New Stuff and Inspiration
A common mistake most social marketing efforts make. And how to fix it.
Stanford Social Innovation Review took a closer look at diagnosing why so many social marketing campaigns are ineffective and a framework for making them more successful.
This was especially of interest to our team, as Sukle’s work for Denver Water was highlighted in the report as an example of a successful approach to social marketing. After a decade long run, our Denver Water conservation campaign enjoyed unparalleled success dealing with an issue that dozens of entities had previously tried to take on unsuccessfully.
So what are the key considerations for marketers and organizations trying to tackle a social issue and create real change?
There’s a tendency for organizations creating a social marketing effort to focus on building up awareness of the issue or cause, believing that will address the problem. This goes a long way to explaining why we have Co-dependency Awareness Month, Glaucoma Awareness Month, National Mentoring Month, Radon Action Month, Stalking Awareness Month and a dozen others in January alone that we’ll spare you from reading.
The assumption made here is that if people just understood what was happening, they would change their behavior. This comes from a communication theory introduced in the 1980s called the Information Deficit Model which was built on the notion that the key issue at hand is a lack of knowledge. And once your audience becomes aware, they adjust their behavior accordingly.
Unfortunately, there’s abundant research that shows that people who are only given more information are unlikely to change attitudes, beliefs and behavior. And as marketers for non-profits and for-profits alike, that’s not acceptable.
So how do brands and organizations go beyond awareness to an effort that creates change?
Four important aspects to consider:
- define the audience to target as specifically as possible
- create a compelling message with clear calls to action
- develop a theory of change
- use the right messenger
Defining the Audience
Audience segmentation is about making tough decisions. By selecting the group of people who can make the most dramatic impact on achieving your goal, you put yourself in the best position to create real change. It’s also critical that you really understand the mindset and attitudes your audience has and what the greater context around those might be. Without that understanding, it’s difficult to convey the right idea to them in a way that they’ll respond to.
In the case of Denver Water, we started by targeting a mindset: very eco-conscious people. Although small in number, we knew they would be very receptive to the message and would help us by creating initial momentum behind the idea, and then carrying and amplifying the message within their social circles.
Create a Compelling Message with Clear Calls to Action
By truly understanding the audience including their attitudes, beliefs and the context that’s behind it, you can determine how best to craft a messaging strategy that will resonate with them. As important is to create clear calls to action that tie into the attitude or behavior change you’re seeking to make.
For example, because we spent a great deal of time understanding our audience for Denver Water, we uncovered their sensitivity to the concept of waste. That helped inform the campaign message: Use Only What You Need. It didn’t feel like a sacrifice. A message that spoke to conserving or saving would not have had nearly the same impact.
Our overarching goal was to change the culture of water conservation in Denver, but to do that, we needed to chip away at specific behaviors that contributed to waste. Incorrect sprinkler settings. Unaddressed leaks. Outdoor watering during the heat of the day. So, we focused each campaign on targeting one specific behavior which we educated our audience on while we promoted the desired behavior, like “water two minutes less”.
Develop a Theory of Change
So how do all these pieces come together? Is it blind luck? Hardly.
Creating an effective social marketing campaign requires developing a theory of change, which is a road map for how we can get from today’s status quo to the desired goals that we’ve sought to achieve. That entails creating a plan that maps objectives, strategies, tactics and evaluation. If something in the plan doesn’t tie back to influence a change in attitudes or behaviors, it doesn’t have a place in your effort.
Use the Right Messenger
Even if you’ve identified the right audience, message and a theory of change, there’s still a great deal of importance when it comes to identifying the right messenger to deliver that message.
Persuading people to adopt a new way of thinking or behaving isn’t easy, especially if it runs counter to their current beliefs. That influence has to come from the right source, messengers they’ll trust and listen to.
That’s why tonality and the execution for Denver Water was so critical. Utilities are not exactly everyone’s favorite entities and people are very reactive to being preached to. So we wanted to make Denver Water come across like the anti-utility, like your neighbor instead. We wanted every interaction someone had with the campaign to be fun and unexpected. That approach, combined with our eco-conscious audience serving as ambassadors for the campaign helped embed it within the culture of Denver rapidly. We used non-traditional marketing and provided tactics like yard signs, t-shirts and other schwag to give people an opportunity to participate and show their visible support, which helped transform it into a groundswell of passionate supporters.
This approach helped to amplify and accelerate success for Denver Water, touted as one of the most successful social marketing campaigns. At the start of the campaign, we were tasked with a ten-year goal of reducing water consumption by 22%. The campaign delivered a 21% reduction in the first year.
It didn’t rain every day in Denver this May. It just seemed like it.
People get why we should conserve water when we’re in a dry spell. But what do we tell them when it’s coming down in buckets?
We tell them an indisputable truth. How much water we get isn’t up to us, it’s up to nature. Water is a non-renewable resource we shouldn’t waste no matter what the weather.
We can’t make the stuff. But we can make that point. And to do it, we used almost 6,000 Legos, over 2,000 square inches of Blue Model Magic clay and 255 yards of string to create stuff that looks like water.
Artistic, yes. Thirst quenching, no.
It’s an urban art show, the first of its kind in Denver, on display in bus shelters throughout the city.
They’re eye catching. They’re getting talked about. And they’re helping demonstrate that even after 9 years, Sukle is still finding great ways to remind people to please, use only what you need.
Location: Colorado Blvd and Exposition Ave Denver, CO
Fiberglass and molding clay sculpture
Description: 30 packets of Crayola® Model Magic® affixed to a fiberglass mold.
Water Drop #2
Location: 9th and Lincoln Denver, CO
Post-it® notes on particle board
Description: 243 pink and 102 blue Post-it® notes.
Water Drop #1
Location: 21st and California Denver, CO
Embroidery thread on particle board.
Description: 7 different colors of embroidery thread and custom nails.
Location: 71st and Tower Road Denver, CO
LEGO® on particle board
Description: 7 different sizes of LEGOs totaling 5,000 in all.
Location: Arapahoe and Adams Centennial, CO
Sprinkler and embroidery thread on particle board.
Description: 75 individual strings in 3 layers, using 10 different colors, emerge from an actual sprinkler.
Glass of Water #1
Location: Kipling and Jewell Lakewood, CO
Stained wood on maple board
Description: Made from maple wood held together with wood glue.
Location: Colorado Blvd and Virginia Ave Denver, CO
Knitted and crocheted yarn
Description: A 90-foot knitted stream of water made from 14 skeins of yarn on a crocheted background, emerging from an actual metal spigot.
Water Drop #3
Location: Kipling and Bowles Littleton, CO
Crushed aluminum cans on particle board and vinyl
Description: 123 cans attached with nails.
Location: Alameda and Pierce Lakewood, CO
Colored pencil sculpture on particle board.
Description: 17 different colors for a total of 1700 pencils, all sharped to the exact same length and attached with Gorilla Glue.
Glass of Water #2
Location: Kipling and Ken Caryl Littleton, CO
Post-it® notes on particle board
Description: 345 Post-it® notes used, blue, dark blue, yellow
Toilets On Toilet Day
Seeing as how today is world toilet day, it’s a fitting time to unveil some new work. The assignment was to raise awareness that Denver Water is offering $75 rebates to encourage people to switch to high-efficiency toilets. To promote these rebates, we created long copy bus shelter ads. To make sure people actually read them, we installed toilets right in front of the ads, because we all know toilets and reading are BFFs.
The official Denver Water campaign
If you live in Denver, you know summers are hot and dry, and you know last year was an exceptionally dry year which just worsened our drought status. We rolled into this year with a substantial deficit in our reservoirs, which is never a good thing- we were way behind on water supply and still in the middle of a bad drought. Things were looking really dire and we knew drastic measures were needed. Over the years we’ve asked Denverites to ‘Use Only What You Need,’ and they certainly rose to the challenge. Water savings have been really impressive (thank you, Denver), but this year we need even more from our citizens. We need them to Use Even Less than they need. So, we went with it and asked Denver to do just that, to Use Even Less. Step up to the newest challenge, Denver, we need your help- you’ve proven you’re up for it. Thanks to Denver Water for another fun year working with them.
Buzzfeed 6 best billboards of the last 6 years
We were pretty honored to see that we had a piece listed in Buzzfeed’s best 6 billboards of the last 6 years. Yay.
More Denver Water
At the beginning of the summer Denver Water asked folks to use less water. While the message seemed to resonate with Denver residents, the summer was long and loaded with record-breaking heat. We knew we needed to give the people some more information. We needed to give them actual ways to use less water. We needed to break out the pinwheels.
We managed to get media companies to allow us to install pinwheels on bus shelters, and that was no easy feat. Considering something like this has never been done before in Denver (it’s currently not legal to put anything moving on a billboard, or we would have done these there as well), it was a bit tricky getting these things approved. But after much wrangling, we were successful. We built 16 custom bus shelter pieces, and had to manufacture new plexiglass for each one. We then tested and retested hardware to find the best solution for attaining maximum spin. The answer: good ball bearings.
Be on the lookout, there’s 16 of these spinning, sparkling, shimmering, water-use-recommending bad boys lurking all around Denver. If you can’t tell we’re pretty excited about them. Please check back soon- we’re working on a ‘making of’ video, replete with footage of the spinning action.
Also, the second installment of this ‘bring the people ways to save water’ mission is the Taller Grass board. We learned that if you let your grass grow just a little longer than you usually would, and you cut it just a little longer than usual, you will actually save water. We knew we should let people know. We maximized as much extension height as possible (this was dictated by the outdoor companies) above the board to help emphasize this point.