Every industry produces an environmental footprint and the industry of marketing is certainly no exception. I was recently thrown into thinking about how to take accountability for our marketing footprint when I was confronted with a marketing tactic that I found particularly objectionable. The culprit was newly revamped marketing company, CanPages.
I first heard of CanPages this week when they dropped a 5lb marketing flyer on my doorstep while I was at work. They didn’t call it a flyer, of course. They called it a new and improved telephone directory for the city of Toronto. They claim that this CanPages tome was filling a “valuable market need” based on their internal survey of Canadians (pdf) which found that 78% wanted a better directory for their city. CanPages also own and operate the canpages.ca site, yellow.ca and feeds content into Ask.com’s myway.ca.
I do remember a day when telephone directories were essential features in my home. Unfortunately with the advent of the Internet and the myriad of sites devoted to localized and up-to-date information directories, it’s not something I would ever use now. So for me, the CanPages directory drop was just litter and by putting it on my doorstep they forced me to have put an additional 5lbs of paper and ink into my recycling bin. As a person trying his level best to reduce his environmental footprint on this planet, this marketing awareness tactic made me angry. It also got me thinking. I have a choice: I can trash these guys in a blog post about the significant impact their marketing model has on the environment. Or I can see them as brethren in a common cause of trying to create awareness for a product believed to be meeting an important customer need and then offer whatever assistance I can to help them to succeed. I decided to do both.
First, the trashing part
An unwanted phone directory dropped involuntarily on a doorstep as a marketing tool is just plain and simply not environmentally responsible. How not responsible? Well, according to the CanPages website, in Toronto alone, they dropped 1,000,000 directories on doorsteps like mine. At 5lbs each, that’s 5,000,000 lbs of paper and ink (2500 tons) in just Toronto alone. To put this into perspective, I looked up the environmental impact of paper production on the web and found out the following:
- Paper manufacturing is the third largest user of fossil fuels worldwide and the single largest industrial use of water per pound of finished product.
- Approximately 5% of the resources used to produce paper are contained in the final product, the other 95% are discarded during the production process
- The production of one ton of paper consumes the same amount of energy as one ton of steel.
- 30% of all trees logged in the US are intended for the paper industry.
- B&W toner contains at least 6 different substances that are listed as hazardous and toxic.
So, all this to say that for every person like me who gets the CanPages directory and either doesn’t want it or never uses it, there is a significant environmental impact of this marketing model.
This then begs the question: Assuming there are folks who actually do want and who would use this directory – how could CanPages market their service differently and still get the same or better results without this environmental impact?
Next, we are Brethren: Suggestions on Alternative Marketing Models
Here’s my quick list of tips for an alternative marketing strategy for CanPages:
- Widen your view of who your “customer” is. Right now, in both the text of your web site and in your marketing practices, you clearly see your “customer” as the advertisers who pay you and see households as merely the “consumer” of your product. I would suggest that you start to see both groups as “customers” and eliminate the word “consumer” from your vocabulary. For example, you wouldn’t just assume that all advertisers wanted to list in your directory and then randomly start sending out invoices? No. So don’t do that to us either. You will clearly need to change this thinking if you would like to be successful in your online endeavors.
- Speaking of online – how about trying harder to build out a viable on-line strategy. Your sites are what I would call a “good start”. Clearly there are a lot of us who would prefer to access your “better directory service” through your online product over your paper based service so perhaps more energy spent here would yield you better returns for your paying advertiser base. I’ll invite some of the professional OneDegree folks to offer you some tactical advice here.
- Move to a Permission based model. I know it will seem like a risky extra cost to actually hire folks to get on the phone or to walk the streets and ask people if they would prefer to receive your directory before just leaving it on their doorstep but the other side of this model is that I would actually feel better about you because you gave me a choice. If I’m not home, why not leave me a note saying that you will be dropping off the directory on a certain date and give me a website (and phone number) so I can voice my preference to not have the directory. This also has the benefit of starting a dialogue with you about your on-line services.
- Turn the negative environmental aspect of your business into a positive and actually use it to your advantage over your competitors. Most businesses have some unavoidable environmental consequences to their operation, telephone directories especially so. You have the opportunity to take accountability for your “footprint” and to do something about it. Here is a link an NY Times article which lists of number of companies and advertisers in your business taking steps to be more environmentally responsible. Imagine if you were to offer to pick up your competitors’ directory when you dropped off your directory and then committed to donate its weight in new forest growth. Wow, would my impression of your company change!
Ok, that’s enough ranting from me. I now feel as though I’ve done my part in support of the environment and in support of my Marketing Brethren. I encourage others to weigh in as well.
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