What Climate Action Day Can Teach Marketers About Engagement

Eco-Leadership

What Climate Action Day Can Teach Marketers About Engagement

If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it, did it really make a sound? Marketers and event planners too frequently face the question when campaigns fail to meet participation targets.

Here's a challenge for anyone trying to promote a green event, cause, product or service: How do you capture people's attention and sustain it? How do you get mindshare?

The organizers of 350.org, a global grassroots movement founded by Bill McKibben to solve the climate crisis, are using engagement marketing to promote Moving Planet, a worldwide climate action rally led from the bottom up by people in over 168 countries. 350.org is using online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions leading up to its third annual Climate Action Day, which takes place on September 24, 2011.

Engagement marketing, sometimes called "experiential marketing" or "participation marketing," is a marketing strategy that directly invites and encourages the target audience to actively participate in the evolution of a brand. Engagement marketing attempts to connect consumers with brands by "engaging" them in a dialogue and two-way, cooperative interaction.

Certainly social media is one form of engagement marketing, but it's most effective when online activity is combined with in-person events. Such interactions maximize opportunities for building relationships and ultimately, the brand.

Across the board, the various 350.org groups are deploying a diverse network of touch points to pull people in, beginning with the main website that walks users through the steps for getting involved. From there, local websites contain events and information about the science behind the movement, a volunteer sign-up form, things you can do to help, and a blog that links to Facebook and Twitter.

The malleable communications platform keeps branding and messaging consistent while still integrating enough customizable features to allow local campaigns to uniquely express themselves.

For example, to help promote its Moving Planet day, www.350ct.org along with one of its main sponsors, the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority, has commissioned 13,500 customized "Origami BuzzBoxes" to spread the word through distribution through over 100 Connecticut clean-energy town task forces, environmental organizations, museums, and other non-profits.

Covered in custom graphics and messaging, the Origami BuzzBox is printed on sustainable (e.g. post-consumer, 100 percent recycled, soy ink, FSC-certified) paper. The set of boxes is on the order of Russian dolls, where curiosity piques interest in what's inside.

More than a 3-D handout or brochure, the promotional device is an attention-getter that combines engagement with marketing: 1) Engagement because volunteers assemble the boxes themselves, creating esprit de corps before the big day and 2) marketing because the smallest of the three nesting boxes has a QR code on the bottom, which takes people directly to the website. The QR code is tracked by Google Analytics so organizers can determine the cost-effectiveness of their campaign.

A Green Take on the Purple Cow

The Origami BuzzBox is the brainchild of Jon Gorham, president of Green Media Ventures. Taking cues from Seth Godin's Purple Cow marketing approach, Gorham designed and produced the Origami BuzzBox to help organizations "stand out from the herd." He recommends ways to creatively use the boxes to cut through noise generated by typical marketing campaigns.

"As an activity, get your people to put them together," says Jon. "For any corporation that wants to do internal training or communications, it takes one minute to make each one of the three boxes. In the process, you're giving people ownership in the event and getting buy-in. It's an affordable engagement tool for HR recruiting, internal branding, or the Green Team."

Companies and organizations can order their own custom PDF printable on 8.5" x 11" paper, or order pre-printed, die-cut boxes made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper printed with soy ink (Rolland Enviro100 Print from Cascades). The PDF can be spread virally through email, including an instruction sheet and an online video to make construction quick and easy.

I met Jon last January at The State of Green Business Forum 2011 in Washington, D.C. and was intrigued by his description of his invention, which has since taken off: "The BuzzBox reinforces key brand messages through custom branding and a fortune cookie-type surprise inside."

It sounded like the sort of idea that could be easily dismissed or succeed spectacularly, depending on who got behind it. Gorham, the co-founder of a venture-backed second-gen biofuels company Qteros and the development director of a 57-acre organic farm, was also the 2010 recipient of the Connecticut Governor's Climate Change Leadership Award. Given his achievements to date, I'm not surprised to see it succeed.