February 17, 2015
by randi

Creating personas to create connection

Susan - the wipes flusher

Susan – the wipes flusher

If you are in the business of communicating with people, you’ve no doubt heard the advice to “meet people where they are.” Designing effective communications requires an audience centered approach. Narrowing the focus of persuasive promotions will result in tactics that are more likely to influence the choices of our target demographic. I’m sure you segment your audience until you have a well-defined group in mind.

As it turns out, “meeting people where they are” can be much more dynamic. By developing a representative character, or persona, who represents a real person in the target audience, the communications become more creative and engaging. We can be more effective in speaking to people’s hearts as well as their heads. Thank you, Ideo, for this valuable insight.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • What interests them? What do they care about?
  • When in their day are they most interested in conversation?
  • Who do they trust? What does their social network look like?

I recently used this process with my clients at Metro Vancouver. We’re working together to solve a nasty, and largely invisible, problem: toilet abuse. After considerable research, we now understand that a segment of the population are flushing wipes, which are wreaking havoc on the sewage system and ultimately compromising regional water quality. Gross.

Here’s who we’re after:

Susan lives on her own in a condo. She works at an office and leads a fairly quiet lifestyle. At 50, Susan is watching her money as she thinks ahead to retirement, but likes to treat herself to products that make her feel youthful and pampered. She cares about the environment and her community, but doesn’t seek out extra information about sustainability issues. She’s a quiet conformer.

  • Who does she trust: friends, family, local news
  • Where does she get information: women’s magazines, TV news
  • When is she most likely to be receptive: at the store, at home
  • Why does she care: fear of embarrassment in her shared building

Our communications strategy will be designed to reach Susan, which is far more inspiring than designing to reach the segment she represents: women 45-65 who are in the contemplation/preparation stage of change, living independently in multi-unit residences with an average annual income of $50,000.

So, go ahead and thin-slice your target audience – have fun with it. But whatever you do, test your approach before you hit print!

January 2, 2015
by randi

Hello, Fresh New Start

neutralAfter weeks of ritual and tradition, it always feels good to shake off old ways and gaze with wonder at the all the potential offered in a crisp beginning. I’ve spared myself the torture of a long list of resolutions and have settled on just one: commit to choosing my response.

Perhaps it’s the siren call of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. Maybe it’s entering my 40th year on the planet. Regardless of the inspiration, I am determined to improve self-regulation in the face of frustration. In the end, we cannot change those around us, however hard we try. All we can do is change our response to them. This doesn’t mean that people can’t change their behaviour, but it does mean that the motivation to change can’t be forced (anyone who has experienced being “voluntold” to do something knows exactly why this is a problem).

How do we reconcile public apathy in the face of monumental crisis? With steadfast determination to fight for what is right, and compassion for those who defend what is wrong. If we look to the revolutionary leaders of the past, they were successful because they walked this tightrope. Some helpful questions to help you become the change agent you were born to be:

  • What are your goals for the year?
  • Which of your strengths and assets will you tap into to realize your goals?
  • How will you foster your personal well-being to boost your mojo?

This year, I will do everything I can to make the world a better place, and though the revolution to save the planet is not happening quickly enough, I have set a marathon pace for myself and those around me rather than a raging sprint. You can thank me later.

Here’s to making 2015 neutral – in every way.

October 8, 2014
by randi

Give Thanks to the Outlier

appleYou’ve narrowed your problem, you know your target audience, and you’ve removed barriers for action. You’ve even found your team of keeners who are helping you to make the world a better place. Congratulations! You are a public marketing super-star. It’s awfully tempting to shift the spotlight onto the next challenge now, isn’t it?

But let’s just pause for a moment – when was the last time you recognized your keeners? You know who they are. These are the people who were the first to raise their hands when you called for volunteers, and they are as committed to solving the problem as you are. And yes, we all know that the highest form of commitment is giving without expectation of reward (if you’re a parent, you are most certainly living this reality), but even you, fearless change agent, appreciate a pat on the back now and then. Even you like timely feedback that you’re on the right path and that your actions are making a difference.

This Thanksgiving, take time to give thanks to the people in your life who are helping to solve problems you care about – especially when tangible results are difficult to see in the short term. These people are helping to create new, positive norms in society. They are the outliers, and by focusing your attention on them, you not only reinforce their ongoing support, you also get better insights into what it will take to shift the average “up” to their level.  If you understand what makes them tick, you can shape your messages to more effectively motivate engagement.

If you think it’s impossible to prioritize recognition activities in your busy schedule, imagine how much more time it would take to build your roster of keeners all over again, not to mention the loss of credibility your program will suffer. Keeping your team in the loop on how you’re doing towards achieving the big picture goals demonstrates respect for their time investment in the process, it fosters deeper engagement, and it builds organizational accountability. So why does it fall off the radar? Keep it simple and start with a single act of gratitude.

Recognition doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive, but it does need to be genuine. Begin by reflecting on how much progress has been made in solving the problem, and then consider who has helped to remove the barriers. Skip the disposable trinkets and focus your efforts on sharing the impact of the collective efforts. You will be amazed by what a little focused appreciation can do for your team.

And don’t skimp on the chocolate, whatever you do. Even outliers love chocolate.

September 17, 2014
by randi

The Zero Waste Revolution Has Begun



What is Zero Waste? Is it an inspiring call to action or an impossible goal? After spending the day with some of the best and brightest who have dedicated their lives to finding opportunity for profit in pollution, I’ve come away with renewed hope. And here’s the thing: there isn’t time for any other kind of reaction. Guys like Jeremy Rifkin say that we now have less than 100 years to transform our systems though a resource revolution.

And revolutions are never quiet events.

To kick the transformation into high gear, Metro Vancouver bravely opened the process for all to contribute. They did this knowing they would be criticized for considering burning the waste we all produce. But who is really responsible for keeping the incinerator as a concept on paper rather than a construction project? As long as we continue to communicate our compliance with exporting our personal waste to some of the poorest countries in the world, and holding species hostage to our unsustainable lifestyles, it’s tough to rationalize our revulsion to the same unhealthy fate in our own communities.

But let’s be honest: can any of us pretend any more that what happens in small-town China is any less relevant to what’s happening in our own neighbourhoods? Last time I checked, those rivers and oceans flowing across the planet carry along with them tonnes of discarded plastic, and they have no concern for national GDP. If there is plastic in the water in China, there is plastic in the water in Canada.

Ah, the pesky biosphere. Being reminded of our place in nature is always a bit like going to the dentist, isn’t it? A painful reality check. Biologists are inoculated against the shock of our precarious place in the universe because they don’t forget about its significance. But I need to be reminded now and then that there are 30 million species living today, and that they represent about 1% of all the species that have ever lived on the planet. The good news is that these species have 3.8 billion years of research and development on how best to develop efficient systems. We can emulate nature’s genius by following a few principles:

  • Make just what you need.
  • Keep what you have.
  • Turn waste into a resource.

And even if we haven’t been at this for as long, there is one advantage that our species has over others. David Suzuki has been talking about this secret to our success for decades, and while it’s simple, it holds the key to unlock transformation: foresight. The ability to look ahead, predict an undesirable future, and adjust our course to avoid danger.

Get serious about your waste for the same reasons that you visit the dentist. You never know if you’ll live until you’re 90 years old but if you do, your teeth will come in handy. And if you’re still here then, what kind of world do you want to live in?


June 25, 2014
by randi

How to get your people on board

When I was a little girl, my favourite story was “The Little Engine That Could.” I would beg my mom to read it to me over and over again. I was captivated by the idea that believing in your abilities would help you transcend obstacles that others viewed as impossible. Climbing big mountains with a small engine is tough going, and it’s easy to feel discouraged. Good leaders know this, and thThe_Little_Engine_That_Couldey know how to help the people around them climb aboard – even when the destination isn’t clear.

I feel compelled to share leadership stories right now for two reasons: because it is dramatically absent in current provincial politics (no need to elaborate), and because it is widely evident in local and regional politics. I’m a big fan of civic engagement, I like to feel like my leaders are interested in my ideas. And while I believe that talking about your concerns with leaders does influence the outcome, I’m still waiting for a reply to my April letter (did you write one?)

Good leaders are motivated by their quest for shared abundance, and they view contributions from others as beneficial. Effective leaders are curious about the people they are leading, they are driven to understand their needs and to build a shared identity. Poor leaders are stuck in Maslov’s basement, positioning to win their point and competing for limited resources. They’re not much fun to work with. If you know someone like that, keep reading.

Since storytelling is the best way to share information, here are two elegant examples of effective leadership from people I’m privileged to work with right now:

  • Squamish Lillooet Regional District: the project managers took an expansive view to motivating people across 16,310 square kilometres to reduce their garbage. They could have imposed by-laws on their member municipalities, requiring them to reach waste reduction targets they developed behind closed doors. Instead, they embarked on a 12 month committee process to identify shared goals and shared resources. Being inclusive from the very beginning ensures that everyone is on board and feels connected to the success of the project. People laugh during meetings, a good sign that positive relationships are being forged.
  • Resort Municipality of Whistler: the small town that invites the world to play is committed to reducing its community greenhouse gas emissions. Project managers could have developed brochures, and then complained six months later when nothing changed. Instead, they invested time to understand needs of their community so that the resources they develop actually remove barriers and motivate action. People in the community volunteer their time to help, a good sign that they feel valued.

If you are a small engine and your challenge feels like a massive mountain to climb, try sharing the load. There are tremendous resources available to you (hint: they are often found in the people you are trying to influence). The Little Engine That Could believed in herself because of her small size, not in spite of it. Be nimble. Be bold. Above all, try something different if you’re unsatisfied with the results you’ve been getting from your commander-in-chief approach to leadership.

Not sure where to start? Give me a call for a complementary needs assessment.

April 13, 2014
by randi

Earth Day: your one-hour action plan

April is the month where we collectively reflect on the state of the environment. In three simple steps that will take less than an hour, you can make that reflection purposeful.
Here’s how:

1. Identify a leader at any level of government who you would like to influence.

2. Choose one burning issue that is not being addressed the way that you want it to be.

3. Share your concern in a positive and personal way, and provide plausible alternatives.

I hate to admit it, but I’m not politically astute. Though I vote in every election, I rarely consider myself adequately informed. This is something I’m not proud of, and I know that being more engaged in policy discourse is important. Somehow it always seems that other duties in my life are prioritized over current political affairs.

Then I got my tax bill, and all of a sudden, I’m more motivated to know what’s happening with my hard-earned money. When I started to consider this, it became clear that many current government decisions do not align very much with my values. I bet you can relate.

This month commit to one letter. Keep a notebook on your kitchen counter for a few days and find 10 minute periods to consider and record your thoughts on an issue that matters deeply to you.

making my values count: find out how

Here are just a few places where you can dedicate some purposeful reflection into your daily routine:

  • Doing dishes/folding laundry
  • Commuting to/from work
  • Running
  • Sitting in a pointless meeting
  • Waiting in line
  • Finishing your taxes

Hot tips when you’re ready to bring it all together:

  • Write the letter in your own words
  • Keep it short – focus on a single issue
  • Be polite and keep a positive tone
  • Include supporting facts and details
  • Make your message personal
  • Suggest specific actions and ask for a reply

Anybody can call the Prime Minister! Or call any other leader, for that matter. Elected officials (those people paid with your hard-earned taxes) pay attention to public feedback – especially written letters. The more they hear about an issue, the more they believe they need to make it a priority. Plus, writing a letter feels so satisfying, once you try it, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to start.


March 6, 2014
by randi

Breaking the Brochure Habit

We are what we do repeatedly; excellence is a habit.  Aristotle

Do you brush your teeth every morning? Sure you do, and I bet you don’t have to remember to do it, either. At some point in your development, the behaviour tipped from being reflective (“what’s that thing I have to do again after breakfast? Oh yeah…”) to automatic.

Shifting from reflective to automatic thinking is the secret to excellence.

Not all behaviours make this leap, not even the ones that we want. We need a special combination of awareness, motivation and know-how for it to happen. But you know what we don’t need? Brochures.

It doesn’t matter how flashy they are, new behaviours are not created through the repetition of catchy messages. Think of what you want people to do – the product – as the total brand.  A brand isn’t simply an icon and a tagline; it’s a comprehensive strategy that embraces all aspects of the behaviour you want to promote.  Successful brands have emotion and narrative, they draw us in and make us feel good. They are simple to understand and they motivate action.

To develop and promote your brand – the behaviour you want people to adopt – you must begin at the source of the problem you’re trying to solve (the root of the “bad habit”) and identify the people who need their habits adjusted.

I believe in baby-steps towards new healthy habit, and getting really focused on how to tackle the bad habit:

Is it about a belief? (If I drop gum or cigarette butts on the street, it isn’t littering)

Is it about knowledge? (I don’t know what to do with my gum or cigarette butts)

Is it about behaviour? (everyone around me seems to drop them on the ground, so it must be the way things go here)

Once you determine the source of the problem, and who lies at the heart of it, then you can develop strategies and TEST them with the target audience. And remember – if the call to action seems overly simple to you, the expert, it’s probably right on. You have the benefit of hearing the tune in your head already, you know what to do and why to do it. Your target audience doesn’t have the tune playing. It is essential to remove as many barriers to adopting the new behaviour, knowledge, and belief habits as possible.

Stay laser focused, start small, and keep it simple!

February 5, 2014
by randi

What’s In It For Me: A Love Story

Whenever we take our relationships and their benefits for granted we’re taking a big risk. Sure, we know that we can offer more than the competition, but love is not rational.

I have two passions: saving the snow and the people who play in it. When it comes to making progress in these areas, I use the same social marketing principles to achieve results. This is not a rushed process; imagine that an awareness campaign is a coffee date and a social marketing strategy is…so much more satisfying. All good lovers know that you have to invest time listening for understanding before you can speak to be understood.

What it all comes down to is personal price; what’s in it for me. This is simple to understand in a commercial setting, but it is often underestimated when the product is a cause. Whenever change is offered, we naturally ask ourselves what we’ll have to give up and evaluate the perceived benefits. This is true for love and for social transformation.

Very often, the greatest price is a shift in identity, likely because the new identity is unknown. This is where it’s valuable to have friends (the bright spots) who have already adopted the desirable identity to share the benefits of transition:

  • From someone who feels disconnected from the community (lone wolf identity) to someone who gives back (social connector identity).
  • From someone who doesn’t believe that personal actions will make a difference to someone who feels like he’s on the winning team.
  • From someone who is focused on immediate results or a quick win to someone who invests time in developing skills, relationships or new habits that make a difference in the long run.

When it comes to keeping the snow on the hills, we tell people to Power Down on Fridays to stop energy waste. Simple and concrete. Here’s how to do it:

  • Introduce the idea and sell them on why: in schools, teaching staff understand that money saved by tackling energy waste equates to new educational assistant positions.
  • Place posters around the workplace, as well as personally delivered funny thank you notes from office equipment. Keep it light with fun multi-media reminders.
  • Reward participation, distribute small chocolates on desks for people who remember to shut off electronic equipment before they leave for the weekend.

The message that keeps people safe in the snow must be equally simple and concrete:

  • Promote a new understanding of where avalanche dangers exist through social networks, and dispel misconceptions of how much time and cost is involved in developing safety skills.
  • Encourage diverse voices of support, including unexpected endorsements, to create the impression of a “new normal” in mountain safety habits.
  • Benefits need to be visceral: if you can’t dig your buddy out of 6 feet of snow, are you prepared to tell his parents why he didn’t come home from a day on the hill with you?

Don’t take your messaging for granted. Find out what people will have to give up to adopt the behavior you want, and then make the benefits so irresistible that the competition fades into history.

January 1, 2014
by randi

Follow the Bright Spots to Success

Making and breaking resolutions is a time-honored tradition. This year, rather than resolving to stop doing all the things that are slowing you down, get curious about what’s already working well and incubate growth from a place of success. If you’re in the business of making the world a better place (and if you’re not, really, what are you doing with your time?), the concept of appreciative inquiry or more simply, following the “bright spots”, is essential.

We all have bright spots. To find your own, think of a situation where something went surprisingly well (a partner negotiation or media campaign, for example) and excavate the details until you find out why it worked so well. This will make it easier to engineer the necessary conditions to replicate your success.

I’ll leave it to you to kick your late night brownie habit and assume you have bigger aspirations for the year ahead.

Whatever your goals are, the first step is defining your target audience. All strategy flows from a deep understanding of whom you’re trying to reach and why. From there we ask, what do we want this group to start doing, or stop doing? This is our product, our “ask”. By examining the social rewards that early adopters (the “bright spots”) enjoy, we uncover hidden benefits for our target group.

Across North America right now, we have an “ask” for skiers and boarders exploring beyond resort boundaries: carry safety equipment and know how to use it. Rather than promoting this product directly, we need to uncover the benefits of the product for the target group and promote those. We need to answer the question, “what’s in it for me?” People don’t buy what you do (or sell), they buy why. Some benefits to becoming prepared for an avalanche could include:

  • Being perceived as the trusted friend who knows how to dig his buddies out of an avalanche if he needs to. Identity as special and different from the groomer cruisers.
  • The opportunity to explore further in the mountain because having the training and equipment builds confidence and expands the terrain available.
  • Fewer injuries and lost riding days due to recovery from surviving an avalanche incident. Not everyone who experiences an avalanche survives (and being alive is an awesome benefit).
  • Keeping up with other accomplished skiers and boarders who already have avalanche training and equipment, and fit in with the crowd you care about most.

Now we can start to think about different scenarios in which the target group might perform the desired behavior, and identify opportunities to promote the benefits of the product attributes. People heading into the side country follow a somewhat predictable timeline; here are a few examples of where we could intervene to influence their behavior:

  • Preparing for the season – work with ski/snowboard retailers to actively promote purchase of avalanche equipment. Discounts or other benefits could be provided to those who register for avalanche training at the time of their equipment purchase.
  • Getting psyched for the season – collaborate with pro ski/snowboard film makers to make avalanche safety more prominent. Explore the option of including target audience-generated content as promotional campaign prize.
  • Organizing friends for the day – connect with the bright spot role models to have them nominate a peer they know would benefit from avalanche training, and feature their stories online.
  • Heading up the hill – partner with resorts to deliver a short term campaign where riders who have completed avalanche training are given special and highly visible resort privileges (lift line priority, free lunch, gear, etc).
  • Celebrating the day – team up with bars to start online scrapbooks about the side country, and “seed” them with stories about what people did before they got their sick lines.

Testing both the benefits and their appropriate delivery is critical, and this is where focus groups and interviews inform an effective strategy. Throughout January, we’re hosting focus groups in BC, Colorado, Utah and Washington. We’re looking for the side country bright spots. Let us know if you want to help find them.

November 25, 2013
by randi

You can’t afford to keep raising awareness

Give yourself the gift of time and measurable results! Register today for the Introduction to Social Marketing workshop in Vancouver!

Why? You can’t afford to keep raising awareness – awareness doesn’t stick.

Winter has arrived and the powder hounds are rubbing their hands with glee. While most of us are tuning our gear and planning our holidays, the hard working team at the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) is going through a revolution. When influencing people is a matter of life and death, the motivation to improve communications strategy is high. The CAC is a non-profit organization dedicated to safe mountain recreation. Like most non-profit groups, they are a small operation passionate about their mandate. They invest thousands of hours and hard-won fundraising dollars in their efforts to reduce the number of “events” – their term for people getting caught in an avalanche.

Their revolution is about shifting from raising awareness to changing behaviour. Think about it this way: Coca Cola doesn’t raise awareness about its brand; it sells you a product. The same marketing logic transfers to any public sector mandate or non-profit mission. We don’t often think about non-profits as “selling” something, but once we start, it transforms the communications approach away from providing awareness to social marketing.  Wouldn’t you like your communications to stick?

The first step in this revolution is to get laser-focused on your audience: who are you trying to reach (here’s a hint: “the public” is not an audience). Get curious about your people and recognize that they will have different needs, barriers, and motivations. Once again, the private sector has figured this out; that’s why you see power bar ads at the gym, not Coke ads. Most organizations focus their efforts almost entirely on promotions, developing brochures, posters, newsletters and media releases. This tactic poses at least two problems: 1) if you haven’t figured out who specifically you need to reach to advance your mandate the promotions will not stick, and 2) if your promotions raise awareness about the issue without really helping your group to adopt new behaviour, nothing will change.

Here’s a quick teaser on what you will learn in the behaviour change workshop:

On a scale of 1 – 10, with the higher end being the best possible, identify and score your audience segments against the criteria in the table below (the five segments may be determined by age, gender, location,  skill, or other variables). Note that your scores will be determined in their comparison against each other.

S: Size: total number of people that you could influence; estimated population

AR: At Risk: degree of participation in the behaviour you are seeking to change; benefit from influence

P: Persuadability: reasonable to expect change in attitudes and behaviour of the group; malleability

A: Accessibility: ease in reaching the group through existing communications tools; practical factors

RR: Resources Required: financial, staff, and structural assets needed to reach the group; expense of effort









Now you are starting to narrow your spotlight, but you’re not done yet. Motivating your target audience to take action requires careful analysis of your product (what you want them to do), the price they will pay (what they have to give up to do it), and how and where you will reach them. This is why Coke doesn’t advertise at gyms.

Sharpen your communications tools and 2014 will be a revolutionary year. Register today!