Cero: Experiments in Marketing and Sales


Project Abstract: CERO, a cooperatively owned commercial composting company based in Dorchester, is now firmly in its second year of operation. After developing a unique business model and governance structure, and securing financing and its first few customers, CERO is now at the point where it needs to grow. From the beginning, CERO’s team was interested in focusing on marketing and sales for this design process. CERO is looking for ways to acquire more customers, and secure contracts more efficiently. Our design process collected information from a number of different actors that CERO interacts with regularly, to find different techniques that CERO could use to engage effectively with its potential customers. Our design process involved a number of experiments in sales and marketing, and resulted in a social media campaign aimed at emphasizing the environmental impacts of food waste, and the many benefits of composting. Additionally we used this social media campaign, as well as a new page on CERO’s website, to urge people to think about whether the food businesses they patronize compost and how they could demand better practices at the places where they spend their money.

Link to our final presentation: http://bit.ly/cero-codesign-slides

Link to the case study: http://bit.ly/cero-codesign-casestudy


CERO Progress: Testing Social Media

This week CERO embarked on its first social media adventure. We wanted to see how CERO could fit into a large community that cares about composting, and could collectively pressure local restaurants and grocery stores to adopt this practice.

We noticed that #whycompost had not been used in years, so we thought that CERO could use it to generate buzz around a set of “fun facts” about the environmental costs of not composting. Since last Friday was Earth Day, we planned to soft launch our #whycompost campaign, and released one of our fun fact banners on twitter and facebook:


We linked our posts to a landing page where folks who are interested in helping out with the compost movement can sign up: http://whycompost.instapage.com/?platform=hootsuite. Here are a few things we learned from this very short experiment:

  • We noticed that CERO’s twitter account was not validated, which meant that if you searched #whycompost, none of our tweets were showing up. CERO’s social media in the past had only been reaching its current followers, an issue that we were able to resolve this week

  • As Sasha mentioned, tweets that had a picture were much more successful than those that were just text based (based on our small sample size of three posts)

  • While we got more retweets than CERO’s posts normally get (granted, many were from members of this class) only 6 people clicked our landing page linked, and only one person signed up. We will have to brainstorm ways to make this more powerful and attractive for folks (or decide that this isn’t something people are interested in doing)

Moving forward, we are hoping to fully launch our #whycompost campaign at the DiscoTech. We learned that the first full week in May (May 1-7) is “compost awareness week”, which will be convenient for us to plug into: http://compostingcouncil.org/icaw/. We are planning to make more banners like the one above and post tweets everyday about composting fun facts, especially ones that are more focused on the “why” than the “how” side of this issue. We are planning to message and email partners who could help amplify this campaign with their own reasons for composting.


CERO: Meeting on 02/28

Maya Gaul, the sales team leader at CERO, joined Lor as a main contact, and we are all even more energized and excited! We met this week on Monday to brainstorm and develop our canvases.

We began with a discussion about the waste ban and whether it would be worth spending time and effort on advocacy and building connections with community groups (environmental and social groups) that could influence their members to recognize the value of what CERO offers. After some back and forth we concluded that the best use of our resources right now would be to focus on sales, since Lor is already actively making connections with environmental groups and sees this as a longer ongoing process. Additionally we felt that results from that approach would not be quick enough to help CERO, given that the company is under a time crunch to get customers.

We decided that it would be best to focus on boosting sales, which would be a more tangible project with direct implications for CERO. We developed three canvases around sales and marketing to restaurants, grocery stores and anchor institutions (like hospitals and universities). The central problem that we were trying to answer for each canvas was: How do we reach and connect new potential customers to CERO?

Some highlights from the three canvas:

Marketing to restaurants and food lovers:

  • Restaurants, Foodies, Food Critics, Festivals: Since there are dozens of food events that happen throughout Cambridge and Boston each year, we hypothesize that bringing CERO to these events will help with brand visibility and attract potential customers in the restaurant business. A lot of these festivals tend to be community oriented and might attract folks who would consider a company like CERO. We also discussed that connecting directly with chefs might be a more targeted approach (especially chefs who pride themselves on sustainability and local procurement).

Sales to grocery stores:

  • Grocery stores, especially chain stores, have huge sales potential for CERO. However, getting those contracts can be difficult, especially since large companies own these chains and/or have headquarters located elsewhere. Our work would involve better understanding the underlying factors that these chains consider when choosing a composter (if they work with one at all) and then convincing these stores to partner with CERO. One idea we had was to use our position as MIT students to conduct independent focus groups and interviews to uncover why grocery stores make the choices that they do.

Marketing for anchor institutions:

  • We realize that this might be the hardest group to consider from a sales and marketing perspective. Institutions like MIT, for instance, are extremely bureaucratic and have long standing contracts with suppliers and trash collectors. In order to tackle this issue, we might need to make connections with sustainability offices at these institutions (if they have them) or work with student groups that are passionate about sustainability and can apply pressure on their universities to change procurement patterns.

Check out our canvases here:

1. Restaurants:


2. Grocery Stores:


3. Anchor Institutions:


Introduction: Insiyah Mohammad

Hi class! I am currently a first year student at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), working towards my Masters in City Planning degree.

I was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan and came to the U.S. about 8 years ago to attend Bennington College, a small liberal arts college in the middle of the mountains in Southern Vermont. At Bennington, I studied film and psychology. After graduation, I worked in various capacities with the Vera Institute of Justice, a national non-profit that focuses on criminal justice reform. Seeing the devastating impacts of the criminal justice on communities of color, and being frustrated with how late we were able to intervene in the lives of people for whom countless public systems had failed, I started to look for other answers. I joined DUSP to learn about solutions in housing, community and economic development that empower low income communities to work towards a more stable future and avoid involvement with punitive systems.

I am excited to be in this class to learn more about our partner organizations that are organizing themselves in innovative ways to build community wealth. I also look forward to working with students from other parts of MIT and beyond to support these organizations.

Insiyah Mohammad