At Gigantic, we always try to be creative and light-hearted, so when it came time to send a New Year’s greeting to our email list, we decided to try something a bit different: a greeting with a link to a five-second poll, asking folks to vote on which of the two images (below) they would most likely click:
Our greeting was sent to Gigantic’s email list and posted via Facebook and Twitter. We were delighted by the response: a 46% open rate on the email, a whopping 64% click-through rate, 101 poll votes and over a dozen comments on the blog. We know via Analytics that most of the visitors on January 6 (the day we published the poll) were new to our website, and that on average, folks stayed on our site nearly one minute — not bad for a 5-second poll!
Our original intent was to draw attention to the popularity of cat memes and to suggest that pop culture knows a thing or two about spreading ideas. Well, you surprised us. The winner is … Option A! Receiving 58 percent of the votes, this more serious image showed a stale fruitcake going into a typical organics pail for composting. The adorable kitty, juggling the fruitcake before tossing it in the bin, garnered only 42 percent. This startled us on several counts (we thought the kitty was cute and was the obvious choice for attracting more eyeballs), and as we analyzed the results, we drew several lessons:
Clarity matters. Several comments argued that more specificity was needed in the kitten image, noting that it wasn’t clear that the fruitcake was destined for the bin in Option B. Our text asked two questions: “Which image are you more likely to click?” and then “Which image do you find more memorable and effective for getting out the food scrap recycling message?” In hindsight, we realize that combining “memorable” and “effective” confused the issue. Our intention was to illustrate the importance of getting attention before providing information; our wording needed work. Which leads us to:
Testing matters. Had this been a “real” campaign, we would have spent a lot more time designing our objectives and creating alternative messaging. Ideally we would have run a pilot, testing images, messages and the manner of distribution to match the kind of data we wanted to elicit.
Engagement matters. Before we can deliver any message, we have to cut through the “noise” and get attention. The volume of response, via email opens, click-throughs, and blog comments, far outran previous e-blasts to our clients. Frankly, this was one of our goals: to test how and if we could stand out amid the dozens of emailed New Year’s greetings. We focused on a short, punchy subject line that emphasized a time-limited response and a request for assistance (“help our research by taking this 5-second survey”). This probably aided our open and click-through rates.
Once we drew visitors to the blog post, we included the kitten picture as a way of drawing the eye, because we know the best messaging in the world won’t get through if we can’t attract attention. While the image in Option A may have been more clear, we note that much of the reaction centered around the kitten. Does this mean we’re suggesting that everyone should use kittens in their recycling campaigns from now on? Not at all. But paying attention to what’s “hot” in pop culture could yield some great outreach ideas that might lead to an increased waste diversion rate (or whatever your particular goal is).
As with all campaigns, we resolve to take this learning and build upon it for future efforts. Thanks to all who voted, and may your 2014 be filled with fun and effective green behavior change campaigns, with or without kittens!
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The Behavior, Energy & Climate Change (BECC) conference is a favorite of the Gigantic team — one we look forward to every year. I attended this year’s event just two weeks ago and found it energizing and informative, as always. Following are ten of my favorite quotes and related inferences based on what I heard.
1. Debbie Slobe, Senior Program Director, Resource Media
Slobe presented on the Science of Successful Visual Communications. She cited research that tells us what works best, including close-ups on faces — and preferably not stock photos. She argued that “real people experiencing real emotion” are more likely to prompt action. “Make people feel, not think,” she declared.
2. Dr. Nicole Woolsey Biggart, Professor, UC Davis Efficiency Center
Dr. Woolsey Biggart noted that faith communities are the largest organizers of people in the U.S. Perhaps those of us doing environmental outreach would benefit from making better use of these extensive and long-standing networks.
3. Brian Orland, Professor of Landscape Architecture Penn State, Institutes of Energy & the Environment
One of the most refreshing aspects of BECC is the fact that human beings are put at the center of the energy efficiency discussion. Now it seems obvious that this is critically important, but it took years before anything but technology and infrastructure was taken into account. As Brian Orland observed, however: “Buildings don’t care if they save energy; people do.” The same goes for waste reduction, pollution prevention, … and the list goes on.
4. Melinda Briana Epler, Chief Experience Officer, Mazzetti Consulting
Epler offered advice about how to understand and influence your target audience. “It’s not about you; it’s about them,” she asserted. “Meet them where they are, and [include them in] the solution-making.” Who better to design an outreach campaign than actual members of the target group?
LeBlanc gave a fascinating presentation on a relatively new field of study: behavioral economics. The bottom line? Decisions are made by different parts of the brain at different times. Unfortunately, it’s usually the limbic or “reptile” portion of the brain that dominates when a decision impacts us, in the present moment. Example? Do you want an orange or a candy bar right now? The candy, right? But how about tomorrow? You’re likely to make the healthier choice for your future self. So how do you get people to turn down their thermostat or recycle their food scraps now? Activate the frontal region of the brain before making your request.
6. Mithra Moezzi, Research Faculty, Portland State University
Dr. Moezzi uses the framework of storytelling to learn from building operators* what their barriers and benefits are when it comes to promoting energy efficiency in their buildings. She found out that the most important thing for them is limiting complaints from tenants. My inference? Helping them reduce the amount of grumbling they have to listen to about offices being too hot, too cold and so on, will go a lot farther than appeals to their environmental values. Another tip: “Help the building operators look like heroes to their bosses.”
*(For those of us working in waste more often than energy, the equivalent role would be a property or facility manager.)
7. Kathryn Janda, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University
Janda argued that we, as marketers promoting conservation, need to “tell a new story.” For her, it’s all about relevance. “What do people care about, and how can we activate that?” A few suggestions: responsibility, family, and caring over time.
8. Karen McCord, Marketing Specialist, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD)
Ms. McCord told the audience that SMUD did “tons of research” before developing any of their campaign collateral and continue to do so on an ongoing basis. We know what a difference research makes as far as using the right tactics and messages, and we applaud SMUD for making it part of their outreach best practices.
9. Eric Olsen, Customer Energy Solutions, PG&E
Olsen was involved in a multi-year campaign targeting small businesses, one of the aims of which was to get them to switch from flat to time-of-use pricing. PG&E was hoping business owners would make other changes at the same time and thought this would be a convenience to their customers. However, the response to this was negative for the most part. The lesson for PG&E? “Make one significant change at a time.” Olsen noted they ended up allowing “a couple of years” to pass between the adjustments they asked their customers to make.
10. George Lakoff, PhD, Professor of Linguistics, UC Berkeley
Lakoff reminded us during his keynote speech: “People reason metaphorically.” And flowing from that fact, a piece of advice: “Think very carefully about the metaphors you use.” You may not think you use metaphors in your outreach campaigns, but you do. We all do — whether we’re aware of it or not. They can be verbal or visual, but they’re there. As Lakoff put it, “Marketing is metaphor,” and the same could be said of outreach. An example? The question of whether to “kick off” or “launch” a new program might make all the difference, depending on whether you’re addressing football fans or space buffs.
Many of the conference presentations are available for download here.
The next BECC conference is December 7-10, 2014 in Washington DC. See you there?
During the last week of September, my colleague Stefanie Pruegel (pictured left) and I (pictured right) donned orange safety vests and set out before sunrise to study recycling program participation in various neighborhoods in Livermore, California. Armed with headlamps, clipboards and maps, we walked some 20 miles over five days and flipped about 2,000 recycling and organics cart lids.
This walkabout was part of our observational research to gain insights into residents’ recycling and composting habits, including contamination patterns (i.e., putting things in the wrong carts). The data we gathered will also measure the baseline participation rate. Repeating this measurement after an outreach campaign will allow us to compare the results and determine how successful we were as well as guide the next phase of outreach. This particular kind of measurement can be a messy job, but someone’s gotta do it.
During our lid-flipping adventures, several patterns emerged:
• Livermore loves pizza and is confused about leftovers. In Livermore, the proper process is to chuck pizza boxes and leftovers into the Organics (compost) cart. Pizza boxes are considered food-soiled paper (as are most fast food paper wrappers), and pizza crusts are considered food scraps – all of which goes into Organics. However, we found households were evenly split over whether to put the box in Recycling or Organics.
• Livermore is a thirsty bunch, and cup sorting is a challenge. What is the preferred destination for takeout cups, lids and straws? These items are made of both plastic and paper, and each needs to be handled differently. This leads to a lot of consumer confusion. We found that no matter if the cups were for cold drinks (plastic) or hot drinks, (paper) the majority ended up in the recycling cart, along with their lids and straws. But, the lids and straws actually go into the garbage, and the paper cups go in the organics. This kind of contamination adds considerable expense for waste haulers and ultimately can drive up trash rates. (Please Note: This is a general observation and not a prediction for Livermore.)
• Livermore has beautiful yards, and sorting the waste is a conundrum. Throughout the week we “ooh-ed” and “ah-ed” at the beautiful yards and landscaping in the neighborhoods we saw. However, many residents seemed to assume that anything from the yard belongs in the Organics cart. In fact, certain items like pet waste belongs in Garbage, not Organics. Putting whatever blows (or gets pooped) in people’s yards into the Organics cart causes another costly contamination headache.
We saw some clear consistencies in what was going right and wrong in the carts. Next we will tabulate our findings, design an outreach campaign to focus on the most prevalent behaviors that need to change, and afterwards, check those carts again. We look forward to helping the city and the citizens of Livermore “sort out” any issues and move forward with their waste reduction goals.
Agencies focused on green behavior change — such as recycling, energy use, and water conservation — have a lot on their plates. Tackling the ravenous, always-open maw of social media can seem a daunting task to add to that already bulging to-do list. But if your goal is to reach people at a time and place where they’re likely to be receptive, social media merits a prominent place on that list of tasks.
Here are six commandments that may help guide your agency’s social media tactics and conserve time and money:
Commandment #1—Thou Shalt Not Attempt To Be All Things To All People. You may think that you need a presence on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Vine and Tumblr (wait, what about Reddit? Google+?), but that is nearly impossible with limited time and resources. It’s also unnecessary. Pick one or two channels, based on where your target audience is, and where chances are good they will be open to messaging about waste, recycling, energy, etc. Got lots of great visuals of re-use projects for the home? Consider a Pinterest account. Have a grants program aimed at helping local businesses streamline operations? Look to LinkedIn and Twitter. Study each channel’s advantages and culture, and pick the best fit for your overall outreach goals. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself reaching that choir and making your campaigns sing.
Commandment #2—Thou Shalt Not Be Boring. Effective social media is a many-way street. Social media audiences, by definition, expect the channel to be interactive and responsive. Treating it like a bulletin board (“Here’s our new program”; “Do what we say”) will eventually cause your audience to tune you out. This leads us to …
Commandment #3—Thou Shalt Provide Relevant, Interesting Content. Content marketing is king these days, and that quirky infographic, eye-catching image or catchy video is key to capturing the eye of the people you most want to reach. Stick to your core subjects but find an angle that makes those subjects matter to those who matter to you. This leads us to:
Commandment #4—Thou Shalt Be Strategic. Having written social media guidelines will streamline your work and allow tasks to be shared or passed on without wheel re-invention. Guidelines should include topics, tone, type and frequency of posts, all the while referring back to your overall outreach goals. This will save time and ensure you present a consistent public face.
Commandment #5—Thou Shalt Listen Intently … And Respond. Social media is not about you; it’s about what other people are saying about you and your programs. Use Google Alerts or other tools to listen in on what folks are saying about your issue, good and bad. Find the influencers in your field and build relationships over social media before you ask them for any favors. And if someone is kind enough to praise your program or ask a question, a prompt response demonstrates that your agency listens and cares.
Commandment #6—Thou Shalt be Flexible. As with any marketing tactic, evaluation and measurement are essential. If a social media channel is not working (and you’ve given it the old college try), modify your approach. A drop-off in engagement could be an early sign that your message, channel or both aren’t working. The only certainty in the world of social media is that it moves fast, fast, fast. So take a gulp of coffee and look at your analytics (web metrics, Facebook Insights, YouTube views, etc.) with a critical eye.
Lastly, the Golden Rule. No, not a new one. The Golden Rule you already know. “Do unto others …” works in social media as in life. Take the time to support relevant causes, applaud others’ efforts, respond to comments and thank your supporters. Agencies that take the time to participate fully in this amazing global phenomenon will stand out and enjoy remarkable returns.
In our work with client agencies, we’ve noticed that some recycling coordinators and others are discouraged: they’ve been doing outreach for years, and yet they feel it hasn’t worked. Some in the industry are turning to new technologies that divert waste without having to address those elusive behavioral issues. We also observe that the average citizen is presented with different terms and other mixed messages about waste. As a first step to addressing this issue, we conducted a survey to test current understanding of waste terms and processes among Californian adults.
We surveyed Californians up and down the state, testing their understanding of terms like “diversion” and “biodegradable.” We also asked people where they would put various discarded items (e.g., an orange rind or used napkin) when presented with bins having different labeling systems.
While most respondents were clear that soda cans go into the Recycling bin, there was significant confusion on where to put items like potato chip bags, used napkins, and especially plastic forks. No wonder there is a lot of contamination in the waste stream when 70% of respondents think plastic forks should go into the Recycling bin. (They are not recyclable in most jurisdictions.) Some 40% of respondents would put a used napkin in a bin marked Garbage, while only 33% would put it in a bin marked Landfill; over one-third would put a used napkin in Recycling.
The most revealing result of the survey came from a question about how consumers understand what happens in a landfill. Here is the breakdown of responses:
What happens at a Landfill? (choose one)
|Answer Options||Response Percent|
|Waste is sorted into recyclables and garbage. Recyclables go somewhere else. Garbage is buried there and breaks down.||26.9%|
|Waste is sorted into recyclables and garbage. Recyclables go somewhere else. Garbage is buried there, where it stays forever.||34.5%|
|Anything that is thrown away, including garbage and recyclables, gets dumped and most of it breaks down.||33.0%|
|Dirt is dumped to make usable land for building homes, offices, etc.||5.6%|
Some 60% of respondents think that most of what goes to Landfill (whether it be Garbage or even Garbage and Recyclables) eventually breaks down. If a person believes that Landfilled objects break down over time anyway, s/he probably has much less incentive to keep things out of Landfill. I mean, it all goes “away,” right? Wrong. Clearly, there is outreach work to be done.
Results of the survey were presented at this month’s California Resource Recovery Association conference. And we do mean presented: we used a game show format, with Gigantic staff taking the roles of MC and answer wonks, with Gigantic principal Shana McCracken giving a fine imitation of Vanna White. Environmental professionals from northern California were pitted against three pros from the southern end of the state, in a test to see if industry insiders could guess how the majority of “regular citizens” responded to particular survey questions. Congrats to the winning team from SoCal, pictured right, who captured the coveted Golden Garbage Can award, and many thanks to the good sports on the NorCal team, below.
If you would like a free copy of the full Waste Terms Survey results, please email us.
The survey is just one step toward achieving Zero Waste in California. Here at Gigantic Idea Studio, we believe more effective research focused on communications and carefully crafted outreach are both part of the answer. We’re not prepared to give up on the human race just yet.
According to the U.S. government’s own definition, graphic designers “create visual concepts, by hand or using computer software, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, or captivate consumers.”
But how often do government communications actually inspire or captivate?
Our clients often say they want to “educate” or “inform” residents about their program. But in behavior change, we know that merely providing information does not guarantee action. We know we need to inspire and persuade — not just inform — and design plays a big role in meeting this challenge.
That said, we acknowledge there’s a time and place for just providing information, such as rate increases or service changes. In these cases, direct mail of a simple letter in an official envelope is the best way to cut through the clutter.
But when it comes to increasing participation in programs — from recycling and composting to planting trees — government should give creativity free rein. Here government agencies need to establish an emotional connection with the audience to overcome old habits, win over hearts and minds, and inspire change.
But wait, you say, “we need to look like we’re being responsible with taxpayer [or ratepayer] money, so we can’t do anything flashy or frivolous.” At Gigantic, we firmly believe there is a creative solution that is both engaging and appropriate, for every type of environmental campaign funded by public agencies. In fact, we’d argue that you could be wasting taxpayer money by not making it captivating. If no one notices your outreach, there’s no point in doing it.
And, we’d argue that a human-centered, thought provoking and positive concept — presented through a clutter-free design with professional imagery — has the best chance of attracting fans to your programs.
Here’s an example of one of our latest projects, for a government workplace recycling program. The project included both instructional and inspirational pieces, which were displayed separately to increase their impact. Here is one of the inspirational pieces.
Here’s another example, done for the Pentagon, which uses an emotional connection tailored specifically to the men and women charged with the security of the nation:
And this campaign, done by another advertising firm for StopWaste, a public agency, is a great example of using humor to engage viewers:
Wouldn’t you say these examples above have a better chance of increasing participation than a sign, like the one below, that merely tells us what to do without explaining why?
We know it’s not always easy to be captivating, but given the myriad messages that people are bombarded with every day, it’s more important than ever for government communications about environmental programs to offer more than just instruction. Government communications should include vibrant, contemporary images and catchy concepts to increase the receptivity of the message and therefore, the effectiveness of the outreach.
The New York City mayor’s office last week announced the rollout of food scrap recycling to City residents after a successful pilot program in Staten Island. While this newest move toward Zero Waste by a big city is encouraging, we suspect that plenty of Zero Waste Outreach will be needed to make this new behavior palatable to blasé New Yorkers. The Big Apple will come up against many of the barriers to food scrap recycling that we struggle with on the West Coast, including countering perceptions of odor and vermin — aka the “yuck factor” — that make introducing food scrap recycling so challenging.
While several headlines focus on New York’s new “leadership” with this move, it should be noted that the City’s broad goal is to divert 30% of waste from landfills by 2017 (and 75% by 2030), as compared to San Francisco’s goal of zero waste by 2020 and the State of California’s goal of a 75% diversion rate by 2020, with an ultimate target of zero waste. New York’s current residential recycling rate is a startlingly low 15 percent.
The City conducted a pilot program in Staten Island, and officials were heartened after reaching a 43% participation rate in the targeted area. However, Staten Island is atypical of New York in that it comprises largely single-family homes. We know from our outreach work that multi-family dwellings (MFDs) are one of the most challenging segments when it comes to organics recycling … and there are a lot of apartment buildings in New York. MFDs lag single family dwellings in recycling rates by a huge margin. In Seattle, for example, single family homes achieved a 70.3% recycling rate in 2010, versus 29.6% for MFDs. Barriers to food scrap recycling in multi-unit buildings include space concerns, the perceived inconvenience, high turnover among residents and building managers, and lack of accountability, as the anonymity afforded by a large apartment building can let people assume that no one will know who’s not using the correct bin.
Believe it or not, curbside food scrap composting has been tried previously in New York, with a pilot program in Brooklyn in the early 1990s. But perhaps the effort was ahead of its time. The pilot wasn’t extended due to concerns that diversion would be low, while the expense and environmental impact of adding another truck route to the waste collection system was high.
In the interim, composting has been championed by a local agency, NYC Compost Project, which supports and promotes community-based composting sites throughout the City. The 20 years that have passed since the Brooklyn pilot likely means a better return on investment
We salute New Yorkers for taking steps toward reducing waste; each diverted pail-full will make a difference. If food scrap recycling can make it there, it can make it anywhere!
At Gigantic we have a favorite guerilla marketing example we like to show to our clients, and we refer to it often in our own campaign brainstorms as well: the running toilet video…
In the video, a toilet mascot running across the field at a football game gets tackled by a security guard, followed by the message “Denver Water asks you to stop running toilets.” It’s brilliant, it’s simple, it’s funny, it’s memorable. I’ve been touting it without hesitation and without any qualms about, um, the fact that I’ve had a running toilet at home for months.
Our leaky toilet shuts itself on and off as though it were haunted by some ghost with a bladder problem. It seemed like a relatively minor nuisance — until last Tuesday, when our water bill showed just how significant the leak really is. Comparing 2012 and 2013 over the same period, our water usage went up a whopping 50 percent!
As I said, I can’t claim that my husband and I weren’t aware the toilet was running. There’ve been many nights when the sound actually woke us up. We even tried to fix it once, but our repair job was only partially effective. (The ghost’s bladder issues seem to have subsided a bit, but the poor dear’s symptoms occasionally return with a vengeance.) And there are barriers to getting a new toilet: We forget, we have other things scheduled, we’re afraid to find out what other repairs might be needed in the bathroom if we looked too closely at our aging commode. And then there’s choosing the new toilet: we’d have to compare the water usage ratings, check Consumer Reports’ recommendations, make sure it’s just the right one — even though, truth be told, anything would be better than what we’ve got.
So I have lots of good reasons for not modeling the behavior I’ve been fervently, if indirectly, promoting. But there are some awfully good reasons why I need to be the first to change:
- Being credible. When I suggest that others “stop running toilets,” I’m implicitly saying this isn’t an issue that I have. No, I’m not lying, exactly. But I’m not being completely up-front, either. Modeling the behavior you wish to diffuse is key. Without this, you have no credibility. So what? No credibility means no buy-in from your target audience. Why should they do what you’re asking, if you’re not doing it yourself?
- Feeling the pain. You’ll understand how others perceive barriers and benefits if you go through all the steps of adopting the new behavior or innovation yourself. Then your next outreach campaign on the subject will be much more on-target and effective.
- Reaping the rewards. You yourself will save water, electricity, gas … whatever resource the new behavior or innovation addresses. Imagine that!
This is all a way of saying that behavior change outreach must begin at home. But I shouldn’t be telling you any of this yet, should I? I have a running toilet to tackle first.
Zero Waste is hot and the word is spreading, with zero waste goals and/or plans adopted in 13 jurisdictions in California and multiple communities in Italy, the Philippines, Canada and elsewhere. The recent Zero Waste Week activities in the Bay Area show that the principle of redesigning product life cycles in imitation of nature is taking hold more broadly than ever before.
While many in the environmental field understand the necessity of using natural resources wisely, all too often outreach resources are managed less prudently. In our years of working with agencies involved with bringing Zero Waste into the public’s daily life, we’ve evolved a few principles ourselves, which we call Zero Waste Outreach™.
Here are the elements that go into making an outreach campaign as efficient – and therefore as close to Zero Waste – as any Cradle to Cradle® -designed product could ever be:
- ALWAYS the first step: Make sure your organization is modeling the behavior(s) you’re trying to disseminate with your campaign. If needed, conduct an inreach campaign to make sure this is true before launching any outreach. This includes staff, your board, the hauler, … anyone the public may be looking to for leadership. Your credibility is one of your biggest sources of outreach capital.
- Make research an integral part of your outreach, including pre- and post- campaign measurement;
- Add communications-based targets to the more obvious operations-based objectives. Example: a measurable change in attitude, as well as tons diverted;
- Agree on an overarching strategy (based on your research) before diving into tactics (See Glossary below);
- Segment your audience by stage of behavior adoption below)to get the right message to the right people at the right time;
- Come up with a brand (look and tone) for your campaign and stick to it;
- Make events as effective as possible by making sure operations as well as communications are in place and continually checking in with one another. Example: Make sure organics recycling is available at the event where you’re exhibiting, if that’s the behavior that you’re promoting;
- Integrate Social Media into your tactical mix from the start;
- Pilot your campaign — or, even better, two or three versions, together with a control — to test your strategy, tactics and/or message before full roll-out; and last but not least …
- Aim for a waste-free campaign, including estimating printing accurately (if printed materials are even needed) and selecting giveaways carefully.
Whether upstream or down, effective outreach is Zero Waste Outreach™. Because we don’t have a minute, or a dollar, to waste.
Stages of Behavior Adoption — Per Diffusion of Innovations theory. The stages, in chronological order, are Awareness, Persuasion, Decision, Implementation and Confirmation.
Strategy — Guiding principle, logic, direction for your campaign. For example: Framing litter reduction in terms of improved real estate values. Emphasis on bottom-up, grassroots channels over top-down.
Tactic — A method or channel for communicating your message. Examples: bill insert, radio PSA, e-newsletter, Facebook page.