That’s what the City of Melbourne did. It wasn’t even a clueless IT person who failed to understand the central concept of what emailing entails.
Instead, I found that the email addresses were very much an intentional choice. At first, I was annoyed because I came up with about twenty of those “Hello, this is tree” images, but that niggling feeling quickly dissipated when I began to understand how the whole tree-based emailing system worked.
The weird thing was that that people were genuinely emailing the trees, no sarcastic quips, no rude gestures, and no jokes about 100ft tall doggie toilets:
Weeping Myrtle, Tree ID 1494392
5 July 2015
Hello Weeping Myrtle,
I’m sitting inside near you and I noticed on the urban tree map you don’t have many friends nearby. I think that’s sad so I want you to know I’m thinking of you. I also want to thank you for providing oxygen for us to breath in the hustle and bustle of the city.
Best Regards, N
Gum, Tree ID 1032002
11 July 2015
Apologies if that’s not the form of address you prefer. I wanted very much to tell you how much I miss your family. I’ve lived in Texas for two and a half years now, and I so fervently miss the heady scent of your cologne as the morning sun warms you.
I miss your gentle swish swish as the wind tousles your leaves playfully. I miss your strong white trunk, rising majestically from the earth, striking up towards the clouds. I miss the dappled shade you so generously provide.
The sound of magpies, harbouring in your foliage, does not grace my ears. The silver green of your long, lithe leaves does not appear in my current surrounds.
I miss you, Gum. I miss all that you represent for me. Stand tall and strong, and know that my heart reaches out to you across the seas.
With immense fondness, A
English Elm, Tree ID 1032245
14 July 2015
Are you and your fellow English Elms enjoying the Ashes series as much as we in England are, and are you giving the native Aussie trees some stick over their team’s performance?
(Source Urban Forest Visual via BBC)
In fact, the emailing component is just a small part of The City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest Visual program. Australia, for those unaware, is hot and dry. In Vancouver, we get snow warnings and the odd storm alert – rain and frozen rain pretty much.
Australians have UV alerts alongside the morning weather, regular reporting on the decreasing reservoir levels, recurring water restrictions, deadly forest fires, and that’s not counting all the living things trying to kill them. Aussies might have the beach weather we want but sometimes the dose makes the poison.
It’s due to this extreme heat, extended droughts and ongoing water restrictions that many of Melbourne’s trees are turning to dust. The city is at risk of losing its urban canopy as well as an important factor in keeping a diverse and healthy eco system alive.
The city released this campaign to educate its residents about these facts but also as a way to get them engaged.
It Speaks To The Power of Simple Ideas.
Or rather, the apparent counter intuitive ways to engage people.
Only in hindsight is the logic so clever that I wondered why no one thought about it before. By giving the public a direct way to interact with the problem at hand, the dying trees, it then gave them a reason to care.
Give Your Customers a Different Way to Communicate With You.
We’ve talked about using social media as a customer service tool. For a good example, check out the Trankslink’s Twitter account:
@jess_sc No extra buses, but you could take the 8:21am departure of the 250 HorseshoeBay from downtown, arriving at approx 9:08am instead^LA
— TransLink BC (@TransLink) July 24, 2015
But you’re still talking with someone representing the service/product. It’s better than nothing, but why not let your customers interact with your product directly?
If you want to take a page out of Melbourne’s book put an email tag on each product, it could be a great way to collect reviews. How about if they need to know when a part needs servicing, why not have an automated email that can tell them and can schedule a reminder?
Heck, it could even go as far as a small web application that could automatically respond to posed questions. If a customer is confused as to how to use an aspect of your product, email the question in and a program could automatically respond with a link to a knowledge base. Think Siri, but for your business.
Talking to Plants Can Help You Grow
Getting customers to care about your business is difficult. Yet at the same time, we as a species have a wonderful habit of personifying inanimate objects. Beyond every email above showing that, it also reminds me of a story. Allegedly, someone once placed a 911 call because, as they claimed, there was a seagull standing in the cold wet rain, and it looked really sad.
Any small excuse to care and we latch on like cuteness to a cat in a shark costume on a roomba.
I think The Urban Forest Visual project is a perfect example of how that human mechanism works. Give your customers a reason to care about your product and they will naturally find a way to do so. All it takes is a personal connection to something other than a faceless corporation.
What do you think? Is The City of Melbourne wasting their time with gimmicks or do you think it actually works? It did get international headlines, so that must be good? Sound off below. If you’d like to know more about engaging customers online check out our infographic on our Digital Marketing Strategy page.