Advocacy, Conservation, Marketing, Non Profit Innovation

Do Environmentalists Ever Get Laid – Part 2

Bad pickup lines are the stuff of Hollywood movies (and a particular fascination of mine.)  You know the type, the guy or girl who’s convinced they have the killer pickup line, the one that never fails?

And that’s the second reason I have to wonder if conservation advocates ever get laid – they are solemn believers in the absolute power of message.  And as a result, they spend literally millions of dollars on research and consultants searching for the perfect message, like Ahab searching for the white whale.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Message is important.  Research is crucial.  And far be it from me to question the wisdom of hiring smart consultants.

But it’s the damage caused by the false hope that there exists some set of words that will have such transformative power, if only they can be discovered.  I’ve sat in hours of meetings with groups looking for “the” message on climate change.  And those meetings have been both sad and funny.  “Drowning polar bears!”   “Your barbecue grill is safe!”   “Changing your light bulb will save the world.”  Conservation advocates are true believers in the fundamental rightness of their own values, and utterly convinced that they can convert everyone to their church.  Utterly convinced that there is some magic phrase or set of words that will magically convert Homer Simpson into Al Gore.

Just look at history.  In a single generation, we completely changed social norms around drinking and smoking while pregnant.  In the 80’s and 90’s the gay community adopted safe sex, (but then began to abandon it in the 2000’s.)  Across the globe, advocates have been able to achieve targeted behavior change, but message is only one part of a complex puzzle.

And yet still the conservation community searches for the perfect message.  The problem isn’t just that it’s wrong.  The problem is pursuing a single strategy almost totally to the exclusion of the broader range of strategies and tactics.  When you bet the house on a single bet, you’re risking everything.

There’s not one audience.  There’s not one message.  There’s just sound strategic marketing & communications, fully integrated and based on data to be sure you’re meeting the customer where they are, not where you want them to be, or where you are.

It’s time that conservation advocates moved out of their parent’s basement, learned the value of authentic engagement with their intended, and practice some adult relationship skills.

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Advocacy, Conservation, Marketing, Non Profit Innovation

Do Environmentalists Ever Get Laid? Part I

Ever have that experience where too soon after meeting a romantic prospect they try to close the deal? They haven’t even bought you a drink at the hotel bar but they’re inviting you to their room? Or they lay some line on you that makes you want to barf, a line they KNOW is just irresistible.

Creepy isn’t it. You quickly escape, shaking your head and asking yourself “does that EVER work?”

But those creepy guy moves seem to be the fundamental advocacy strategy of the environmental movement.

First, about courtship, or the lack thereof. Surf on to almost any enviro groups website and you’re bombarded by “TAKE ACTION” buttons everywhere. Sign this petition. Send this letter to your Member of Congress. Pledge to only wear clothes made of hemp. You get the idea. You just wandered in, and they’re trying to close the deal. You barely know them, you’re not sure you trust them, and they’re asking you to sign up for their cause, to surrender your personal information and put your name next to theirs.

And even worse, once you’ve taken that first step, you might get a thank you, but most likely you’ll just get a hundred emails asking you to take a very similar step again. If you let them get to first base, they’re just gonna want to stay on first base. Or they’re going to dump your name into the fundraising pile. The non-profit equivalent of dumping you onto their unattractive friend who can’t get dates on their own.

This doesn’t happen in the commercial sector. Commercial marketers have a highly refined vision of something called the customer journey – the path an individual takes starting with identifying a need, then beginning to research online, asking friends on social media, and then perhaps taking a first step, trying a small bite. After that, if the experience is good, you might buy the item. Hopefully become a regular purchaser, and perhaps even a recommender to others.

At every stage you are engaged, your actions reinforced, and information is gathered to help move you to the next level. But they aren’t asking you to recommend the product to your friends before you’ve become a loyalists – they aren’t ever that creepy guy.

Because it doesn’t work.

It doesn’t have to be this way. First of all, the advocacy folks could walk down the hall to talk to their colleagues in fundraising, who have a slightly better sense of the customer journey. But even there, it’s far from perfect. They acquire donors talking about saving fuzzy animals, and then at some dollar level suddenly switch the conversation to climate change. A classic bait and switch. Donors are surveyed but no one reads the results. Those surveys are just bogus engagement device, not a learning tool.

The best thing the advocates for conservation action could do would be to spend more time shopping online – I recommend Amazon. Notice how they cultivate their customers. Notice how they survey you – did you like your purchase? Were you satisfied with how it arrived? And they don’t just ask those questions to make you think they care, they actually act on the data to improve their customer experience and to improve their stewardship of you. They are constantly attuned to how they can take friction out of their systems and make it easier for the customer to take the journey.

The other place that conservation advocates should study is behavior change programs related to health – smoking cessation, HIV/AIDS prevention programs, teen pregnancy prevention efforts, etc. Based on decades of behavioral research, the best of these programs have a pathway toward the desired behavior, and an understanding of the support and reinforcement required to sustain individuals on that pathway.

In the meantime, until you can learn proper courtship behavior, stop turning off potential mates.

Because they always remember the creepy guy.

Next time – the killer pickup line.

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