Marketing the climate emergency

Jane Woodyer
Aug 19 · 12 min read

Earlier this year I joined my fledgling local Extinction Rebellion group and offered my services as a digital content marketer to help reach and communicate with local residents and organisations about XR and the climate emergency.

Social media and email has proven to be very effective at getting people to turn up to events like the Heading For Extinction talk that launched the group; and subsequently to attend our weekly meetings.

We now have a good number of people turning up regularly to these meetings and taking part in working party activities like rewilding and plastic waste actions. Every week new people come to their first meeting, and our social media followers and mailing list subscribers are growing organically at a steady rate.

In fact, some of the engagement metrics we’re reporting would be the envy of many digital marketers.

But as I’ve become more involved in XR on a local level, and as my personal understanding of the climate emergency has grown, I’ve realised that my ‘job’ needs to do more than just promote a meeting or event. Because, while we are attracting local residents to our meetings and starting conversations with local organisations like the town council and our cultural institutions, there’s a much bigger job to do.

The job of the digital marketer in a climate emergency

That job is not dissimilar to what marketers do for the brands and businesses they work for. It’s about changing behaviour.

Content marketers like myself use techniques to change our target customers’ behaviour. We use marketing funnels to attract prospects and take them on a journey to buying a product and becoming an advocate for the brand. Along that journey we want the customer to change their behaviour and take action. That could be following the brand’s Facebook page, clicking on a link to a website, sharing their email address, downloading information about a product, reading a customer testimonial and ultimately making a purchase.

Inbound (content) marketing methodology describes this process as ‘attraction’ > ‘conversion’ > ‘close’ > ‘advocacy’.

As a marketer volunteering for my local XR group, I need to get ‘customers’ to go on a journey too and take actions along the way. To a certain extent we’re achieving this. We’re attracting people and converting them into supporters, they attend our meetings and then tell friends and family which feeds new ‘prospects’ into the top of the funnel.

Non Violent Direct Action — the elephant in the room

However, there’s an elephant in the room. Non Violent Direct Action. What we, and I think many local groups are struggling with, is to get local XR supporters to buy-in to NVDA and take action themselves.

Most of our regular attendees are supportive of NVDA, they just don’t want to do it. In his talk, Time To Act Now, Roger Hallam acknowledges taking NVDA is scary, it’s out of our comfort zone, we’re conditioned to be ‘nice’ and not upset people. But the fundamental ethos of Extinction Rebellion is that we have to disrupt to get change. Being nice doesn’t cut it as we’ve discovered from 30+ years of lobbying, marching, signing petitions and writing to MPs.

In some ways, in XR, we’ve given people a get out clause. We say “you don’t have to get arrested or take NVDA, there are lots of other things you can do to support XR”.

Our local group is full of people doing these other things. Not many have stepped up to say they’ll go to the October Rebellion and be disruptive and make the sacrifice that XR needs to affect change. I’m guilty too. I’d prefer to hide behind the group’s social media channels than go to Westminster and disrupt government.

So how do we get people to take actions out of their comfort zone and potentially put themselves in harm’s way? Roger Hallam gives 3 simple reasons why people do take action, which could help us recruit more people to do the same:

1. People are terrified — they understand the catastrophic terror of ecological and societal collapse, and they realise that they’re going to get hurt anyway. So they might as well put themselves in harm’s way.

2. It’s an act of conscience / civic duty — they realise that they can’t NOT step forward. “I can’t be myself and not act.” “I can’t be myself and pretend I don’t know what needs to be done, because I do know what needs to be done.”

3. A sense of adventure — they realise that life is short and this [NVDA, being arrested, getting out of their comfort zone] is going to be a bit different. They do it because it’s an adventure away from their boring job and the status quo.

I think these points give us something we can work with. An insight that could help us get our local supporters to London in October, disrupting government and maybe even getting arrested.

How can marketers change behaviour

The first point is about education and information. I estimate that 80% of the people attending our local meetings have not fully grasped the full implications of ecological and societal collapse.

For many it’s still something that they believe will affect other people, probably in the developing world, not in their corner of leafy Surrey. Why they believe this could be for a number of reasons, all of them completely understandable, such as:

· They’re too scared to learn more — they’d rather bury their heads in the sand and hope that somehow the climate emergency will be resolved before it gets that bad.

· They can’t relate to the facts — the information about catastrophic collapse they’re exposed to doesn’t seem relevant to them. They can’t picture themselves, their children or grandchildren in this scenario.

· They accept the facts but don’t see why they should make changes — for example, cut down on long haul flights, trade in their 4x4 in. Especially when ‘other’ countries (Russia, China, etc.) or people (public figures they respect, their friends and family and so on) are not following suit.

· They don’t believe it — while they’re not climate change deniers there may be other levels of denial operating. We’re all exposed to large amounts of misinformation and outright lies, it’s hard to trust the facts, especially if they’re uncomfortable facts that disrupt our beliefs, values, goals and way of life.

· They’re simply not exposed to the facts — unless they read the right newspapers and publications, listen to the right radio programmes, watch the right YouTube channels and read the right books, they can easily avoid the more difficult conversations about the impact of climate change.

In marketing terms these are barriers to conversion. We can’t encourage people to change their behaviour when there are things that are stopping them from making that decision. However, if we know what they are, we can break down these barriers by providing people with the information they need, personalised and targeted in a way that addresses their needs.

Roger Hallam’s second point that taking NVDA and getting arrested is an act of conscience, is also an important factor that we can use to inspire people to take action. Many of the XR supporters I’ve met who’ve been involved in NVDA and have been arrested, speak about how they did it for their grandchildren or future generations because they couldn’t have it on their conscience if they did nothing. This is a great motivating factor for taking action.

Finally, the sense of adventure. That’s another motivating factor that may appeal to some people from the offset, or that almost becomes a perk or benefit of taking non violent direct action. Not only do you make a difference and allay your conscience, you can also have an adventure while doing so.

However, these motivating factors are redundant if we can’t get people over the barriers to conversion.

Journey to Climate Consciousness

Rob Simpson, a member of my local XR group, and I have been exploring these barriers. In our opinion, many people we meet that are engaging with XR on some level get to the point of accepting climate change is real relatively easily. But they get stuck and can’t progress to the point where they accept that ecological and societal collapse is also real.

We started thinking about how we could get people over this hurdle so that they would be fully aware of the climate emergency and act according to their conscience. In developing our thoughts, we’ve developed a journey (that has similarities to the customer journey a marketer would map out) which we’re calling a ‘Journey to Climate Consciousness’.

Along this journey we’ve identified 5 key stages — climate consciousness stages. They look like this:

1. Hardcore Climate Denial (anti-science)

2. Climate Agnostic (not convinced by the science)

3. Global Heating Acknowledgement (it’s happening but maybe it’s not all bad)

4. Climate Change Acceptance (climate change is no longer debatable)

5. Ready to Adapt (understands the need for adaption to mitigate against ecological and societal breakdown)

As you can see, we’ve started at the beginning with climate deniers. However, most people that we come in contact with are somewhere in stages 3 and 4.

The idea is that by understanding what stage an individual or group is at, we can communicate with them more effectively and help them overcome the barriers (and states of denial) that are preventing them from progressing to climate consciousness. Climate consciousness is a full acceptance of the emergency and what that means to civilisation and our planet and, hopefully, a fully engaged individual or group who is committed to taking appropriate action.

In the context of the October Rebellion and the dynamic of our local group, I’ve focused on NVDA as the desirable action XR wants people to take. However, looking beyond disruption, appropriate action may also include planning for collapse such as the concepts explored in Deep Adaptation by Prof Jem Bendall, The Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy”.

How the Journey to Climate Consciousness tool works

Rob and I are now developing a basic tool that we hope other XR groups and individuals will find useful. Going back to basic marketing principles, the tool works when you have a clear idea of who you’re talking to — a customer avatar or persona.

Using a persona as a starting point we can identify the barriers they have through every stage of the journey, and find content that converts them. Content can be articles or blogs, videos, webinars, infographics, books and even talks, aligned with the persona’s needs.

A simple example of this could be someone at the climate change acceptance stage who says “It’s really scary but I can’t do more beyond what I’m doing personally (recycling, not flying, cutting down on meat and dairy etc.) I can’t risk my liberty / job.”

To help this persona overcome this barrier we could share this video interview with David Wallace-Wells on the Hot Mess YouTube channel:

It’s a highly accessible video that addresses this barrier in an engaging, informative and motivational way. We could also share a link to David Wallace-Wells’ book The Uninhabitable World if that persona is interested (and ready) for more information.

The key, as in any marketing, is to align the content with the persona and give it to them in a timely way. That means, for most people, short video clips or short reads that are easy to access (such as on social media) and easy to digest. As their engagement levels increase, for example they’ve signed up to your mailing list or expressed an interest in an issue, you can provide them with more content aligned with their climate consciousness stage and level of understanding.

By taking this approach I hope that when we ask for volunteers to take part in NVDA in October we get good engagement from a group of motivated and informed people. Time will tell and for this to be successful we need to really understand who we’re talking to. Not only do we need to identify all the barriers and find conversion content, we also need to communicate with a diverse group of people.

We don’t have one persona in a town of approximately 40,000 people or even within a group of approximately 40 active XR supporters. We have numerous personas based on gender, age, education, income, family, career, politics etc. If we want to provide them with content that engages them, we need to personalise it where possible, and find common barriers and motivating factors for different groups.

The importance of knowing your customer

When you’re marketing a business service or product this is relatively easy. We can identify the type of people who make decisions about buying a product and understand their barriers and challenges, motivating factors, desires and objectives. These personas can be quite specific. Perhaps the majority of the people who buy a particular product are women in their early 20s living in the South East, with no children, no mortgage, who like sports and earn an average income of £31,000 p/a. When you know your customer you can tailor the content you provide to their interests and needs.

But when you’re marketing the climate emergency to a town it’s a massive job to identify what everyone needs and ensure they get information that’s relevant to them. That’s why we’re starting to build personas into our Journey to Climate Consciousness tool; thinking about the different groups of people within our town we want to communicate with, what their unique barriers are and what content we can provide for them which is most engaging and helpful.

As a baseline we have a ‘typical’ resident. White, middle-class, middle-aged and educated. Generalisations are not the best approach with personas but unavoidable I think in this case.

However, we’re also mapping out different Journeys to Climate Consciousness for different groups of people in the town. Such as our local councillors, educators, parents, students, clergy etc. Individuals within these groups may receive content that’s aimed at our typical resident persona, and also content that’s more personalised for the group they belong to.

For example, public-facing social media channels will mostly share content for our resident persona, but local councillors will also receive information through segmentation that’s highly relevant to their role as a councillor; designed to help them through the climate consciousness stages and the barriers that are unique to them.

It’s a big job, which is why we’re taking a low hanging fruit approach. We’re not targeting climate deniers or the climate agnostic directly (although no doubt amongst groups like our local councillors there are probably a few). Instead we’re focusing our efforts on local residents in the Global Heating Acknowledgement and Climate Change Acceptance stages, and trying to understand the barriers they have and what information they need.

At the same time we’re also collating useful content — as we come across it — for other personas so we can communicate with them more effectively when we have the opportunity. For instance, our XR group wants to engage local schools but is finding it difficult to get opportunities to talk to educators and students in the school environment. It would be really useful if we had a list of content that addresses the barriers they have and could be used to start a conversation with school heads and senior staff. Sharing with school leaders a highly relevant article, video or webpage could break down these barriers more effectively than reasoned arguments from members of our XR group.

Join our collaborative project

To this end we would like to make the Journey to Climate Consciousness a collaborative project where other XR groups can help build this tool and use it to inform their own personas.

The job of identifying common barriers (as well as motivating factors) and engaging pieces of content will be much easier if more people get involved. As we develop our baseline persona, other XR groups and individuals can help add to this or use it as a template for creating more targeted Journeys to Climate Consciousness for their own residents in their towns and boroughs.

We hope that we will all benefit from each other’s experience and successes. Perhaps there’s a video that you’ve found highly effective at getting your social media followers to accept that climate change is real and join up? Or an article that’s struck a chord with your local group and motivated more people to attend NVDA training? We want to hear about it so we can all use these assets to build the tool and in turn engage and convert more XR supporters.

You don’t have to have a marketing background to help — simply look at your own experience. What barriers have you overcome, what have you read, watched or listened to that has sparked a lightbulb moment or triggered the penny to drop? Who are you, what is your unique experience that can help inform different personas and help us all communicate more effectively with the people (everyone) we’re trying to engage?

If you want to get involved or can contribute in anyway, please get in touch by clicking on this link.

Jane Woodyer

Written by

Content marketer and copywriter.

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