How your URGENT message is ruining your sustainable story

Most of us know what’s going to happen when we’re approached by someone pushing their sustainable message.

We know they are specific tactics to make us ACT NOW, and deep down we probably know it’s playing off our fears.

For the savvy reader, here are the urgency methods we’re likely to see right through. These also happen to be my personal top 3 least favorite methods to tell a sustainable story.

  1. Doom and gloom prophecy (act now, before all the giant salamanders are gone!)
  2. Fear tactics (act now, or your children will bake in the oven that Earth is becoming!)
  3. Veiled exaggeration. Please. Stick to the facts.

Conventional urgency tactics

In conventional marketing, the urgency card is easily played by using the best trick copywriters have:

The selfish gene.

If you answer this ad now, you’ll lose 5 pounds by the end of the week. If you sign up for this newsletter, we’ll help you save $50K more a year, allowing you to retire when you’re 45! Buy today and see weight loss in just 7 days. Act now and get a free gift if you reply within 10 days.

Most people know the drill, but those promises followed by a time element speaks to the selfish gene. We might see through the “urgency” but they still work. Response rates are boosted and prospects act immediately.

Pleas on behalf of the environment are harder to play up the selfish card. Where is the urgency? What’s in it for me if I act now?

Clearly, the urgency is everywhere. You know that. I know that. And likely, your prospect knows that too.

Everyone knows we’re screwing up the earth. Everyone wants to leave the planet a better place for their children.

But if we all know that already, then why isn’t everyone working hard to increase their sustainability? Why are we still flying across the world and driving gas-sucking SUV’s?

You know this answer already.

Because we’re all a little bit selfish.

Sacrificing for sustainability takes work. And work without immediate personal benefit equals people over watering their lawns, forgetting their reusable bags, driving their car on a rainy day instead of biking, and well, you get the picture.

So, finally, we come to it.

How do we make a sustainable call to action urgent?

  • Play to that selfish side. This doesn’t have to come across how it first sounds. Explaining how his favorite backcountry trail will soon be converted into condos might get him angry, but what will get him to take action? A good offer. Offer something in return for his commitment to your cause. Come to this rally and get free donuts and coffee to protest the soul-sucking condos! Sign our petition and get immediate access to a map of our favorite trails in the state! Donate to our great cause and we’ll get you a 5% off coupon to your local outdoor store! Free stuff always gets more takers, even for unselfish causes.
  • Make it personal, without going to the dark side. Chances are, if someone is actually reading your newsletter and not just scanning the headlines, they know that the giant salamanders are already gone. So, you can be thoughtful and thought-provoking without the gloom and doom tactics. If the giant salamanders do go extinct, why would I really care? Most days I worry about getting my daughter to school on time, my next deadline, the growing pile of paperwork to deal with, and getting a (fairly) nutritious meal on the table. If the giant salamanders depart this earth, I’ll be sad, but it won’t affect me, not really. Your challenge:  make it affect me.
    • My favorite method for this is to tell a really good story.  Stories have a way of sticking around and swirling through our brains, even after we’re done reading. This way, when I’m stirring the spaghetti sauce that night, I’ll think of your great story about those slimy salamanders. Even though the loss of the salamanders still won’t really affect my personal life, the story did, and that might just be enough to get me to take action.
    • Another great method to making it personal is to truly involve the prospect’s life in your problem. Don’t think overuse of pesticides actually affects you? Here’s a link to an article detailing how these tiny, deadly chemicals are infiltrating your daily life. Then, make sure you have a strong call to action. Next time I’m smearing that pesticide-laden face cream on, you can bet I’ll be thinking about you.
  • Lay on the adoration. Everyone responds to a vanity appeal. Tell me how smart I am, how caring, how thoughtful and engaged. If you do this on the sly so I can’t tell you are blatantly appealing to my vanity, all the better. If prospects think you admire them, they’re more likely to feel like they can spare some of their hard earned time or money on you.
  • Provide a simple time deadline. Make this about the donor, not about your organization’s deadlines. In late December my inbox is always flooded with donation requests. The savviest among you play up the fact that if I sneak in one more donation before midnight on New Year’s Eve, I can reap the tax benefits almost immediately, and not about the fact that you are trying to hit year-end fundraising goals.
  • Be positive about what you’ve already done. Then, and only then, lay on the need for the next step. Donors love to hear that you’re actually making progress with your work. And providing proof about what their past donations have achieved will satisfy that need to be useful.
  • Provide visual inspiration. It may sound too simple, but providing inspiration with beautiful images never fails to register a strong emotion. And emotion moves people to take action now.

Over-selling urgency by using any of the above methods, as well as some of my least favorite methods mentioned at the beginning of this article will hurt you in the long run.

It may provide the urgency needed to get a good open rate on your emails, and perhaps even a high click-through rate, but what will really suffer is your good reputation.

Readers today can fact-check you swiftly and painlessly. And if they find you lacking in hard facts and rolling in exaggeration and opinion, your reputation will be on the outs and you’ll be relegated to the dump pile.

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