Did you know that Dale Carnegie’s best-selling “How to Win Friends and Influence People” was first published under the much less scintillating title, “Public Speaking: A Practical Course for Business Men”? Unsurprisingly, the initial release was a flop. A decade later, with the help of ad copy genius Victor Schwab, Carnegie reworked the book and chapter titles and republished it. The updated version became one of the best-selling books of all time.
This is one of my favorite stories because it’s a clear reminder that no matter how strong our content, we’re neither entitled to nor guaranteed an audience unless we can share what we have to say in a way that attracts and captivates their attention. This is true regardless of whether we’re selling shoes or sustainability.
I recently attended the Aspen Ideas: Climate conference in Miami and was impressed by the messaging that presenters, policy-makers, and activists used to communicate their values. Too often, the talk of sustainability inspires denial, despair, or apathy. Stakeholders at this conference communicated their messages in an inspiring, connected way that prompted people to get involved.
Marketers can learn from the way sustainability activists engage stakeholders across the board. They are communicating their message in a compelling way that is unique to the sector. As consumers become more focused on investing in purpose-driven brands, marketers need to refine their messaging and appeal to the core values of their consumer base.
Here are three things marketers can learn from the green movement.
Tap into the power of art to unify and express universal themes.
At the sustainability conference, robust discussions on policy, private-public partnerships, and innovation in tech and business were punctuated by art exhibits and installations that drew upon the imagination and brought students, executives, and activists together in a multifaceted conversation. Many of the pieces showcased were that of local artists and in a range of mediums. Fashion, sculpture, and performance were all thoughtfully curated to provoke, fascinate and, most importantly, remind us that we’re all in it together.
Sofiya Deva, founder of This Same Sky, who was in attendance at the conference, and both consults purpose-driven brands and has her own artisan-centric fashion brand, shared, “The presence of local artists at the conference and their evocative work capture what a personal issue this should be for all of us, and the importance of finding expression for both the hope and precarity that characterize this moment.”
Foster optimism and channel that energy towards change.
When talking about a topic as complex and meta as sustainability, it’s important to offer a pathway to change, not just rhetoric or blame. At the same conference, Kathryn Murdoch shared that while 70% of Americans are concerned about climate change, the majority are frightened about the future and caught in dystopian imaginaries. If we’re going to mobilize public support, political will, and investment in clean energy, we need to move beyond fear tactics and tap into the power of humor, curiosity, and creativity. In her talk, Murdoch referenced campaigns like Save Florida Man, Science Moms, and Vote Like a Madre that build coalitions and consensuses based on trust, clarity, and positivity.
In other words, less doom-scrolling and more engaged action.
Reach across generations and party lines to arrive at a new understanding of the current problems and solutions.
As a global, and primarily youth-led, movement, sustainability requires an inclusive and diverse approach to both its storytelling and strategy. In that spirit, the “Future Leaders” program within Aspen Ideas brought together young consultants, students, and grassroots trailblazers. This cohort not only benefited from the expertise present, and the exchange of ideas, but brought their own important agenda of urgency and accountability to the conversation.
Their intolerance for complacency, demand for radically different approaches, and healthy skepticism of authority provided much-needed energy and grounding as politicians and established leaders grappled with how to think, talk about, and most importantly, act on the pressures facing our ecosystem and social fabric.
Selling sustainability can sometimes feel like trying to boil the ocean (bad pun partially intended), but marketers can learn from the ways that sustainable activists adapt their message to their audience. Both marketers and activists alike can generate the needed interest and activation to create change at scale and share compelling, world-changing stories.