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Energy Efficiency: The Emotional Appeal

Posted by Suzanne Shelton

Jul 18, 2014 1:09:40 PM

IF YOU'VE SEEN any of our presentations, read any of our articles or talked with anyone from Shelton Group, you know we believe there is no silver bullet message when it comes to selling energy efficiency. There are distinctly different emotional drivers for at least four distinctly different types of home-owning Americans.

But what if you had to come up with a message that would work more broadly across multiple audiences? There are a few that will work at the top of the funnel—in other words, to attract initial prospects into conversation with you. From there, you’ll improve your chances of closing the sale if you can drill down to messaging that fits for your prospect’s specific emotional drivers. Before we get into those, though, let’s recap why simply promising “saving money” isn’t good enough.


“Save money” has become wallpaper
If you ask Americans to name their number one reason to participate in energy efficiency, they’ll say, “To save money.” When we test specific messages and ask, “Which of these would be most effective in persuading homebuyers or homeowners to spend $1,500 for energy-efficient home features?” the answers are all about the savings:

  • 26 percent say the best message is “Efficient homes have lower utility bills.”
  • 18 percent say the best message is “An investment of $1,500 would, on average, be paid back within two years through reduced energy costs.”

It would be reasonable to look at the results from these two questions and come away with the conclusion: “We only need to communicate the savings!” But that would be wrong. First of all, that’s what everyone is doing. And it’s become like wallpaper. Everywhere you turn, you see claims like, “Replace [this] and save 20 percent on your energy bill!” Americans are doubtful, because half of us claim to have made one to three energy efficiency improvements to our homes, and yet 63 percent of those of us who’ve made that effort report that our utility bills have gone up, not down.

Second, this kind of simple “Save X percent!” message sets us up for failure. A family could save 20 percent with a top-of-the-line HVAC system if they use it properly and if their home has proper duct sealing and insulation. But that’s often not the case. Many homeowners buy a new system and set their thermostats four degrees cooler than they used to because they think they can do so without increasing their costs. Plus, there is a misperception that the savings are cumulative—and they’re obviously not.

Finally, saving money is a lovely rational message, but it doesn’t hold much emotional pull. As human beings, we make decisions based on emotions as much as, if not more than, fact. If you’re going to talk about money, loss triggers a stronger reaction than gain. So the idea of losing money can actually be more emotionally compelling than the idea of saving money at some point in the future.

Losing is more powerful than saving
Digging into that notion a bit more, “Having an efficient home allows you to not waste money or resources” was the third-most appealing message for convincing someone to spend $1,500 on energy-efficient home features. Beyond the basic notion of “Yikes! I don’t want to lose something I already have!” this is also a really nice “blended driver” message whose meaning seemed to vary in the eye of the beholder. Those who were more conservative/monetarily driven liked it, but so did those who were driven more by environmental conservation. That makes it a great umbrella message to use when you don’t know which type of consumer you’re talking to.

What women want
Speaking of the consumer you’re talking to, we’ve seen for years that women are often the instigators of energy-efficient improvements, and the ones likely to ask about it in the purchase of a brand new home. Women respond differently to the messages we test than men, so when talking to women—again, without knowing anything else about their deeper drivers, just simply looking at appealing higher-level messaging—go with:

  • “Having an efficient home is one way to help improve the environment.”
  • “An efficient home allows you to set your thermostat to a more comfortable setting without increasing your utility bill.”
  • “An efficient home is a healthier home.”
  • “An efficient home helps my family feel cozy and warm.”

Comfort is king
Comfort is not a new messaging platform for energy-efficient products and services. However, it’s rarely executed well. It’s most often presented as a secondary, throwaway line: “Reduce your energy bills and make your home more comfortable with energy-efficient windows!” It’s rarely the primary or singular message. A well-designed campaign built solely around comfort can be even more effective than the traditional (tired) “Save money!” approach.

Comfort has a very strong emotional pull for two segments, in particular: women and seniors. Women are concerned about the health and well-being of their families. Drafts and cold rooms are a threat to good health and run counter to the desire to provide a safe, cozy home for their loved ones.

Seniors are also seeking a healthy, cozy environment, and are sometimes more sensitive to temperature fluctuations. A campaign specifically targeting upscale seniors that focuses on the comfort benefits of energy efficiency could have a strong impact.

So stop pushing savings, and start pushing loss avoidance and comfort. That’ll give you an excellent head start toward building the trust and connection you need to close the sale.

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