A Change in Business Climate

Author: Linda J. Popky

When I lived in Massachusetts, one of our favorite sayings was, “If you don’t like the weather in Boston, just wait a minute – it will change.” Today, that’s true globally. Rain, blizzards, ice storms, melting ice caps, flooding, droughts, hurricanes, freezing, record heat – it seems everywhere you look around the world, there are weather and climate-related crises.

Yes, the weather outside has been frightful. But the sea change over the last 12-18 months is less about the weather itself and more about people’s reactions to what’s happening outside. It wasn’t very long ago when our general reaction to weather was, well, reactive: put on a sweater, take off a sweater; put on sunscreen, take an umbrella.

Now, it seems, we’re willing to look beyond these specific incidents to focus on the bigger climactic forces behind them. Whether it’s due to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the Katrina-related disasters in New Orleans, or just a better awareness of the dramatic shifts in recent weather patterns – there’s a groundswell of public opinion about global warming and the need to change behavior on a large scale before it’s too late. The Oxford Dictionary even introduced “carbon-neutral” as its featured new word for 2006.

What’s most fascinating about the new anti-global warming revolution is that it’s not actually being led by the revolutionaries. Instead, it’s business and corporations who have taken the lead in driving change. The issue has moved from the far political left to center stage in American business. Just this week, a coalition of ten major corporations teamed up to form the US Climate Action Partnership, asking Congress to take a mandatory market-driven approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It’s likely the vision of greater products mixed with a sense of social responsibility that has led companies like Wal-Mart to introduce a large selection of organic products, GE to focus on products from compact fluorescent light bulbs to photovoltaic solar panels, and Microsoft to make their Mountain View, CA research center a showplace for the use of renewable energy.

Whether you believe global warming is for real or think this is strictly an overblown political issue, the fact remains it’s a topic that has become part of the mainstream debate in American business. And it’s one that is unlikely to go away or to be resolved soon.

How does this impact your marketing? For one thing, you need to be aware of any issues and perceptions about how your products and services fit with this new view of the world. If you have eliminated excess packaging, offer energy saving or provide sustainable alternatives – this is the time to include these benefits in your value proposition. If not, it may be time to reconsider everything from your packaging and advertising to positioning and sales channels. (The best fallout from AOL dropping its paid membership service: The hundreds of millions of trial disks that won’t be cluttering up our mailboxes and landfills.)

In addition to new consumer expectations for existing offerings, the focus on climate change brings countless opportunities for innovative products and services to be built around sustainable or environmentally conscious business models. New uses of technology can help save resources or reduce carbon emissions. New service approaches may help organizations evolve their businesses. It’s just a matter of reframing your view to focus on climate change as both an economic consequence and a part of responsible corporate citizenship.

We recently installed two arrays of photovoltaic solar panels on our south-facing roof in the Bay Area. It’s a nontrivial investment – incentives and rebates only cover a small part of the cost. However, the project is cash-flow positive from day one, virtually maintenance free, should repay the initial cost in just a few years, and adds to the resale value of the house. (Not to mention it’s fun to watch your electric meter run backwards.) As he finished the project, the system installer told us, “Now you’re part of the solution.”

It’s time to ask whether your business is ready to be part of the climate change solution as well.

The Marketing Leverage Hall of Shame/Fame

The Marketing Leverage Hall of Shame/Fame is dedicated to those companies who go out of their way to differentiate their customers’ experiences, for better or for worse.

This issue’s suggestion comes from Wes Trochil of Effective Database Management in Hamilton, VA, who tells us why he won’t be leaving home without American Express:

“I lost my wallet and had to replace all my credit cards. I called American Express and they said, without my asking, ‘We’ll UPS the card to you for arrival tomorrow.’ This was good, since I was going on a business trip a day or so later. Both my Visa cards came 7 days later. Visa never even asked if I wanted the cards sooner, much less offering this as standard practice. Guess whose card I’ll use?”

“My wife had to return some things to Target. She had bought them on the credit cards I lost, so she didn’t have the card, and she didn’t have the receipt. The store said ‘Sorry, we can’t refund you or credit you.’ So she insisted on speaking with the manager, who still said no. Then she insisted that the store call the corporate headquarters, who asked ‘Do you have the old credit card number?’ She said, ‘I can get it.’ She did, gave it to headquarters who told her to give that number to the cashier, who then gave my wife a gift card as store credit. My wife’s response, ‘Now, that wasn’t so difficult, was it?'”

Thanks, Wes.

Have a Hall of Shame/Fame tip? Send us your stories and anecdotes. Each issue we’ll publish one of the best. If we choose yours, you’ll receive a special Leverage2Market memento (and the fame of being highlighted here) as our gift. Email linda@leverage2market.com with your suggestion.

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