I was blown away by this article about advanced UK research into growing buildings – yes, buildings that are actually alive! Despite being really busy at work it got me scanning the article and thinking about innovation – why we need dreamers and pragmatists, and (as a confirmed pragmatist) what makes great communication that dispels tech’s negative image and gets readers doing what you need.
‘Green buildings’ have been around a while, but while you can add green roofing, eco air-conditioning and recycled furniture, the fabric of all buildings today is processed, static and dead, not growing. Researchers in the UK and around the world are looking into buildings that grow, heal themselves, breathe in and out through the wall fabric to regulate temperature, have ‘stomachs’ to turn residents’ waste into energy, and even naturally-hygienic ‘probiotic kitchens’ where the surfaces keep us healthy through promoting good bugs rather than aiming for sterility. And the way it’s presented here risks ridicule, but I think they have the balance right – it makes it feel inspiring and, more than that, necessary.
Lots of seemingly great tech often just seems a bit pointless or nice-to-have… and some of these ideas are other-worldly – yes NASA’s involved because they imagine buildings may need to repair themselves when we colonise new planets – but I really feel there are lessons here for all of us as marketers and innovators. In a recent blog I praised the tinkerers, the incremental innovators, over those who claim to be disruptors. But for truly radical tech to get traction we need a disruptor mindset so (using KISS terminology) as a pragmatist and marketeer here are three things these people did right in their communications:
1. Connect emotionally
We all want a home that suits us: where we can recharge, enjoy the results of working hard, live with and look after loved ones. So, showing buildings as places we live (as opposed to work or park our bikes) gets me emotionally involved. I start to immediately imagine what it’d be like to live there and think ‘why wouldn’t I prefer some of this tech if it’s viable and available?’.
Rising ‘green guilt’ is a factor for many, and while some of the tech is early days and seems fantastical this definitely speaks to that – so you have my attention and a bit of emotional buy-in.
2. Speak to a need
We all need to live somewhere, populations are rising and more and more people live alone – so more accommodation is definitely needed – and if a building project can grow its own bricks, use near-zero energy being built, and perhaps even be a net energy producer once open, we’ll save CO2 and costs (in materials, construction and running costs) and address some other real and pressing needs. Multiple real audiences – investors, partners and others – ought to be interested.
Increasingly people see living ethically and reducing their own planetary footprint as more of a ‘need’ than a nice to have, too.
Another rising need is ethical investment – so if you (say) invested in a growing-building start-up you’d probably feel you were doing some good as well as potentially making money – and perhaps one day you could be among the first to live in a growing building! This article would work as a door-opener for potential backers (which was probably one reason they wrote it!).
3. Show me a vision – and show me what I can do right now
Good visions help everyone see your strategy and decide if they agree with it. Without a vision you’ll be lost in a crowd of muddled messages – but it has to be strong, simple and make me want to know more. The vision of course is around fully sustainable, living buildings – but that’s a bit of a mouthful. For a blog they went for a classic listicle: ‘Five ways buildings of the future will use biotech to become living things’. They’ve made it clear what they’re selling, and I’m hooked – then it clearly and quickly ties together disparate tech stories to show us the five ways, with concrete research examples. If they were our client I can see how a message house based around this would make communications planning easy and land them some good press attention and speaking engagements. Their still images and video are great media for this and used well.
For diehard pragmatists like me, unless you can go and see the HY-FI installation in New York, there aren’t quite enough links here to ‘what can I do TODAY’ beyond watching the video and reading other articles. So if I was selling this tech I’d add more examples – even here in Cambridge we can show ‘breathing buildings’ already (albeit using natural ventilation rather than walls that breathe), the use of living walls, self-repairing concrete and many types of waste-processing that are already starting to become a reality – so I’d bring in a few more practical examples of real work and, if the channel allowed me, more links so you can learn about my company and product.
This is more of a ‘tech think’ piece but I’d still have a stronger call to action – just like most good social media campaigns: you have my hard-won attention, so if you want me to do something as a result of reading this, tell me quickly what I can do next and make it super-easy to do it.
But all in all, these scientists have done a good job with this piece – the strategic backbone shows through and it convinced even a diehard pragmatist like me.