The gist: A study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory examined 14 home efficiency programs that the authors felt were successful, including one by the Bonneville Power Administration in the Pacific Northwest and efforts in Houston, Minneapolis, Kansas, Boston, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and the District of Columbia. Researchers identified what program elements really worked to motivate people to make energy upgrades in their homes.

One key lesson from the lab’s report is that “language is powerful.” You knew that already! But what messages help drive demand? This month’s Flashcard is a quick guide to the messaging recommendations from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s report.

Flashcard: Driving Demand for Energy Upgrades

  • Loss speaks louder than gain. Cost now is a bigger motivator than future savings. (“Until you get the flue fixed, your hard-earned cash if flying right up the chimney.”)
  • Jargon can backfire. “Retrofit” doesn’t mean much to some audiences, and “audit” sounds scary. How about energy upgrades and a home savings assessment?
  • Connect new ideas to familiar concepts. What’s a home’s gas mileage? Do you live in an energy guzzler? What tune-ups would make it run better?
  • Make it concrete, visual, and personal. Add up all those cracks under your windows and doors and you get a hole the size of a television in your living room wall!
  • Go public. Keeping up with the Joneses or making a public pledge can be more motivating than simply wanting to do the right thing.
  • Take it beyond efficiency. Some people care more about health benefits, improved comfort, or community pride.

Go to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s report>>

Beyond Words: More marketing and outreach lessons

Best practices identified by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

  • It is not enough to provide information; programs must sell something people want—High home energy use is not currently a pressing issue for many people; find a more appealing draw such as health, comfort, energy security, competition, or community engagement to attract interest.
  • Time spent studying the target population is important—A blanket marketing campaign to reach everyone will likely be ineffective and expensive, especially at the start of a program. Find and target early adopters. Tailor messages to this audience. Demographics can help segment the market and select optimal strategies, but you can also segment the market by personal values, interest in hot issues such as health concerns, or likelihood of getting savings.
  • Partner with trusted messengers—Larger subsidies and more voluminous mailings don’t necessarily win over more customers. Programs can and should have a local face, with buy-in from community leaders. Tapping trusted parties, such as local leaders and local organizations, builds upon existing relationships and networks.
  • Contractors are program ambassadors—Contractors, more than any other party, are the people sitting across the kitchen counter making the final sales pitch to a homeowner—contractors are often the public face and primary sales force for the program. Most programs that succeed in performing a significant number of energy upgrades have worked closely with contractors. Conversely, poor first impressions or shoddy work by contractors can reflect poorly on the program.
  • One touch is not enough—The advertising industry’s “three-times convincer” concept means that the majority of people need to be exposed to a product message at least three times before they buy into it. Energy efficiency is an especially tough product—it can be expensive and can’t be readily touched, tasted, or seen—and that calls for a layered marketing and outreach approach that achieves multiple touches on potential participants.

Go to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s report>>

More about the research

“Usually, when policymakers address the issue of energy efficiency benefits, they … neglect the issue of how to motivate consumers to take advantage of home energy upgrade programs,” Merrian Fuller, an author of the study and energy analyst in the Berkeley Lab’s Electricity Markets and Policy group, told the New York Times. “This is often a missing element in policy discussions and a primary impetus for us in writing this report.” More…

January 24, 2011