Visual Storytelling: Style versus Substance

Photo: Knight Digital Media Center 2011
Photo: Knight Digital Media Center 2011

We’ve all seen them… action-packed, special effects-driven movies with empty characters and a vague plot line.  These “blockbusters” always leave you wanting more (and not in a good way).   And as I see use of video marketing exploding among businesses, I can’t help but worry that brands will fall into the same trap.

According to a 1to1 Media post, videos are 50 times more likely to appear on Google’s first page results than non-video pages, presenting marketers with an immediate SEO advantage.  Viewers stay on sites with video five times longer than text-only sites and 80 percent of business execs watch more online content now than they did last year.

So how do companies capitalize on an effective visual storytelling plan without blowing their whole budget on one expensive, effects-driven production?

The right video crew understands the balance between style and substance.  They focus on telling a meaningful story and use animations and effects to enhance the original message.

Take Next Step Living for example: This video utilizes one of the hottest video marketing tactics right now (whiteboard video) while clearly conveying the company’s mission and commitment to making New England homes more energy efficient.

On the flip side, Geemmodity’s videos look great, but without any well-written copy to support the visuals, the “how to” productions fail to explain the product and ultimately end up confusing the viewer.

Flashy videos might be a creative way to grab a prospect’s attention, but without a substantial story to tell, even the prettiest productions will flop.

Christine Williamson is a senior consultant at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineDBW

Clean Energy’s Fiscal Cliff

The best explanation of the looming fiscal cliff I’ve seen so far came from Conan O’Brien sidekick Andy Richter last week:

So if Congress can’t get a deal done and we do fall off the fiscal cliff and “crash into the double dip recession river,” what does that mean for clean energy? Like many government programs, clean energy funding would see mandatory cuts. The White House reports that sequestration would take away $148 million from the DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program in 2013 (I know, it’s a ridiculously long document – look at page 80 if you don’t believe me).

That’s $148 million less to be invested in clean energy over the next year, and even if we do avoid the fiscal cliff, chances are that government funding for renewables will see cuts anyway. That means that the cleantech companies with the best chance to survive 2013 might just be the ones with the most cost-effective products or services. As unconventional as it may sound, technologies exist for which customers don’t have to pay more to be green.

Myriant, a company that manufactures green replacements for petroleum-based chemicals, charges “no green price premium” for its products. And since their bio-based chemicals are identical to those that come from petroleum, there are also no hidden costs for manufacturers making the switch. GreatPoint Energy is another example: the company produces a clean, high efficiency fuel called bluegas that is a cost-competitive replacement for standard liquefied natural gas in many regions.

Many of the companies with the best chance to survive are service providers that save their clients money through green alternatives. Absolute Green Energy Corporation, for instance, uses solar and thermal systems within integrated building designs to help organizations and individual residents save on energy costs. Conservation Services Group offers a similar value proposition: they optimize energy efficiency in residential buildings through weatherization and other services. Next Step Living is another company that helps people reduce their bills through energy-efficiency best practices.

No one in the clean energy industry wants to see government funding fall, but if it does decrease – whether by the $148 million baked into the fiscal cliff cuts or a lower number – the companies with the best chance to thrive will be those (like the five above) that can actually compete with their less green counterparts. Many other cleantech companies have promised cost-effective products and services, and we’ll have to see if 2013 turns out to be a good test of those claims.

Jake Navarro is a senior consultant for Greenough. Send him an email at

Should Big Bird Be Flying North? How Renewable Energy Would Function in a Romney Presidency

Photo EvelynGiggles, Flickr
Photo EvelynGiggles, Flickr

While Big Bird’s fate – along with that of PBS – has been much discussed in the wake of last week’s presidential debate, a Romney presidency promises many other programs will find their way to the chopping block. One likely victim is the emerging renewable energy sector. As he promises a path to energy independence that relies on increased gas and oil exploration, former Governor Romney will take an axe to the estimated $90 billion in grants, incentives, etc. designed to bolster the nascent renewables sector. Romney says the country can no longer afford that outlay. Whether or not handouts given to the oil and gas industries for almost 100 years will meet the same fate as clean technology in the Romney regime is still unclear. What is clear now, however, is that Romney’s strong performance (or Obama’s listless effort) has the renewables sector contemplating a new world order in 2013 and beyond.

Are we facing the ‘end of days’ for clean energy after the halcyon years of the Obama administration? Hardly: in just a short few years, we now have rising stars and established players in biogas (see Harvest Power), wind (see Cape Wind), solar (see Next Step Living), energy efficiency (see FirstFuel), electricity storage (see Ambri) electric vehicles (see GM) on so on. There will be casualties undoubtedly as government support is eliminated under Romney’s stewardship. But will we face a wasteland? Is there a path forward in a world where the deck is stacked for entrenched forces? The answer, of course, remains to be seen: clearly, the private sector needs to play a larger role in terms of its investment in clean energy research and market development. Active involvement in lobbying is needed to change the calculus so that externalities – the well-documented impact on health and the environment among others – are included in the costs of carbon-based energy. Easier said than done, I know, but such is the nature of a dynamic market system that even Romney acknowledges needs regulations, albeit far less than the current administration advocates.

We can also take solace in the fact that the prices of fundamental renewable technologies are dropping, a key to survival should all clean tech government funding be dropped. A 2012 white paper by McKinsey & Company highlighted the increasingly competitive solar industry, where the price of solar-PV modules has dropped from $4 per watt in 2008 to less than $1 today.

The report went on to read: “Prices paid for solar are likely to continue to fall, but sales should rise as solar power becomes economically viable for an increasing number of customers. Additionally, because prices for solar-based power are likely to be set by prices for fossil fuels instead of subsidies (which have been falling annually), margins for leading solar players should increase as their costs continue to decline.”

Out of this potential solar wasteland, well-managed companies like GT Advanced Technologies with strong balance sheets are continuously adopting new models and technologies to seize opportunities in solar and other emerging market sectors.

Whatever the future holds in terms of presidential politics, we know the world is not standing still. I’m an optimist: where there is a need, solutions built on innovation, quality and value will prevail. I also believe common sense will rise to the top of the discussion. PBS, the venerable home of Big Bird, receives only $1.35 per person each year in federal funding. We will find a way in our vast education budget to keep our best early childhood education resource, an eight foot tall yellow bird, in homes every day. Likewise, I believe the benefits of renewables - cleaner, healthier and safer (think national security) are abundantly clear: we just need to keep driving those points home to our fellow citizens. Once the overall population understands the necessity of clean energy, the person who sits in our county’s highest office is bound to follow, regardless of his party affiliation.

Follow Phil Greenough on twitter @philgreenough