Enlivening Outreach: 5 Techniques for Creating Vivid Communication

This post is the third in a three-part series summarizing our presentation on messaging at this year’s California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) conference: “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am: Getting Your Message to Matter.” 


At this point in the story you now know the power of emotional appeal and storytelling. Now it’s time to add another element to the mix: vivid communication.

By vivid communication, we mean communication that forms distinct and striking mental images.  Vivid communication works because it gets attention and aids recall. Without attention, there is no recall. Without recall, there is no action.

Consider these five techniques to incorporate vivid communication to your projects.

1) Make the Invisible, Visible.
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Take a look at this ad campaign from Georgia’s Clean Air Program. This is a clever way to depict the positive impact of public transit and carpool options on Atlanta’s freeways.

 2) Relate to what people know.

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PG&E learned how to weave vivid communications into scripts. PG&E noticed when they sent auditors to visit homeowners to talk about weather stripping, caulking and attic insulation alone – they did not see homeowners take action to correct issues.

However, once auditors were trained to incorporate vivid communication into their discussions with homeowners, they noticed a significant increase in repairs being made. For example, if an auditor found a lack of insulation in the attic they would say “We call that a ‘naked attic’ – it’s as if your home is facing winter not just without a coat, but without any clothing at all.

3) Illustrate your data.

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Yes, facts are important! However, facts with visuals can really get your point across. It’s one thing to say a glacier receded eight miles in 100 years and another eight miles in the last 10 years; we hit another level of comprehension when those facts are illustrated visually.

4) Create an infographic.

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This technique is perfect for grabbing someone’s attention and keeping it.

5) Engage the senses.

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We created a three-cart game for Oakland Recycles to promote composting and recycling behaviors. The game begins with a noisy and attention-getting prize wheel. The prize wheel lands on a photo of a common discard and the player must find the game piece and walk over and determine which is the proper cart to use. The booth team coaches players as needed and we encourage them to look for clues under the lids. The player is engaged kinetically by taking the item, recognizing what it is and physically placing it in the right cart. This aids recall when they are back home and encountering the same item.

Remember…

No matter the budget dollars behind your campaign, you can weave vivid communications into all your existing outreach efforts including newsletters, bill inserts, presentations, social media posts, event tabling and more! You can change the script, add imagery feature community members, even add a game or activity.

The complete CRRA presentation can be viewed here.

Let Me Tell You a Story: Increasing Recall of Environmental Outreach

This post is the second in a three-part series summarizing our presentation on messaging at this year’s California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) conference: “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am: Getting Your Message to Matter.” 


 

Story_ppt_ssWhich is more powerful: presenting environmental facts and a call to action in a bullet-point list, or embedding them in a narrative? As you may have guessed, the latter! Stories help us understand cause and effect and how things fit together. They also let us access emotions, making the message more memorable.

Storytelling has been part of the human experience for a very long time—just think of the narratives depicted in prehistoric cave paintings. The human brain has evolved to work in narrative structures; it’s how we make sense of the world.

To understand what makes storytelling so effective, let’s look at what happens in the brain. When we absorb facts, the brain gets activated in the areas responsible for language recognition and decoding words into meaning. However, when we listen to a narrative, additional areas in the brain show activity: those responsible for directing physical motion and tracking sensations. For example, when we hear metaphors like “he had leathery hands,” the brain’s sensory cortex — which perceives texture through touch — is stimulated. And the more parts of our brains are engaged, the better our attention and recall.

How can we use these insights in environmental outreach work? There are many ways to weave in narratives. For example, use positive stories about real people to promote a behavior. It may take a bit of research to find the right “hero” for your story, but you can’t beat the persuasive value (and norming effect!) of a local couple sharing their enthusiasm about, say, cooking with leftovers, along with tips in their own words and a photo showing them having fun in the kitchen while reducing waste.

If you’re dealing with frequent barriers to practices you’re trying to promote, try a “success story” of somebody who has overcome these challenges. Their authentic voice and the emotional connection their story can make with your audience will be more effective than any list of facts.

The complete CRRA presentation can be viewed here.

Once More, with Feeling: Incorporating Emotion in Environmental Outreach

This post is the first in a three-part series summarizing our presentation on messaging at this year’s California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) conference: “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am: Getting Your Message to Matter.” 

sitting brain
People are not just brains on a chair – they respond to emotional appeal
Environmental outreach depends on getting the facts about pollution, recycling, and other eco-challenges to the public in order to encourage more sustainable behaviors. But over and over, we see that facts alone don’t change public behavior. We have to make our messages matter and be memorable. To do this, we recommend three key strategies.
Our first strategy: appeal to the whole person by using emotion. People are not just brains sitting on a chair, motivated by facts and data. Getting people to laugh, cry, sigh or shake their heads in wonder or disgust is what makes a message stick. Businesses have known this for ages. Think about it: Coca-Cola doesn’t focus on telling you exactly what’s in their bottles of acidic sugar water. No! They work to associate their product with emotions of joy, happiness, or belonging, with slogans like “Share a Coke and a Smile” or “Coke Adds Life” or…well, you get the picture.
Emotional appeals do not have to be shocking to work. When we need to convince others to act, it is an invitation to display passion, instill a sense of immediacy or threat, or to invite people to be part of something…there are many emotional appeals to choose from.  See examples of emotional appeals in videos, display ads, and more, in the complete presentation, below.
So the next time you are planning an outreach campaign, consider how to include an emotional appeal. Far from being fluffy or silly, that emotional appeal will make your message more likely to stick.
The complete CRRA presentation can be viewed here.

Outreach Lessons from an Artist: Behavior Change Design

@Large installationA stunning art installation featuring the plight of political prisoners around the world got me thinking about, yes, recycling campaigns. In addition to being a moving experience, the @Large exhibit by Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei , on now at Alcatraz Island, nicely illustrates the stages we consider when designing a campaign for environmental behavior change.  The exhibit takes the viewer along a path, with different appeals and presentations at each step.

People need to come to behavior change through a process, most clearly described by Everett Rogers back in the 1960s in his book, Diffusion of Innovations. His Innovation Adoption Stages model looks like this:

Diffusion of innovation adoption stages

Intentionally or not, the Ai Wei Wei installation follows the stages, leading the visitor from awareness of the issues, through “persuasion” via a multi-sensory deepening of the experience, and finally, offers a concrete action that the viewer can take.

The @Large installation begins at the New Industries Building. It takes several forms, but the initial contact focuses on making the viewer aware of the variety and extent of political imprisonment around the world.  The floor of an enormous room is covered with portraits of political prisoners, made from LEGO bricks. At this point, the artist has not assumed that the viewer is ready to do something, but rather provides beautifully crafted “information” in the form of portraits of human faces arrayed across a huge space to raise awareness of the scope of the issue.  Books detailing the stories of each of the prisoners are present, but the viewer is not in any way forced to learn more facts and figures. The act of walking the length of the huge room with the 176 portraits “sets the problem” in the mind and heart of the visitor.

art installation @Large

The @Large exhibit continues to the cell block building, where the viewer starts to live into the experience of prisoners  – visitors are invited to enter each of 12 small, unadorned and definitely not prettified cells. There is nothing to look at, but each cell has a different recording playing, usually of the music or speech of one of the prisoners. By involving the sense of hearing and the physical experience of walking into the tiny, dingy cells, the viewer becomes more fully involved and engaged.

After several more stops, at the end of the exhibition visitors are given the opportunity to write postcards addressed to individual prisoners whose portraits they saw earlier. The sponsoring Foundation notes:  “The postcards are adorned with images of birds and plants from the nations where the prisoners are held. Cards are gathered and mailed by @Large Art Guides.”

basket of postcards
At the end, visitors write postcards to the prisoners around the world.

The viewer has been led through awareness of the issue to persuasion about the problem’s scope and importance, though information and appeals to the emotions. Only at the end is the viewer invited to make a decision to act, by writing a personal communication to one of the prisoners introduced during the first stop of the exhibition. The viewer is not urged to act before s/he has had a chance to fully digest and explore the need to communicate. And by communicating, not to a general, amorphous authority, but to a single individual, the final action becomes that much more memorable.

Not all of our behavior change campaigns can be as beautiful and meaningful as Ai Wei Wei’s @Large, but there is much to admire in the intentional layout of the exhibit that aims to touch, inspire and ultimately, change the viewer. The exhibit ends this month…go see it if you can!

@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz is presented by the FOR-SITE Foundation in partnership with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM) – Takeaways from Doug McKenzie-Mohr’s Training

word cloud from blogThe Gigantic Idea Studio team attended the San Francisco Community-Based Social Marketing training in February. No, not THAT social marketing – there was no Facebook fanning or Twitter theory involved. Social marketing in this case is the process of encouraging behavior change for social good. In our case, that means fostering eco-friendly behavior such as recycling, waste reduction, preserving water quality, and so on. While our firm also employs other methods of promoting environmental programs and behaviors, CBSM remains the most studied and proven process for facilitating behavior change. While our team members have previously studied and practiced CBSM for years, we know it never hurts to take time for a refresher course in order to deepen our understanding.

Perhaps the biggest point McKenzie-Mohr made during the training was that CBSM is a process, a full set of steps to follow to ensure you have the best chance at success. He was quick to point out that using one tactic on its own—doing a pledge or a prompt for instance—was not truly CBSM, if it wasn’t selected based on completing the steps of behavior identification, researching barriers and benefits, developing strategies and piloting.

It was an informative four days for our team at the trainings, where we worked closely in groups to practice CBSM techniques. We have always encouraged our clients to use the full CBSM process, but understand that sometimes budget and timing gets in the way. Fortunately, the training offered various options for completing the research and evaluation steps that make the CBSM process work, in ways that save money, but still allow for your strategies to be chosen based on actual information from your community.

Having completed the advanced training allows us access to McKenzie-Mohr’s CBSM presentation, and he encouraged attendees to deliver the presentation to key decision makers. Armed with the background on CBSM’s effectiveness, it is easier to convince funders, boards, managers and directors to approve outreach projects that use the full CBSM process. We would be happy to deliver this presentation to any of our clients!

Which Eco-Type Are You? (Hint: They’re all good)

Male superhero recycling his old stuffOne of Gigantic’s core values, which we review each week in staff meeting, is staying light-hearted in the face of challenges. In our recent New Year e-blast, we decided to use humor to make a serious point: caring environmental changemakers come in many shapes, sizes and flavors, and we need every single one of them.  We thought we’d demonstrate our theory of balanced teams by way of a popular current meme: the personality quiz.

Admit it, you take them. We all take them. “Which Harry Potter character is your soul mate?” “Which Disney Princess are you?” “Which animal do you become at lunchtime?” They are addictive, fun, shareable and sometimes, quite revealing. So we created a quiz using a free platform called Playbuzz.  For five questions, we created multiple-choice answers, with responses “keyed” to one of four different personality types:

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The answer choices were purposefully playful. “Where do you go to wash your car?” had the following possible responses, paired with their most likely personality types:

Practical Participant: “Self-service car wash business.”

Data Driven: “After careful analysis, I don’t wash it, We’re in a drought. I let Nature wash my car.”

Techie True Believer: “My car is treated with a superhydrotrophic coating  – no need to wash it.”

Eco-Evangelist: “Car? What Car? One less car here.”

How did you score? Our Eco-Type list is by no means exhaustive. We know there are more gifts that other Eco-Types bring to the party. While we hope you are pleased with your result, the most  important thing is that you had a moment’s fun, and that, while reading this post, you paused to think about your Eco-Team, and how their personality types can contribute to a more sustainable society.

Have You Heard? Word of Mouth Empowers Green Behavior Change

2 women chatting over a fence
Good, old-fashioned word of mouth

A recent survey by the Consumer Electronics Association has some fairly depressing statistics (for example, 18 percent of consumers say they discarded electronics devices in the trash during the last year, a six point increase from 2012), but another result caught our eye: according to the survey, “nearly half of consumers (42 percent) first learned how to recycle their old devices by word of mouth from friends, family or co-workers.”

Surprising? Not at all. Study after study shows the importance of friends, family and co-workers on influencing all kinds of behavior. Nielsen’s 2013 survey of trust in advertising channels shows that 84% of respondents say word of mouth from family and friends was the most trustworthy form of persuasion.  For those of us involved in green behavior change, this is good news, since we usually don’t have the budget for Coca-Cola-style mass media campaigns. However, word of mouth still needs to be made simple in order to get your ideas to spread.

So how to design campaigns that enhance the power of friends and family?

To enable word of mouth, we need to reach people, give them the information they need in an appealing, trustworthy and shareable form, and help them to feel that their sharing will be appreciated. A writer for Forbes describes this as the three E’s: Engage, Equip and Empower.

Of course, word of mouth alone cannot create behavior change, but it can be an important tool in a multi-touch campaign. Some questions to ask while designing our environmental behavior change campaigns include:

Are we being clear? Are we using terms that make sense to our audience? As we’ve seen in our research, it’s not a good idea to make assumptions about what people know about waste or water quality.

Are we providing the tools that people need to spread the word? People will be more likely to spread the word if they are equipped with catchy facts, a story, or shareable content.  Is there such a thing as too many facts and data? For spreading messages, the answer is yes.

Have we asked for help?  So simple, but so frequently overlooked. Just by saying “Let your neighbors know …” or “Please Retweet or Share,” your messages are more likely to be spread. Thanking people afterwards is even more powerful.

As we plan for new behavior change campaigns in 2015, the Gigantic team will be focused on fostering the thousands of individual conversations, both off and online, that will move us closer to a sustainable world.  Let’s spread the word!

Nurturing Your Influencers: 3 Green Lessons from the “Dancing Guy” Video

dancing guy videoThere’s a cool video that has been circulating for a few years, affectionately called the “Dancing Guy” video. “Dancing Guy” originated as a TED talk by Derek Sivers, and in a fairly short time the two official versions of the video have been viewed over three million times. Now used in M.B.A. programs to teach about entrepreneurship, it’s also got some great lessons for behavior change outreach:

Here are three ways the shirtless Dancing Guy can help us with environmental outreach:

Be easy to follow. It’s easy to make behavior change outreach hard. All those exceptions, what-ifs, and “it depends” can get in the way of those who are ready to follow. When planning green outreach, see how you can prioritize the main behavior you want to promote, then simplify your message.

Nurture your first few followers as equals. For green behavior change, your first followers are usually idealistic, community-minded early adopters who want to help. Consider how you can enable them to spread the word about food scrap recycling, water conservation, or whatever your target behavior is, by providing tools, encouragement and eventually, recognition.

A movement must be public. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. In the case of your agency, that may mean getting out in the community by staffing events and talking to your constituents face-to-face. Or maybe it means engaging in social media conversations with other community organizations, or sponsoring a flash mob downtown.

That’s just a few of the lessons we see from the shirtless Dancing Guy – do you see others? In any case, here’s to the leaders, the first followers, and creating a movement that matters.

P.S.—For those of you skeptics out there, it looks as if the video really was not staged; see here.

 

Cat Memes, Recycling, and Lessons Learned: Our New Year’s Poll Results

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:

composting fruitcakeOur 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!

Selected comments:

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Social Media for Environmental Outreach: 6 Commandments and a Golden Rule

goldenrule_e0b6a47365d17e9424c830816a7e70c3Agencies 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 #4Thou 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 #5Thou 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 #6Thou 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.