You talking to me?

“You talkin’ to me?”

Is the economy killing the green movement? A Pew study in January showed that consumers are more fearful about their livelihoods than they are about global warming. Big surprise.  But green is not dead. A recent article in AdAge, “Green-Marketing Revolution Defies Downturn,” dispels  the notion that green is growing extinct. However, we need to get smarter about how we market it, and that begins with a quick look at the anatomy and evolution of the brain and what makes us tick.

It’s ALL about fear.

I just finished an incredible book, “What Happy People Know,” by Dan Baker Ph.D. who runs Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Az. In it he describes how we are all, “Hardwired for hard times.” The brain is made up of three major sections: The brain stem, mammalian brain and the neocortex. The brain stem was the first to evolve in animals 100 millions years ago and is still the first part to be formed in the womb. It’s called the “Reptilian Brain” because it holds instinctual fears, no higher thought. It can’t process complex emotions.

The second part of the brain to form is the “Mammalian Brain.” It was first seen when mammals joined reptiles. The mammalian brain houses the amygdala, a veritable “haunted house” of memory storing painful and threatening experiences.  The amygdala is directly connected to the action portion of your fear system; the endocrine glands, which produce stress hormones that include adrenaline and cortisol. These are the elixers of fight or flight.

Dr. Baker’s premise is that, “Evolution is excruciatingly slow,” and that daily we are bombarded with fight, flight or freeze survival triggers from our reptilian brains. These instincts worked great for our cavemen and women ancestors. But today it’s a different world. We don’t have to fear Tyrannosaurus devouring our families.  For the most part, our modern dangers are abstract. Like being terrorized by the economy, fighting the injustice of wall street, receding into depression following the loss of a job. Hopelessness.

Given the greatest collapse of the world economy since the depression, it’s no wonder that we’re all thinking like reptiles. More consumers than ever are fighting daily battles for survival and, understandably, are being driven by fear. Long-term survival concepts, such as pollution and global warming, just can’t compete.

“Tending to the global ecological camp fire must wait while I fight this Jurassic beast of an economy.”

This is why green marketers need to stop selling to the reptile and start resonating with the third part of the brain: the “Neocortex.” The neocortex is what separates us from all other beings. It is the site of intellect, abstract reasoning, and is the physical site of the human spirit.

How Do You Appeal To The Human During An Epic Reptilian Struggle?

  • Converse Within the Cocoon: Consumers have retreated to the relative safety of their homes. They are not racing around consuming like they used to, primarily because they can’t afford it. [Time Magazine: 56% eating out less, 38% going to sporting events less, 46% going to movies less]. So the green brand marketer is not competing with the past distractions of families constantly on the go as they dined out, hit the malls, cruised around in their SUVs, or traveled the world. Be mindful of this new family-centric ethos and how you can become welcomed in their last refuge of safety: your customer’s home.
  • biggest-tomatoTap Into Grassroots Frugality: Consumers, in perhaps a show of both survival and frugality, are planting home gardens at a record pace. A recent Time Magazine article, “The New Frugality,” said that sales of topsoil and vegetable seeds are growing like Jack’s bean stock. Green marketers should find ways to congratulate and commune with this new urban ag. mentality. For instance, irrigation giant RainBird could become the backyard gardening equivalent of the 4H Club educating consumers on best practices for organic gardening on their website, using Twitter for gardening tips, and building a gardening fan base on Faebook page or a Ning site. A creative salad dressing maker, say Newman’s Own, might consider holding a family gardening contest, while promoting and installing community gardens around the country. If I’m Ragu spaghetti sauce, I’m holding a Guinness Book of World Record tomato growing contest. If I’m Park Seeds, I’m sending a free CFL with every purchase of $10 or more of my vegetable seeds, and offering water-saving tips. If I’m any record lable, I’m creating a special “gardening mix” to listen to while I’m planting, (or in my case, weeding) Value-added cross promotion is huge right now. Come on people, lets use our neocortex and get creative.
  • Help the Consumer Feel More in Control: Although we have no real control of the global economy, we do need to be reminded that we have control of our personal environments. Makers of CFL light bulbs, promoters of water conservation and recycling, advertisers of reusable water bottles and grocery bags, marketers of smart thermostats and home energy products like insulation, need to do a better job of empowering the consumer to make a difference. Each provides a solution to the fearful reptile, “Save Money,” while appealing to the altruism of the human spirit with practical, tangible things they can do that will help curb their impact on the planet.
  • Replace Vagueries With Specifics: The intellect wants concrete examples of how to better our lives.  There just isn’t enough room in the brain right now for abstract thinking, like “Global Warming,” “Carbon Footprint,” and “Sustainability.” Be specific how your brand and your product can help people through these dark periods.

This is my soap box (or bar stool) for the week. In coming posts I’ll look at how a water utility tapped into its customer base with a recycled water message and earned one of the EPA’s highest awards for educational outreach. I’ll tap into Dr. Dan with more specifics on how to bi-pass the reptile and market to the thinking consumer. I’ll post about my sit down with Ed Begley Jr. and his approach to the consumer at home. And finally, watch for my short book review on, “What Happy People Know.”