I had the opportunity to attend the third annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Eco conference in Austin last week – an offshoot of the SXSW brand focused on “innovative solutions taking us beyond sustainability.” Attendees ranged from business owners providing sustainable products and solutions to corporate sustainability managers from Fortune 500 brands. And while the rooftop gardens, sustainable product labeling and corporate social responsibility programs that were highlighted are more than impressive, there were several themes in each of the sessions I attended – and most of them are very similar to what marketing professionals face on a daily basis.
Storytelling is More Important Than Ever
One of the most difficult aspects of selling a sustainable product, service or culture is being able to cut through the clutter and “green-washing” that exists. Eric Friedenwald-Fishman pointed out that today’s average consumer sees 45,000 individual messages daily. During a panel discussion with representatives from Target Corporation, Jackson Family Wines and Sustainable Surf, the conversation quickly focused on how each brand tells its story effectively in order to break down barriers and misconceptions about what “sustainable” really means. The same could be said for any brand, sustainability industry or not. Marketing budgets will continue to shift in 2014 to place emphasis on effective storytelling and the creation of meaningful connections with audiences through multiple channels.
There is Power in Collaboration
Terry Kellog of 1% for the Planet and The Overbrook Foundation’s Daniel Katz kicked off the sessions by focusing on how fragmented the non-profit industry has become. Katz pointed out that the Top 20 funders to environmental causes have a combined endowment of $100 billion dollars, and that the number of non-profits in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2012. The record number of causes with so many different messages causes fragmentation and confusion in the marketplace. Collaboration among brands with common products, services, audiences or causes is necessary to reach a larger audience and do more for the greater good.
Use Different Communication Approaches for Different Audiences
Yeah, that’s a “communications 101” concept, and yet there are still way too many brands that continue to post same content to Twitter as they post to LinkedIn and Google+. The keynote address came from Shepard Fairey – the artist responsible for the President Obama “Hope” posters, and the more underground Andre the Giant “Obey” movement. Fairey’s work frequently touches on environmental concerns, and while much of it is fueled by 1990’s alternative rock band albums and WWII war propaganda, he showed the piece he created to bring awareness to the endangered Spider Lilly as an example of softening his “message” to reach the right audience. The same tailored approach should be considered when putting together your 2014 marketing communications plans.
Jim Licko is a senior director of social media and digital strategy at GroundFloor Media and now has at least six more causes to support thanks to SXSW Eco.