awareness and have low expectations. If you’re a clean energy brand seeking to move markets and change the world, you are going to need a tack that runs deeper than data to ensure that the right customers return to your brand, again and again.
Culled from our work with clients across the sector, here are some of our tips for crafting effective segmented messages and campaigns.
1) Make room for the “why”—even when you’re selling the “what”. In clean energy marketing, it’s tempting to talk to your end users in terms of what you do (whether that’s providing cost-par clean power, harvesting the inexhaustible resources overhead, or designing better panels and turbines) in order to highlight your competitive value proposition. But emphasizing the economics of renewables or technology innovations fails to recognize the bigger picture that fuels brand loyalty among niches of consumers—hungrier than ever for the big “why” behind “what” you do. As we were helping one of our wind clients articulate the value of their smaller, more efficient turbines among community audiences, we took their product-focused position on an infographic journey, matching needs and pain points to community health-focused messages to “bring clean, affordable energy home”. The result was that our client was able to sell out of their product for the subsequent year.
2) Harness good, ol’ fashioned, word-of-mouth sharing. Especially in the epoch of cross-channel campaigns, there’s significant power in the human distribution engine. When your brand is trying to reach valuable players with messages to augment awareness or close sales, it’s key to have representative stakeholders on your team—empowered, they will evangelize on your behalf to their peers (who are disproportionately likely to be your microaudiences, according to numerous social studies in “sorting”). Having an external advisory group who helped vet, refine, and share targeted brand messages amongst their networks was a crucial component in how we helped an energy consulting firm become the global thought leader among audiences interested in the smart grid (and grow their business by 15%) in one year.
3) The platform should serve the message (not the other way around). As new platforms and channels for sharing information are launched by the day, it’s easy to get swept up in snake oil promises of deeper engagement and more conversions with less effort. In our experience, the best way to increase conversions among niche audiences is to stay platform-agnostic and reallocate focus on getting the message right first—then determining the platform which has the lowest barrier for entry for its delivery. For a client looking to move the political gridlock in Washington around climate change, we crafted a strategy to entice a moderate-to-conservative set of global business leaders to rally behind tackling climate change. This came to life framed as “one of America’s greatest economic opportunities in the 21st century (and simply the right thing to do)”, served up in declaration form on our client’s website for quick and easy sign-ons. The result was that the declaration was signed by CEOs at over 800 global brands—plus consumers around the world—and made it to Washington, where President Obama referenced it to underscore the business community’s support of new rules to limit carbon pollution nationwide.