sustainable business

We decode the DNA of sexy sustainability marketing: part 2

Thinkshift | December 9, 2014

In support of our mission to make sustainability sexy, we’ve been teasing out exactly what constitutes sexiness in marketing—that magic combination of qualities that creates magnetic attraction and inspires an “I want that” reaction.

Last week we outlined the first three elements of our HELIX code: Humor, Emotion (or Empathy) and Looks. This week we focus on final and most important elements: Intelligence and the X Factor. Sustainability marketing that’s sexy checks at least one of these boxes.

Intelligence: the hottest quality
Intelligence is the one absolutely essential quality of sexy sustiness—for the simple reason that without it, whatever you’re selling is not sustainable. Truly sustainable products, services and behaviors are just flat-out better, smarter and often more technically advanced than conventional options. But it’s not enough for a new product or idea to be smart—you have to market the smart. And you have to do in a way that makes the genius instantly clear and compelling.

Many companies don’t do this effectively. They worry that the intelligence factor is too complicated to explain, or, conversely, they make it too complicated and most people just don’t get it. To reach a wide audience, we need to frame the intelligence factor in a way that the market will immediately recognize as smart. A good example: Plum Organics baby food pouches are less resource-intensive than glass jars, but their light, bright, no-spill and self-feeding qualities are what make them irresistible to busy parents.

There’s always a way to get to the core of genius. If marketers spend time on nothing else, they should work at this for as long as it takes. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when people instantly see what’s smart about your offering—and feel smart for wanting it.

The X Factor: that je ne sais quoi
The X Factor is the functional opposite of intelligence—it’s not essential, but it can override every unsexy thing about what you’re pitching. Have you ever fallen in love with something and not really been able to explain why? (You may have lied to yourself and rationalized the purchase with some practical advantage.) That’s the X Factor—the utterly compelling thing you can’t pin down.

If we can’t define it, how can we pursue it? The X Factor is akin to cool, but more powerful. Behavioral scientists have defined the essence of cool as a Goldilocks kind of unconventionality—something that’s different from the norm, but not so different it seems bizarre (to the people judging the coolness). The X Factor has that and more—it hits a deep emotional chord, and it lives in a certain tension between prior realities and new possibilities.

Apple’s introductions of both the iPod and iPhone were models of X Factor marketing, creating a physical itch in customers’ palms. We didn’t know we needed them, but we wanted it. This isn’t just about newness (plenty of new things fail), but about mysterious wonderfulness.

We’re looking for examples of all five HELIX qualities in action in the marketing of sustainable products, services and campaigns—please comment and clue us in.

Miss part one of this post? It’s here.


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