Get More Green by Going Green with Shel Horowitz
For over a decade, Shel Horowitz, “The Transformpreneur,” has shown businesses how to thrive by doing the right thing. Shel shows how not just to go green AND market green affordably and effectively--but how to thrive by transforming society: turning hunger and poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance.
Shel is an international speaker, transformational business consultant, and the multiple-award-winning, bestselling author of ten books including and Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green (both with Guerrilla Marketing founder Jay Conrad Levinson).
Visit him at Transformpreneur.com
Ajay: Hello, and welcome to The Founder’s Corner. This is Ajay, and here with me today is Shel Horowitz. How are you today, Shel?
Shel: I’m just great, Ajay.
Ajay: Fantastic. So, Shel, why don’t you let us know a little bit about your business, and then we can get into specific questions that you have, and maybe we can help you with some ideas?
Shel: Okay. It’s a very interesting time in my business because, although I started the firm 35 years ago, I’ve really spent the last 3 years tilting it in a completely different direction. Well, it’s not a completely different direction but a somewhat different direction. It’s been a gradual evolution.
I am now really ready to pull the trigger and go forward, if you will, with the idea that business can be a force for social change and for the environment, not just in its philanthropy but also in its core products and services, and that the way you get business to take this on is not through guilt and shame but through enlightened self-interest, basically by showing them how they can make money doing it.
So, as a consultant and speaker and writer, I am looking at these issues of how to turn hunger and poverty into sufficiency, how to turn war into peace, and how to turn catastrophic climate change into planetary balance. It’s really exciting stuff.
Ajay: So, Shel, can I interject? Since you said that, right now, your business is taking an interesting turn, do you mind taking us from the beginning when you started the business to where it is today and how it has changed, so that our audience can understand?
Shel: In 1981, I moved to a new area, Western Massachusetts, where I still live, and I realized that I was going to need to have some way of paying the bills. I thought I would try to be a freelance writer, but while I was waiting for my freelance writing career to take off, I started a term-paper typing service. We live reasonably close to a major public university and several smaller colleges, so there was, in this pre-computer era, a market for that.
So, I started typing term papers to tide me over until my freelance writing career took off, but then, in the next couple of years, I realized that freelance writing at that time was a very, very difficult and very low-paying occupation with an awful lot of work-for-free that you never got paid for, and a lot of head-banging where people said, “Go ahead and give me something on spec,” and then they didn’t want it.
Meanwhile, I had also started to branch out from just term paper typing to resume writing. I’m trained as a writer – my background is in journalism – and at that time, I had already had one book out that I did when I was very, very young, and I thought, “Well, goodness, here’s a way that I can make a living as a writer which doesn’t involve all of the head-banging, and sending queries, and getting rejections. I can just write for people who actually want me to write for them.”
So, that started with the resumes and then broadened over time to include things like press releases, and direct mail copy, and web page copy, and other kinds of business communications, and eventually into strategic marketing planning and strategic profitability work. Also, I’ve not only been in the marketing world since the 1970s but also the green and activist worlds.
In 1999, I started a people’s movement to save the mountain that is behind my house, actually the mountain next to that mountain, which was under threat with a large housing development. I organized this incredibly successful movement that involved thousands of people, at least on the level of slapping on a bumper sticker, putting up a yard sign, or signing a petition. We could pretty much routinely bring out 400 people or so to a public hearing. Keep in mind that I live in a town of 5,000, so 8 percent of the town would show at a meeting. I thought it would take us five years to defeat this, and we did it in 13 months flat. So, that was 1999 and 2000.
Reflecting on that success, I started thinking, “I do all this activist stuff on the side. Are there ways to build this into my business?” So, I started really looking at being a marketing copywriter and consultant for green businesses. Then, over time, I realized that green isn’t enough. Sustainability isn’t what we want because sustainability is keeping things the way they are and we want them to get better. So, I started talking about regenerative and the idea that we can really make a difference.
Why would businesses want to do that? If you guilt and shame them, they’ll just sort of build the wall, and hole up, and be like, “Go away!” For every Nike that actually changed its practices because of guilt and shame, there are many, many more companies that just get annoyed and don’t engage with you if you use those strategies, but if you show them how to make money, then they’re all ears.
Even a company as non-tree-hugging as Wal-Mart is has figured out that its green initiatives make them an enormous amount of money and save them an enormous amount of money. It’s not well known, but Wal-Mart actually sells more organic food than Whole Foods does, and the interesting thing is that they sell it mostly to people who don’t go to Whole Foods, so they’ve doubled the market.
Ajay: So, give us some examples of how you have helped your customers become green both ways, green in terms of money and green in terms of environment.
Shel: For example, I had a client in Vancouver, British Columbia, who came to me with two different businesses that were kind of interrelated. He had property-management software for green buildings, and then he also had social networking software for the tenants of those buildings. He was only thinking about his own Vancouver market, and I showed him that he could extend not only geographically but also into several different niches, that he could take that software and really repurpose it. So, that was one.
Then, on my side of the country, in Massachusetts about 25 miles from here, I had a client who had a conference center that happened to be the site of some very historic things involving the safe energy movement, several previous owners ago. I wrote him a marketing plan that was all about using that history, using this iconic status of the place that he happened to buy, to attract the kinds of conferences and events that would really be a very good fit for him and that would be really honored to be there.
So, those are two examples.
Ajay: Okay, good. Now we understand what you are doing, so let’s delve into your questions for today. So, go just ahead and let’s start your Q&A.
Shel: Okay, my first question to you is: If I am going into markets that include Fortune 50 corporations all the way down to solopreneurs, how do I set up a pricing structure that’s fair to everybody, that doesn’t scare off the solopreneurs because it’s too expensive and doesn’t scare off the very, very large corporations because it’s too cheap?
Ajay: I will tell you that, generally speaking, it’s really difficult to target those two groups. I am a big proponent of figuring out who your ideal customer is and targeting them. Now, I have always said that pricing has nothing to do with cost. It has to do with the real value you are bringing for your client. That’s what the pricing should be driving, so if you are talking about either the solopreneur or the large corporation, what are both of them looking for? You have experience with marketing. I have experience with marketing for big companies and small companies. No matter what you do, their focus is return on investment, or, “What am I going to get for this money that I’m spending?”
I think that your focus should be on that. Of course, the large companies will be willing to pay you more money because even the proportionally same return is going to mean a greater dollar amount for them than for a solopreneur.
So, what you are doing is a huge challenge from my perspective, as a marketer myself. It’s like, “How can I become really relevant for someone who’s just starting or is working from home, as well as for the Wal-Marts of the world?” Generally speaking, it’s difficult, but every individual case can be very different.
I know that for some of the services that we provide, for example, we can very easily do it. We have customers who are doing $2 billion in revenue, and we have customers who have literally around $200,000.00 in revenue. So, we have done that, but those are the customers who came to us directly. My target is always the smaller business, so the big company came and liked what I offered because what we offer is equally relevant.
So, I understand what you’re saying, that what you’re offering is totally relevant for everyone, but in terms of marketing and pricing, my suggestion is that you almost need to have two separate strategies for that.
Shel: Yes. One of the things that I’m thinking of is that it may be that my customers are not the same as my clients. One strategy I’m exploring very actively is having large companies sponsor me to work with smaller companies, or nonprofits, or smaller business units within the company.
Ajay: If you can pull it off, that solves both problems. Now you have a large company that has a purpose for hiring you, and then your target is smaller companies. So, again, Shel, my focus is that if you start to look at the value that you’re providing for large companies versus small companies, things should start to fall into place. I think that you’ll start to see the real value that you’re providing, and so long as it is a real value, you will be fine, whoever you’re targeting.
I have always told my clients, or there are times when I’m invited into some forums to talk to small businesses, and I always say to just make sure that whatever you are offering has a real value for your customers and then other things will start to fall into place. So, that would be my real suggestion.
You already seem to have an idea of getting Fortune 50 companies to sponsor you to help small businesses. That’s great, if you can. If you are talking to enough of those people, they’ll see a real value. You are on the right track in the sense that you want green and green, so it’s not like you are sacrificing one green versus another green. So, given that, all you have to do is start to figure out how the corporations are helped. It’s one thing to start [inaudible] [00:12:03] philanthropy, where corporations are paying you so that you can help small businesses. It’s another thing to go to them and say, “Help me help small businesses, and this is how it’s going to help you.”
Shel: Yes, exactly. I’ve done that work.
Ajay: Good. So, you are already on track there. The more you focus and the more you narrow-target it, I think the more effective your program will start to be.
Shel: Okay, great. Next, there’s a lot of marketing out there. Everybody does marketing, but the marketing doesn’t always translate to sales. Particularly, things like exposure in the media and social media mentions seem like they don’t move the needle all that much. What strategies do you have for turning all the good marketing hits into actual revenue?
Ajay: This is a very interesting question because I have a background where I came from very large corporations before I started my own business, and my very first corporate job, a hundred years back, was to look at and analyze marketing done by my company that I worked at and to see how effective it was. So, your question is very interesting to me.
Now, I will tell you what the big corporation did and why it is much more effective there, versus the small corporation and why it is not effective. In the big corporation, even though we had marketing budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars, and in those days, TV was a big thing – when I was there, it was the pre-Internet era – nothing was done without testing it.
So, even though for a company part this was one of the best programs ever, we were going to test it in a small market. Given that they had a $100 million budget, the testing would spend half-a-million dollars to test in a small market, to really understand what kind of results we would see before we would launch it. Then, even when the campaign was being done, it was monitored very closely – literally, you could say every day – to make sure that it was bringing the return.
Now, fast forward, with most of the small businesses that I deal with, what I’m seeing is that the reason so much marketing fails to move the needle on sales is because they don’t have a mechanism for monitoring and assessing results. I cannot tell you how many small companies come to me and say, “Oh, we hired this SEO company, and it’s not working.” I would say, “How do you know it’s not working?” and they’re like, “Well, we are not on Page 1 for this keyword.” I’m like, “Okay, so when was the last time you took pay-per-ranking to the bank?” and they have no answer. So, if you put the wrong metrics…
You always have to test, and you always have to present the results, so long as you put the right metrics for results. For example, from my training that I have, the only thing that I focus on is return on investment.
Trust me, I have worked with a very large corporation, like an oil company. They spent $25 million on an ad campaign, and I was invited to sit in on the presentation of the results. They were talking about, “Oh, this is awareness. This is ad awareness.” I was sitting there, and I finally got impatient, and raised my hand, and said, “I’m sorry. What did it do to sales?” I got a long lecture from the presenter on why we should not be judging the result of an ad on sales. Now, I think that’s a bunch of garbage.
Shel: I’m with you on that. I definitely come from the direct-marketing camp and not the image-advertising camp.
Ajay: Perfect. So, if the way it is in marketing fails to move the needle, it’s because someone is not monitoring it on a regular basis and tweaking it. Having been in marketing for so many years – decades – myself, there is seldom any program that I launch that is 100 percent [inaudible] [00:16:58] from the get-go. It’s almost like you launch it, and then you say, “Hey, this worked. This didn’t work,” and then you tweak it and tweak it, and eventually, you get to a point where you know that, “If I’m going to put this much money, then I’m going to get this much money back.”
So, the small-business owners either give up very quickly, or they will just drag something on forever because they don’t have a good measurement in place to judge the effectiveness, to try to understand why it is working or not working, and then to tweak it to make sure that it starts to work.
Shel: Interestingly enough, the “save the mountain” story was one of the rare cases where image marketing actually seemed to work. I was pretty shocked to see how much awareness we had built with our lawn signs and our bumper stickers. I had very low expectations for those, and I let people who wanted to do them do them, but I really didn’t have any expectation that they would do anything, but they did. They really built a brand for us.
Ajay: Yes, sure, I’m not saying image advertising never works.
Shel: No, I’m not hearing that you are.
Ajay: In today’s world, what happens, especially if you’re a small-business owner, is that someone either comes through referral or finds you somehow – they see your signage, or they find you by googling it – but what’s the next thing they do? They check your reviews, right? That is image. I always tell businesses that they have to be very proactively building their reviews online because that is how a huge chunk of people judge whether or not they should be doing business with you.
So, I’m not saying that image has zero value, but again, you must have measurements in place and a very clear objective to start with. So, you’re saying, “Hey, I need to build this kind of awareness because this will give me another result. It’s going to give me this result.” Then, you can monitor both. You can monitor the awareness level, and then you can monitor whether it’s bringing the desired results that you thought it would bring.
So, again, having the end result in mind when you are launching a marketing campaign goes along with that. That will always help you create the right measurement and monitor it to make sure that it’s effective.
Shel: Okay. Are you ready for the next question?
Shel: All right, how do you get inside people’s heads so that they understand that their particular business can thrive by actively making the world better, and how can you help them understand the risks of not doing this, the opportunity cost of not being seen as a leader?
Ajay: For the last one, I will tell you that the opportunity cost of not being a leader is really not as relevant to small businesses because most of the small businesses are trying to survive. Of course, for the big business, I can see that question, and, generally speaking, they want to become a leader, so you don’t have to sell them.
In terms of convincing people in a particular business why they should be doing this and that it’s going to be good for them, I’ve always said that it’s almost like you have to build a case in marketing. It’s almost like an attorney goes and builds a case in front of a jury and explains to them why this person is guilty or not guilty, or whatever. So, you have to build a case for the business owners in terms of why they have to do this and what the repercussions are, the plusses and minuses of not doing this.
And, again, most of the marketers, unfortunately, try to use image and try to use psychology to convince most, but on the other hand, most of the time, the easiest way to convince is to build up a very solid case. It’s almost like you have a case strategy, and they say, “This is what you have to do,” or, “See what happened when someone did this.”
So, again, you have to build an argument, and it has to be a very logical argument. As a marketer, you already know that the headline is going to be the thing that determines whether someone will believe your marketing or not, but once you grab them, you have to build a case as to why they should be doing this. It’s very logical, and it works. Logic works. Whether it’s a consumer, or it’s B2B or B2C, it always works.
Shel: Okay. Then, my last question for you is how to convince people that we actually have the power to turn those human miseries into the kinds of successes we want to see and that business can be a powerful lever in doing that.
Ajay: So, again, your original premise or your unique value proposition, as I call it, is double green. I’m just simplifying it, but you become more money by being more socially conscious, more sustainable, and more green. It’s that argument. It already helps. I meet a lot of people, obviously, as a business owner, and I have done that even in the past, and I have never met a single person, I can very confidently say, in my life who says, “I really want to make the environment dirty. I want to pollute the water.”
The challenge always is whether it is going to cost them. When the businesses pollute, for example, a river by dumping the waste, certainly the reason they do it is because it saves them money – again, your other argument about green. So, I’m not saying that most businesses are doing the right thing. I’m just saying that even the worst offender, if they could do that without a huge cost, they’ll do it. No one wants to go and say, “Let’s pollute the river today and see what happens.” I guess the people who may be doing it are 0.001 percent, but all the other people…
So, again, when you are talking about convincing, it’s going back to the same thing. Once you have the right argument that says, “This is going to help you, and it, all at the same time, is going to help other people,” again, I’ve not met many people who have said, “I don’t care if my action is going to help other people or not.” Of course, if you say, “You give me money, you give me more tax, you do whatever, because I want to help other people,” then you have a lot of resistance, but if helping other people ends up helping you also…
That’s the reason why the Chambers of Commerce, at least in Southern California here, do a very good job of bringing people with different expertise in front of people, in front of small businesses. When, for example, I am invited by the Chamber of Commerce to come and talk about marketing strategy, yes, it takes my time – I have to make preparations – so there’s a cost to me, but then what it does is it educates people and I walk away with some potential clients.
Shel: Of course. That’s why we speak.
Ajay: So, it becomes a total win-win.
Shel: Yes, absolutely. And I do phrase it that way. I have a talk, for example, called “Making Green Sexy,” and in that talk, I talk from two perspectives. One is the perspective of there being three different types of markets for green products and services.
There are the “deep greens,” who are the environmentalists, who make every decision on the basis of how it will help or hurt the earth. There are the “lazy greens,” which include people like my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law lives in Queens, and I will imitate the way she speaks. I stayed at her house when I was going to tour the Marcal toilet paper factory, which is 100 percent recycled and has been for more than 60 years, and she said to me, “I always buy Marcal because it’s recycled.”
Well, the reality is that she’s a lazy green. She’s not a deep green. She always buys Marcal because it’s not only recycled but it’s also next to the Scott and the other brands on her supermarket shelf where she already is. So, for her, it’s very easy to market as long as you have the distribution that makes it convenient.
And then, there are the non-greens, and for the non-green, you have to present arguments that are self-centered benefits. You have to say, “This is more durable. This is cheaper. This will be more comfortable to use,” the actual ultimate benefits, one-to-one. So, you can very successfully market green products to the Hummer-driving, cigar-smoking, non-environmentalist climate skeptic, but you have to do it on the basis of their self-interest.
The other piece that I do in “Making Green Sexy” is I make the case of how much money businesses can save and make. We talked about Wal-Mart earlier, but there are examples in my most recent book, which is my tenth, called Guerilla Marketing to Heal the World.
I have a lot of case studies from very, very well-known businesses, like General Electric, Toyota, and Procter & Gamble, of how they’ve really been able to monetize green products and services, both by saving costs – because energy, water, and materials all are huge costs, and the greener you go, the less you’re spending on those things – and also on the revenue side because people want to buy it. Think of a Prius. You live in Southern California, and I live in Western Massachusetts. I think those are both areas where Prius is considered a status symbol. Who would have thought, 10 or 15 years ago, that people would be buying Priuses to show off?
Ajay: Yes, now they’re starting to rank Tesla here.
Shel: Yes. It’s been very interesting to watch that company because he has taken the money he has made with Tesla and with some of the other ventures he’s been involved with – in particular, his earlier successes – and he’s really invested it into cutting-edge technology, and it’s going to make the whole planet greener. Just the other day, he announced a new solar-roofing tile that he says is cheaper than putting on a conventional roof and then solarizing it. It’s actually built into the tile.
I looked for something like this when I had to put a new roof on my house in 2009, and the technology was in existence, but it was very experimental and very, very expensive, and I couldn’t do it.
Ajay: Again, to your point, when you can give me a roof that is cheaper than my current roof and also reduces the cost of electricity, someone has to be an idiot to say, “I don’t care because it’s going to help the environment.” So, everyone will take it, and I think that my final thing will be that that needs to be the real focus. I think that when you are talking about the deep greens and the lazy greens, they’re already doing it anyway. You don’t have to convince them. It is the third group, which is the largest group, actually still –
Shel: I’m going to argue that I think the lazy greens are probably the largest group, but that’s fairly recent.
Ajay: Actually, I agree with you.
Shel: Five or ten years ago, I think it would have been the non-greens, but that has shifted.
Ajay: Correct. I agree with that. So, for the lazy greens, you already know that all they need is availability and value, and they will do it. So, that is the direction that everyone has to take. When the solar power came in, and I remember people coming and trying to sell me, when I did a return on investment, it was like I had to own it for 30 years before I would recover my money, so the only reason I would be spending this $30,000.00 is because I am green.
Shel: Well, I should ask you to look again at that because the numbers have changed a lot. Solar has become much, much cheaper now. The price has come way, way down, and there are also innovative financing models. Some of them are rent-to-own, or some of them are pay-over-time, where the equation is very different.
You live in Southern California. If I can do solar in my house here in cloudy, cold Massachusetts – and I did it back in 2001, when I put on solar hot water, and then three years later, a totally inadequate 1K photovoltaic system – then in Southern California, as long as you’re not under a cliff or under a big plum tree, you should easily be able to do it, and I think you’ll find the payback is much, much less than it was when you looked into it before.
Ajay: I already know. That’s what I was going to tell you. 10 or 15 years back, when this started, you would not find any solar cells on the homes because very few people could afford it. Again, it was a status symbol at that time. Now, it’s commonplace because all of a sudden, financially, it makes sense, so people are doing it.
So, I think that you are really onto it. You just have to build that very strong case so that people can see through it. It’s one thing to say it but another thing to feel the whole argument. It’s like you are a prosecuting attorney and say, “This is the reason why you should be doing this.” And there, the self-interest or return on investment has to be a very big piece. As long as you can show the return on investment and green, most of the people are lazy greens, like we agree, and will want to do the right thing anyway.
Shel: Yes, I think so.
Ajay: Okay, so if you don’t have any more questions, I don’t want to take too much of your time, so we can stop the recording.
Shel: Well, before we stop the recording, there is one other thing that I do want to tell people who are listening. If they want to learn more about this work, I have some gifts for your listeners. The way you get to them is by going to GoingBeyondSustainability.com/Freebies. Among other things, there are several book excerpts from Guerilla Marketing to Heal the World. There is actually an assessment tool that people can use to determine if their business is ready to take on green or social-change products and services. Anybody who fills out that assessment actually earns a short consultation with me at no charge and some other cool stuff as well.
Ajay: Perfect. Shel, how would someone contact you?
Shel: My email is Shel@GreenAndProfitable.com. My phone number is 413-586-2388, and I’m happy to take your call between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. US Eastern, which is 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Pacific. Twitter is just my name, @ShelHorowitz.
Ajay: Okay, good. It was really good talking to you. We will chat again. All the listeners can go to Shel’s website. He has a really interesting value proposition. All our listeners are business owners, so hopefully they will go and check your website to see how they can use your services.
Shel: Great. Thank you so much, Ajay. It’s been really fun to chat. You have some great insights, and I’m sure that you’re building great loyalty by doing this podcast.
Ajay: Thank you.
Resources from Shel
- Going Beyond Sustainability
- Tedx Talk: "Impossible is a Dare: Business for a Better World"