Doing More by Doing Even Less

Boulder Digital Works Student Offers Four Tips for Changing Behaviors

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Jesse Weaver
Jesse Weaver

While cause marketing is nothing new, Web 2.0 has greatly increased the power of individuals and groups to have a significant impact on positive change. And these activities aren't confined to the grass roots. Megabrands (e.g., Project Red, Dawn and Pepsi) are also getting behind efforts promoting the social good. The majority of these industry initiatives, however, have been built around generating funds to support the sale of a cause-related product. In this way consumers and corporations are able to do good without a big shift in behavior.

But what about situations where a change in behavior is needed, either on the part of the consumer or a company? How can you ask an entire industry to change the way it does business? And when and why is it likely to listen and act?

For several months the students at Boulder Digital Works have not only been working to answer these questions but to create action as well. Our goal: Get the squeeze-packet industry (think ketchup packets) to switch from industry-standard, cost-efficient petroleum-based packaging to a sustainable, nonpetroleum equivalent.

Together with Boulder, Colo.-based Justin's Nut Butter and advertising veteran Alex Bogusky, we launched "The Least You Can Do," a platform designed to make having an impact as easy as clicking a mouse. Along the way, we learned a few things about engaging people in cause marketing:

  • Small commitments can become big. People want to make positive changes, but can be hesitant to commit a lot of time and effort. If you ask for too much upfront, you can lose a potential supporter. Provide low-commitment ways for people to get involved. It not only increases overall participation but also acts as a gateway for bigger commitments in the future.
  • Give power to the people. The crux of driving behavioral changes is empowering people -- building a sense that the smallest thing can make a big difference. One way to accomplish this is by giving people tools that provide tangible results. This is where social media can be powerful. When you share something on Facebook, you immediately see the results in your news feed and profile, and you know that all your friends can see it as well. Social sharing spreads the word about an initiative but, more important, it gives participants a sense of accomplishment with a low barrier to entry.
  • Be ready to go the distance. Maintaining momentum around a cause takes work, and in the early stages a community of supporters can only do so much. It is up to you to nurture initial buzz and grow it into sustained momentum.
  • Listen, learn and evolve. Changing the world is an iterative process. It is a rare gem of an idea that can flip a cultural paradigm the first time around. Listen to the community that develops around your
    cause. Learn what is resonating with them and what is not—and evolve your approach accordingly. This goes back to being ready to go the distance. Part of growing sustained momentum is being willing to drop or modify the things that are not working and focus on the things that are. Fortunately, digital tools make it easy to update your approach.

"The Least You Can Do" is live and generating awareness around sustainable packaging, and we have taken the lessons we've learned there to heart. By listening and learning, we realize that we can empower people to do more by doing even less. We are ready to evolve.

The next evolution of "The Least You Can Do," to debut early this year, leverages the power of small commitments through an embeddable widget that is fully customizable, extensible and shareable. Tying the platform to a dedicated web page means supporters can only share the URL; they cannot truly share the cause. An embeddable widget that can live in any bit of web real estate puts the full power of social sharing in the hands of the people and will help people collect around any cause, big or small. The effort required will become even less, but we expect this embedded widget to substantially increase the impact of individuals and groups to affect positive change.

A successful cause marketing initiative takes commitment and effort. But if you are willing to listen and learn from your community, you can shape something that can have a real impact on the world and your business. The least you can do to change the world turns out to be a lot.

Jesse Weaver is a student at Boulder Digital Works at the University of Colorado.
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