Suzanne Shelton presents ‘The Sustainable American Dream’ at the 2015 NAHB International Builders’ Show (IBS) in Las Vegas.
Quick: can you think of something you’ve purchased lately that you wanted but didn’t truly need?
Now can you think of something you purchased that you neither wanted nor needed?
Therein lies the challenge and the opportunity for marketing energy efficiency (EE). Most Americans don’t think they need it or want it…so they don’t do much about it. If we can shift them into believing they want it, we’ll make some progress. Based on our findings from our 2014 National Energy Pulse Study conducted online with 2,000 Americans, representing a cross-section of the US population:
42% of the American population thinks their homes are already energy efficient (and 30% of those people say they’ve done little or nothing to make their homes more efficient), and 80% don’t think they use more energy today than they did five years ago.
So, broadly, people don’t think they have an energy efficiency need. When we ask about their perceived need to do a whole host of specific, individual EE improvements, perceived need for every improvement was down almost across the board over previous years. The average American perceives the need for exactly 1.5 EE improvements.
We’re not going to convince them they need it with promised utility bill savings…many say they don’t see the savings they expect (though 70% say they saw the savings they expected after they added extra insulation), and their expectations are through the roof. If they invest $1,500 in EE measures they expect to save $108 on average per month on their utility bill, essentially washing away almost their entire annual utility bill.
Meanwhile, 42% say, yes, they’re likely to make aesthetic improvements and they see a “need” for those. So why will they make those improvements and not EE improvements? 36% say – wait for it – they don’t need energy efficient improvements. By the way, another 27% say aesthetic improvements will add resale value in a way EE improvements won’t, and 15% were honest enough to admit it’s simply more important to them to have a pretty home than an efficient one.
Since most Americans who have the disposable income to make improvements of any kind are not living in shanties with obvious holes in the walls, it’s going to be near impossible to convince them that they need energy efficiency (and yes, most of us do have all kinds of holes in our walls, basements and attics….believe me, after years at this, it’s painfully hard to get people to actually see that.)
So our path forward is to help them want energy efficiency. How do we do that?
Talk to them about what they actually care about. Broadly, that’s comfort (which is the number one thing they prioritize in making home improvement decisions, according to this year’s Energy Pulse data), it’s also resale value, keeping their families happy and healthy and feeling a sense of control over costs.
Stop using language that doesn’t resonate or make sense. In the efficiency arena most advertising loudly promises that you’ll “save money.” But our Energy Pulse study reveals every year that a majority of Americans report their utility bills are going up, not down, despite the things they say they’ve done to make their homes more efficient. So it’s a message that’s not believable. We also throw around a lot of jargon the average American doesn’t understand. According to this year’s Energy Pulse study, even seemingly basic terms like HVAC are simply not correctly, confidently understood by 76% of the population. If they don’t understand what we’re talking about they can’t begin to want what we’re trying to sell.
Stop trying to “educate the market,” instead of trying to engage the market. When we frame EE marketing as “education” it gets really boring really fast. And a boring message is also one people never really pay attention to.
Stop advertising the drill bit. There’s an old adage in the marketing world: “Nobody wants to buy a ¾” drill bit; they want to buy a ¾” hole.” But we scream about the availability of energy efficient products and programs (the drill bit) instead of promising the benefits (what people want) of comfort, durability, control, peace of mind, better health and resale value (the hole).
Want them to want EE? Adhere to this advice and you should turn the tide over time.