How playing devil’s advocate will help you improve your sustainable business

Because practicing being devil’s advocate means expressing the most challenging sentiments possible – how else do you check your campaign or business messaging is sound?

So, why do I keep asking awkward questions – am I secretly anti-sustainability?

No, but I am actively avoiding preaching to the converted.

Because we can sit here and complain about the same things:

“The planet is dying”

“Various species are doomed”

“More needs to be done”

Or, we can explore together why more people aren’t engaging in simple climate action, such as making better consumer choices.

So, in my previous blog entries, I chose to outline common objections made by many consumers (including myself) such as, “Fast Fashion: If you’re on a modest wage, why should you buy sustainably?”

“One person’s efforts can’t make a difference” is another old, familiar sentiment we hear, and one with no easy answer.

But before we try to engage with these objections, let’s check whether it is our practice to acknowledge different aspects of customer motivations, or whether we dismiss opinions we don’t like as simply selfish or ignorant.

Because practicing being devil’s advocate means expressing the most challenging sentiments possible – how else do you check your campaign or business messaging is sound?

So, let’s get quizzical!

I found the following lesson in ‘How to alienate non-vegans further’ circulating around the internet lately …

Human women on all fours are trapped in cages. A chicken in uniform is collecting their used sanitary towels for market, and the explanation given below?

“Eggs are hen’s menstruations, so eating eggs is like eating used sanitary towels… And you wouldn’t want to do that, would you!”

If chickens laid spoonfuls of uterine tissue-laced blood, only the most experimental of eaters would try it. But what do regular people care if a shell-encased egg is a chicken’s period?

We don’t care if burgers or bacon are made from animal’s flesh, right? So why waste time trying to appeal to our sense of squeamishness?

Or is this image only intended as an internal, anti-meat-eater joke?

If that’s so, is an attempt at humiliation of those seen as ‘the enemy’ helpful to the pro-vegan movement?

I venture that such an image and description are an own goal to the vegan cause. Not least because such a comparison between period blood and chicken eggs is ridiculous and betrays a relinquishment of rational thinking (maybe due to exasperation?) from some animal rights campaigners.

So, what’s next? How about trying to answer the question, “What’s the point, what can one person do?”

As devil’s advocate, I proffer that there’s no point answering this question with, “You’re not just one person, you’ll be one of many who –”

No.

As far as most customers or any given individual is concerned, we make decisions based on what is beneficial to us as individuals, not what may be beneficial to the world at large should many more people make a similar decision or compromise.

If you can’t sell your product or way of thinking as immediately beneficial to any given customer, then you need to improve your offer.

In a previous blog entry, I indicated that regarding veganism, selling an ethical eating lifestyle “for health” might be the quickest way to connect with new customers.

“For health” means customers will gain an immediate benefit from adopting a safe and healthy, vegan (or plant based) diet, as opposed to adopting veganism “for the environment” or “for the animals”, two benefits which can only be effective if large numbers of others make purchases with similar intentions.

These examples briefly demonstrate why a “devil’s advocate” role is so important for understanding your customers priorities –

Ask every awkward question you can imagine about your product and your intentions as a sustainable retailer.

Because “It’s an ethical alternative” doesn’t work for most customers still happy to forgo ethics in favour of price and convenience.

“What can one person do?”

One person (you) CAN build a business campaign based on acknowledgement and understanding of all points of view (All Plants did this with their vegan meal delivery service and message “We’re all plants, but you don’t’ have to be!”)

This important step will help you better understand the motives and priorities of potential, new customers. And in doing so, it will expand your brand’s influence and increase your customer base.

So, whilst it might be easy to openly judge the ethical standards of others, or even to laugh at them and accuse them of eating chicken periods, such an approach is not good for sustainable living campaigns, and it is not good for sustainable business.

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