You can talk about sales funnels, analytics and audience segmentation all you want, but good digital marketers never forget that human communication lies at the heart of the mission — and the mission is to move the human heart. This principle holds whether you’re trying to sell coffee, sway public perception, whip election votes or encourage residents to speak out in favor of a proposed clean energy installation.
But which emotions count? Should your marketing materials point to the dire consequences of coal and oil power plants with research linking to premature births, using fear as your lever? Should you focus on the environmental and quality-of-life benefits of wind or solar energy, appealing to hope and the reader’s sense of virtue?
You could make an argument for either; you could make an argument for both at once. But let’s leave fear and hope aside for now. There are two feelings — call them emotional clusters — that every clean energy campaign should strive to stir in their audience before any others: trust and self-regard.
Establish A Trusting Relationship With Your Audience
A great advertiser plays the audience’s heartstrings like an autoharp, even going to the lengths of sentimentality to create strong, positive associations with the brand. In the digital space, the winning strategy is a bit different. The key emotion to elicit in digital public relations, especially for clean energy providers, is trust. Other emotions can follow, and they will, but if you don’t have trust, you don’t have anything.
In content marketing terms, this means prizing authenticity above all. Every Google search is a question; the best SEO strategy is to uncover your audience’s questions and answer them succinctly and accurately. Providing digital resources that residents need is a great way to build trust. A website, for example, should be leveraged to act as a hub for housing key statistics, answering FAQs, offering educational videos and providing blogs. Each piece of content helps shape the opinion of your visitor.
Take a similar approach to your social media plan. Social platforms allow you to speak — and listen — directly with the people you want to reach. By maintaining strict accuracy and full transparency in site content and social outreach alike, you lay a firm groundwork for deepening your message without scaring your audience away. Enabling viewers to comment on your page is essential, and responding to these comments expeditiously is an excellent way to establish rapport and help humanize your effort.
Our agency is routinely successful in establishing relationships by engaging in online conversation. Asking an advocate if you may “spotlight” them on your page by quoting them and borrowing their profile picture is one tactic that we’ve found beneficial. The self-regard of the participant can go far. An advocate who is now carrying your message for you is a great asset to have. Not only does their testimony help support your cause, but they’re often proud of the experience, sharing it throughout their personal networks.
Help Audiences Identify How They Feel
The advent of behavioral targeting — through Adwords, Facebook Ads, Twitter and the whole gamut of digital services — has created a powerful opportunity for honest persuasion. A 2016 report, “An Audience of One: Behaviorally Targeted Ads as Implied Social Labels,” published in the Journal of Consumer Research looked at four studies on the success of behaviorally targeted ads. The results were shocking: Not only does targeting work, boosting click-through rates by as much as 670% versus non-targeted digital ads, but these campaigns can actually change the audience’s self-image.
Now, ad targeting isn’t magic. It won’t morph a die-hard coal advocate into a champion of solar power. But the research suggests that readers interpret targeted ads as implied social labels. More incredibly, if they’re amenable to the social label, they actually shift their self-image to more perfectly line up with the implication. How do the researchers know? The consumers in their studies made purchasing choices that lined up with the ad’s implied social label. In short, the approach works astonishingly well.
For example, if you target Facebook users with interests in recycling, clean air and organics, and serve them ads encouraging them to join your wind advocacy group, you’ll provide the nudge they need to go through with the click. The ad helps the user understand herself as the sort of person who supports clean energy. This self-perception encourages behavior — in this case, the desired click.
Social media allows us to target by geography, age, gender, job title, behavior and/or interest. Try to make connections between your message and potential stakeholders who are most likely to respond to your broadcasts. For example, if a wind energy project is expected to generate millions of dollars in tax revenue that would go toward local school districts, good potential audiences would be teachers, parent-teacher organizations/associations and parents with children who live within the given districts.
First, establish trust. Then, mobilize your supporters. Do these things, and you’ll have an audience that’s receptive to emotional appeals that follow. A foundation of supporters can be leveraged a variety of ways for many industries, from helping to gauge community sentiment regarding a brand or issue to selling products to applying public pressure on elected officials. Anchoring trust and self-regard within your audience can help you get the job done.