Monday, June 15, 2009

sustainability marketing for sustainable business

so last week was pretty hectic, as i spent the last 3 days in chicago at the Business Marketing Association's (BMA) national conference. drawing a sold-out crowd of about 400 people, the conference included presentations by a number of renowned speakers, including ralph oliva, david meerman scott, al and laura ries, google's sam sebastian, andy sernovitz, .... and yes, yours truly.

i was there to speak about sustainability marketing, a subject on which i've become a bit conversant, having spent 4 years digging into it at johnson controls, and earlier experience in the energy distribution and control business at square d (now groupe schneider). with the obama administration's focus on climate change and the need for an enlightened clean energy policy that advances the u.s. out of the dark ages (pun intended), it's clear that companies are going to have to take action in this space and that, at some point, they're going to be called upon to talk about what they're doing (or not doing) and why.

many are already taking advantage of the opportunities -- GE and IBM, particularly -- by focusing on smart grid, energy-efficient equipment, and energy-saving solutions for companies and communities. IBM's Matt Preschern delivered an excellent presentation describing the company's work -- it's an agenda, not a campaign -- designed to draw cities, corporations, ngos, academia and other stakeholder groups into the mix of figuring out how to solve large and complex challenges. the agenda isn't about selling stuff, but rather about thought leadership and establishing the company as a go-to resource for problem-solving assistance, no matter what the problems are. and oh, by the way, when they solve your problems they'll be doing it with IBM products and services. it's altruistic capitalism at its finest.

my presentation provided some info on the regulatory landscape, which will change dramatically with the passage in whatever form of the ACES (american clean energy and security act) bill, as well as some brief case studies of what some companies are doing to market their sustainability-related efforts. you can get the presentation here, and the audio narrative (soon to come) here.

the other thing about the BMA conference that was great was the enormous amount of content on social media, and its importance and impact. i personally wouldn't be comfortable betting on the life expectancy of facebook or twitter, per se, but i do believe that the utility -- the immediate info, connectedness, linkages -- these applications provide is not going away. now that we have it, we're not gonna want to be without it -- even though it is a giant time-suck. personally, i think the company that figures out how we get all that utility in just 10 minutes a day will be a giant winner. (if that's you working on it, pls let me know so i can invest now).

in my view, sustainability marketing and social media will coalesce, somehow, into a giant fireball of activity. though this is not a straight demographic thing, we do know that younger people, in general, are more attuned to sustainability, and also more attuned to social media. they're skeptical of traditional marketing and more willing to find the facts for themselves. they're interested in sharing their opinions and their stories, their muses and their values. so i think the company that figures out how to get that right will also be a giant winner (again, if that's you, call now for $).

one thing i learned from the fest is that blog comments matter. i have not been particularly concerned about the fact that my readers aren't commenting much on this blog, believing that either you're simply in agreement with everything i've been saying, or that you think i'm an idiot but don't want to embarrass me publicly. even if that's true, i encourage you now to cease lurking and become engaged in some type of dialogue -- with me, or with each other -- or ideally, both!

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