- Which audiences to focus on first
- What messages to tell those audiences
- What strategic approaches to employ to reach them
- Which incentives are needed to help achieve your program goals and objectives
After making marketing and outreach design decisions, you will be able to develop a plan to evaluate the effectiveness of these decisions; develop a marketing and outreach implementation plan; develop resources; and deliver marketing and outreach messages, tactics, and materials to the audience you identify at this stage.
The marketing and outreach steps you will need to make at this stage are:
- Finalize your priority target audiences
- Articulate your program’s value proposition for customers
- Develop messages to motivate action
- Build a consistent brand platform
- Design financial and non-financial incentives
- Communicate your decisions to partners.
Finalize your priority target audiences
Early in the marketing and outreach strategy development phase, you identified and categorized your target audiences into primary audiences, gatekeepers, and influencers. Market segmentation analysis allows you to divide your primary audience into priority audiences. By segmenting the primary audience into priority audiences and learning more about their characteristics, needs, and wants, you will be able to focus your marketing and outreach efforts on subsets of potential customers that may be more inclined to engage with the program and complete a home energy upgrade.
Some examples of effective residential energy efficiency program market segment categories include:
- Demographic characteristics such as income, age, or language spoken in the home
- Attitudes, beliefs, and values
- Age of the house, length of occupancy, and heating fuel type.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, 2012.
Learn more about how to collect this information in the Marketing and Outreach Assess the Market handbook.
To segment your primary audience into priority audiences, you can:
- Define your primary audience narrowly (e.g., single-family homeowners with household incomes greater than $50,000 living in the house less than five years), not broadly (e.g., all single-family homeowners).
- Select a specific, desired customer action that is directly tied to your program’s goals, and determine which of your target audiences are able to take that action. Many programs start with an in-home assessment. Others might have a very specific upgrade in mind. For example, Seattle, Washington’s Community Power Works targeted owners of oil-heated homes in an effort to decommission oil tanks.
This market segmentation can be used to focus your marketing and outreach efforts on priority audiences that show the most potential for change. Success with a core group of early adopters will give you experience and momentum to approach other audiences.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, 2012.
Michigan Saves Taps Credible Faces as Early Adopters
Michigan Saves, formerly BetterBuildings for Michigan, worked with Grand Valley State University (GVSU)—a local employer—and identified 10 to 15 recognizable, credible faces within the campus community including professors, department heads, and administrative staff. The program offered these residents a free home energy assessment in exchange for putting their photograph and a quote on a postcard.
The program distributed these testimonial postcards to faculty and staff via intercampus mail, and these early adopters engaged their colleagues in conversation and spread the word about the program. Michigan Saves leadership felt that having well-respected colleagues within the GVSU community participate in the program and advertise it affirmed the program’s legitimacy to others.
GVSU Testimonial Postcard
Source: Michigan Saves, 2013.
During the five-month outreach campaign, 215 people (nearly 10% of total employees) signed up through GVSU. In addition, 60% of the homeowners who participated in the GVSU program purchased additional upgrades beyond a basic package of energy efficiency measures. This uptake rate was high compared to the program’s experience in other Michigan communities with similar incentives, where on average 44% of homeowners upgraded their homes above the program’s basic package level.
Furthermore, the GVSU partnership was tremendously successful as an inexpensive lead generator, allowing Michigan Saves to spend one-fourth to one-third of the cost per participant for marketing and communications compared to neighborhood sweeps the program was undertaking in communities throughout the state.
Source: It's Academic: BetterBuildings for Michigan Partners With University to Reach Employees, U.S. Department of Energy, 2013.
For more information on market segmentation, including purpose, examples, and methodology, see California Institute for Energy and Environment’s Market Segmentation and Energy Efficiency Program Design report.
With information on your segmented, priority audiences in hand, you will be able to effectively come up with a value proposition that will appeal to these audiences.
Articulate your value proposition for customers
Building off your market segmentation, value propositions succinctly describe the benefits that each priority audience derives from your program. The value proposition answers the question, “What is in it for me?” To articulate your program’s value, consider:
- Creating value proposition statements for each audience segment to help you make decisions about the messaging, strategies, tactics, and incentives used to reach them
- Writing your program’s value proposition statement in first person from the perspective of the priority audience
- Using an if/then sentence structure to formulate a value proposition statement. For example: "If I upgrade my home to be more energy efficient, then I will feel smart and secure because I have joined my neighbors in protecting my investment for the future."
Energize Phoenix Highlights Value Propositions
From being able to afford necessities to saving more money as a result of having a more energy-efficient home, Energize Phoenix highlighted multiple value propositions for completing home energy upgrades to appeal to its various audience segments.
Source: Energize Phoenix, 2014.
Using your audience research, you can develop a value proposition statement for each audience segment and a message map to expand on those propositions. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Message Map and Value Proposition worksheet can help organize this information. With your value propositions outlined, you will be ready to develop messages that motivate action.
Develop messages to motivate action
Understanding what motivates your priority audiences and what prevents them from taking action is crucial to creating succinct and compelling messages that resonate with these individuals and help create demand for your program. By creating strong program messages you can inspire your priority audiences to act.
Convincing homeowners to undertake home energy upgrades can be difficult. Common barriers include:
- Prohibitive upfront cost
- Hassle of understanding the upgrade process
- Lack of understanding about the benefits of home energy upgrades
- Other life events occupying their time and attention.
Your market research is particularly useful during this stage. Use the motivations and barriers identified in your market research to develop compelling messages that reinforce your priority audiences’ interests and break through barriers to compel them to action. For example:
- Recurve, a home performance contractor based in San Francisco, California, found that a significant number of its customers were primarily motivated by health issues due to children with asthma or mold allergies. Read about this example in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s report, Driving Demand for Home Energy Improvements.
- Michigan Saves program staff who spoke to residents during the program’s neighborhood sweeps noted that they had far less success convincing homeowners to sign up for the program when the message was framed around energy efficiency terminology, such as “reducing leakage” in the home. Canvassers felt better received by homeowners when they talked about “comfort” and referred to neighbors down the block who were feeling fewer drafts since their participation in the program.
Making Messages That Motivate
Residential energy efficiency programs around the country have used a variety of messages to create demand for home energy upgrades. Here are a few good rules of thumb when developing messages:
- Sell something people want. Messages about home comfort, cost savings, health, neighbor involvement, and community pride can be effective in engaging potential customers. Promoting upgrades based on improved comfort was a best practice identified by a comprehensive evaluation of over 140 programs across the United States completed in 2015.
- Make your message stand out. Marketing experts estimate that you only have about three to five seconds to catch someone’s attention, so messages and materials need to stand out among the competition and make a strong, immediate, and positive impression on your target audience. The average person can be exposed to up to 5,000 marketing messages each day1, and most of them are for products that are easier to understand than energy efficiency
- Choose words wisely. Avoid technical jargon (e.g., leakage) or words with a negative association (e.g., audit, which can make people think of a tax audit). Use positive words and ways of communicating that tap into customers’ priorities and motivations.
Learn more about creating motivating messages in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Driving Demand for Home Energy Improvements report.
1 Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad, New York Times, 2007.
Use the value proposition that you identified for each priority audience to create a message map. A message map is a one-page document that elaborates on the value proposition of your program. It defines the key program message you wish to communicate and any supporting messages that help make the case for home energy upgrades to your audiences. Keep the following in mind when creating your message map:
- The main message should be simple. It should focus on overcoming the key barriers that prevent a consumer from getting an upgrade.
- Supporting messages should make an emotional connection with the audience, so they can identify with the value proposition and feel compelled to act upon it.
- Messages should sell the benefits of your program, rather than the features, to the priority audience. For example:
- Talk about comfort, lower bills, reduced drafts, and improved indoor air quality.
- Avoid talking about insulation, air sealing, and blower door tests.
- Include facts in your supporting messages that can support your main message.
In addition to helping outline your value proposition for each priority audience, use the U.S. Department of Energy’s Message Map and Value Proposition Worksheet to help determine the key messages to best communicate to your priority audiences.
Armed with the main program message to make the case for home energy upgrades, you will be ready to formulate how to communicate these messages to your audiences.
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program Branding Guide
See page 8 of the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program Branding Guide for messaging examples.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, 2012.
Common Energy Efficiency Message Themes
Consider the following list of energy efficiency message themes as you develop messages that will resonate with your priority audiences based on their characteristics, needs, or wants.
- Increase my family's comfort and well-being
- Make an investment to protect and maintain my most valuable asset: my home
- Take control of my utility bills
- It is simple to upgrade my home, find a contractor I can trust, and qualify for rebates
- The program will oversee the home energy upgrade process and make sure the job is done right
- My neighbors are making home energy upgrades – why shouldn’t I
- Help protect my family’s health from mold, allergies, and asthma
- Join my neighbors in supporting our community and reducing air pollution.
Me. Vs. You: How Pronouns Affect Click Conversion Rates
A test conducted by Unbounce and ContentVerve explored how the pronouns used in marketing messages can impact click rates. How Pronouns Affect Click Conversion Rates (link to C-787) shared the results of testing completed on two Web pages. The page that asked site viewers to "start my free 30-day trial period” resulted in 90% more clicks than the page asking them to "start your free 30-day trial period." If you are urging site visitors to "get your free home energy assessment," a simple adjustment to “get my free home energy assessment” could make a big difference.
Source: ClickZ, “Me vs. You: How Pronouns Affect Click Conversion Rates,” Tim Ash, March 18, 2014.
Your Audience’s Top Priority Is Usually Not Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency is not a priority for many homeowners, but do not be discouraged. You can use this knowledge to your advantage by making the case for energy efficiency and developing messages that resonate with busy homeowners.
Philadelphia EnergyWorks reached out to public transit passengers with messages that appealed to being comfortable at home. This first phase of EnergyWorks’ advertising efforts resulted in 303 completed home energy assessments and 15,000 visits to the EnergyWorks website, helping EnergyWorks raise awareness about the program during this advertising campaign.
See the sample advertisement in this box and get more messaging examples from EnergyWorks in the presentation, Energy Efficiency Residential Marketing Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused.
Philadelphia EnergyWorks Advertisement
Source: Energy Efficiency Residential Marketing Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused, EnergyWorks, 2012.
Build a consistent brand platform
A brand is more than just a logo placed on promotional materials. It is a way of presenting, positioning, and talking about your program to encourage behavior change among target audiences. A strong brand presents clear messaging, images, and a consistent look-and-feel that will resonate with target audiences. Branding guidelines can help establish messages, avoid confusion in the marketplace, and provide a consistent way for staff and partners to communicate program benefits and offerings. Moreover, not implementing a cohesive branding strategy can lead potential customers to overlook your program and force you to work harder to establish credibility and garner attention.
Your brand platform can include the following:
- A summary of research, knowledge, and goals that inform your program’s marketing activities
- The vision for your marketing and outreach
- Target and priority audiences
- Your program’s unique attributes
- Any competition to your efforts (and what sets you apart)
- Specific wording for the key messages everyone should use when talking about the program.
A consistent brand platform provides overall guidance concerning what and how to communicate about your program. This platform will help you maintain a consistent tone, style, look, and feel across all program messages and outreach materials.
- Philadelphia’s EnergyWorks brand and brand image were designed to capture the attention of a wide and varied demographic of homeowners in a busy marketplace. The program created a brand they described as passionate, lively, intelligent, and contemporary. EnergyWorks consistently used this brand on materials developed for various marketing outlets, including online, print, and public displays, which reached hundreds of thousands of potential customers.
- Michigan Saves developed a Brand Standards Tool Kit (link to: C-734) for staff and partners across the state. The toolkit includes instructions and examples of proper logo use as well as the program’s color palette and typography. The toolkit enabled the program to consistently roll out a variety of materials to tens of thousands of homeowners living in 58 different neighborhoods across the state.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, 2012.
Brand Standards Tool Kit
Michigan Saves developed this branding guide for staff so they could consistently use the program’s look and feel, messages, and tone in marketing and outreach materials.
Source: Brand Standards Tool Kit, Michigan Saves, 2010.
Your key program and marketing staff can collaborate on the brand platform using the U.S. Department of Energy’s Creating Your Brand Platform worksheet.
Consider developing branding guidelines for anyone who works on or associates with your program to ensure that your messages and the overall program brand is consistently communicated in materials. Guidelines can include the following:
- Style, tone, and program personality you want to convey through materials
- Specific terminology to use when referring to the program and its services
- Logo and other program marks
- Color palette, photography, and graphic treatments on printed and online materials
- Fonts and typographic treatments
- Appropriate use of the program’s name, messages, facts, and statistics.
Design financial and non-financial incentives
Incentives provide motivation to potential customers to take a certain action by lowering the risk, decreasing the cost, or offering additional benefits. Many residential energy efficiency programs have found incentives to be an effective way to:
- Overcome market barriers
- Attract customer and contractor attention
- Encourage homeowners to invest in home energy assessments and upgrades.
A comprehensive review of 140 residential energy efficiency programs across the country found that successful programs offered incentives, such as rebates, more frequently than other programs. Your program’s incentive structure should aim to achieve a particular outcome based on market characteristics, budget, and barriers in your local market. Many programs have used incentives to achieve a range of outcomes including:
- Motivate homeowners to sign up for the program immediately and move through the process quickly
- Motivate households to move beyond the first step, which is usually a home energy assessment
- Motivate homeowners to invest in more comprehensive home upgrades
- Support contractors and encourage the development of the home performance industry in a new market.
There are a number of ways you can use incentives to motivate potential customers to participate in your program, while using program resources wisely. You may have to experiment to find the right level of incentives to offer, but it is worth noting that the more successful programs reviewed offered lower incentives—about 25% of project costs—than other programs that also had incentives. In other words, price alone isn’t the only issue.
Non-financial incentives offered by a program motivate customers to complete an upgrade by helping them overcome barriers or receive validation for their actions.
- The Denver Energy Challenge offered program participants an energy advisor to help them through the home energy upgrade process. The energy advisor model, which was a marketing strategy implemented in place of door-to-door canvassing, increased program uptake and conversion rates.
- The Small Town Energy Program in University Park, Maryland (STEP UP) provided customers with a yard sign that showed one stage of the upgrade process checked off when the homeowners finished their assessment. The homeowner received an updated yard sign that showed two check marks once they completed their upgrade. Homeowners reported being very excited to get their updated yard sign with a second check mark, showing that the ability to show progress to their neighbors might have been the motivation they needed to help them move from assessment to upgrade.
STEP UP Yard Sign
Source: Small Town Energy Program, University Park, Maryland, 2012.
Are Your Incentives Doing What You Want Them to Do?
“Understanding your objective in offering incentives helps to sort through how rich your incentives should be and how to structure them,” said Dana Fischer, Efficiency Maine residential program manager. If your desired outcome is to motivate homeowners to complete a home energy upgrade, incentives should be aligned with getting homeowners to that step. While many programs offer low-cost home energy assessments as an incentive, other incentives, such as financing, energy advisors, or recognition might also be needed to ensure customers actually complete the home energy upgrade.
Learn more about Maine’s efforts to find the right incentives in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Spotlight on Maine: Transition to a Sustainable Level of Incentives.
Funding for financial incentives is typically limited, so programs need to carefully prioritize if, what, and how much to incent. Although large dollar incentives can spur demand, even these incentives can be ineffective if the program design does not offer a smooth, easy, and positive experience for participants and contractors. Here are a few programs with successful financial incentive offerings:
- Enhabit, formerly Clean Energy Works Oregon, designed rebates based on the predicted level of energy savings of the upgrade (e.g., offering $1,000 more in rebates for upgrades that reached 30% energy savings, compared to 15%). The combination of incentives, program design, and other factors resulted in 85% of participants achieving greater than 30% energy savings during the first two years of the program.
- Efficiency Maine’s Home Energy Savings Program used large incentives during the program launch to create consumer demand for energy improvements and stimulate contractor interest in adapting their business models to accommodate more comprehensive energy upgrades. To ensure program sustainability, Efficiency Maine transitioned from rebate-focused offerings to financing-focused offerings that better aligned with its limited budget. With financing available, participation expanded to households with slightly lower incomes, suggesting that financing allowed lower-income households to participate in the program when they could not have before because they lacked the up-front capital to take advantage of Efficiency Maine’s initial rebate offerings.
- Michigan Saves focused its incentive dollars on completing home energy upgrades rather than on energy assessments and direct install measures, after experimenting with various incentive designs. When they adjusted the program’s incentive structure to focus incentive dollars on home energy upgrades rather than on home energy assessments and direct install measures, program staff saw the conversion rate from assessments to upgrades increase, depending on the neighborhood, from a range of 5-25% up to a range of 30-60%.
Common Residential Energy Efficiency Program Incentives
The following incentives can be offered alone or combined, and can be available for a limited or extended time.
- Credit enhancements to increase accessibility to financing or lower loan interest rates
- Gift for participation (e.g., ENERGY STAR® qualified appliance)
- Interest rate buy-downs for loans through third-party financing
- Low-interest revolving loan funds
- Public recognition (e.g., lawn signs, certificates).
- Adjusted for household income
- Based on project cost (such as 10% of the job cost)
- Based on project performance (such as $1,000 for 15% savings)
- For defined packages of measures
- For individual measures
- Reduced-cost or free offers
- Direct install measures
Contractors Can Benefit From Incentives Too
Some programs offer contractor incentives, such as training subsidies or equipment loans, to make it easier for contractors to participate, gain necessary skills and certifications, and deliver more energy savings for customers. Learn more about contractor incentives in the Contractor Engagement and Workforce Make Design Decisions handbook.
Communicate your decisions to partners
Once your marketing and outreach design decisions have been made, engage your stakeholders—those entities and communities that the program impacts and who in turn impact the program—concerning messages that will motivate those audiences. Tapping into their knowledge of your customer can help save time and effort in the long run.
Tips for Success
Adapt messages to your primary target audience’s needs
Many programs found that market research can help identify, segment, and characterize audiences to understand how to prioritize them. A comprehensive evaluation of over 140 programs across the United States found that programs had greater success when they identified specific target populations within their larger target area, then tailored their outreach to the size of the target populations. Consider prioritizing audiences based on parameters such as demographics, values, housing type, fuel source, potential for savings, common problems with homes, property ownership structure, or program entry point (e.g., remodeling opportunities). For a starting point in your targeting efforts, look online for existing market segmentation data (e.g., municipal records, Zillow, a Nielsen segmentation system called PRIZM, U.S. Census Bureau).
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, 2012.
- The ShopSmart with JEA program in Jacksonville, Florida, purchased Neilson PRIZM lifestyle segmentation data, which included demographic, consumer behavior, and geographic information, to identify, understand, and reach potential home energy upgrade customers. The data divided consumers into 66 demographically and behaviorally distinct segments. Through this market analysis, ShopSmart with JEA discovered that out of those segments, one of the most promising demographics to market its program offerings was older people without children. ShopSmart was able to use this information to market the program specifically to this demographic, as well as identify and target new demographics that had not been active in the program previously.
- In Seattle, Washington, owners of oil-heated homes are ineligible for city-sponsored electric and gas utility rebates. Community Power Works purchased a mailing list from Data Marketing, Inc., that identified all owners of oil-heated homes in the city so the program could reach this previously untapped market. Given the lower efficiency and high cost of heating oil, the program recognized the energy and cost savings potential for these Seattle homeowners and engaged them in undertaking home energy upgrades by focusing outreach on the potential dollar savings that could be achieved by replacing old oil heaters. More than 700 Community Power Works customers who received the mailing then signed up for upgrades between April and August 2012. In the 11 months prior to the first mailing, only 20% of Community Power Works' upgrade projects involved oil-heated homes, and during the six months following the mailing, 50% of the homes were oil-heated. Among those homes, nearly 75% switched from oil heating to high-efficiency electric heating or high-efficiency electric heat pumps, as of mid-December 2012.
- California utilities provided several examples of market segmentation that targeted energy efficiency programs. The report “Market Segmentation and Energy Efficiency Program Design” by the California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE) provides an overview of market segmentation purposes, examples, and methodologies. Another CIEE report, “Behavior Assumptions Underlying California Residential Sector Energy Efficiency Programs,” examines how to influence customer behavior and choice.
Target program messages to what customers want, not what the program does. Although residential energy efficiency programs deliver energy efficiency services, customers are more likely to respond to offers of comfort, cost savings, increased home value, health, community pride, or something else they need and value.
- The RePower program in Washington state customized its marketing and outreach strategies to reach the environmentally conscious residents of Bainbridge Island, Washington, and Bremerton, Washington, a neighboring community with a lower income demographic. In Bainbridge, messaging focused on environmental stewardship, and an Island Energy Dashboard displayed real-time energy use in public spaces, such as local businesses and commuter ferries. Messaging geared toward Bremerton residents, meanwhile, emphasized job creation and reduced utility bills. Each location had its own community-specific website, color scheme, print advertising, online promotions, and case studies highlighting local energy champions to drive demand for residential energy upgrades.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, 2012.
- In Florida, solar energy is in high demand, so the Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF) used this as a gateway to reach homeowners. Through SELF, homeowners could receive a loan for solar energy upgrades after meeting certain energy efficiency thresholds. For example, if a home energy assessment showed that the home's envelope was already sealed (or would be sealed as part of the work), a homeowner could qualify for a loan for solar panels offered by the program.
Partner with organizations or individuals that customers already trust
Many programs found it useful to partner with a range of trusted organizations or individuals to market program offerings to their constituencies or followers. Better Buildings Neighborhood Program participants enhanced their marketing and outreach efforts by partnering with trusted local groups including:
- Community-based organizations and nonprofit organizations
- Large employers, such as local universities
- Respected members of the community (e.g., local elected officials, company executives, community opinion leaders)
- Utilities or fuel dealers.
Using partners’ existing communications channels proved helpful for many programs. They found that marketing and outreach materials could be more effective when a potential customer received them from an organization with which they had an existing relationship. Engaging credible messengers in program promotion could also help influence individuals in those messengers’ social networks to undertake upgrades.
- Housing agency NeighborWorks of Western Vermont found that residents of Rutland County, a small, rural community, consider neighbors to be the most trusted messengers, rather than the local government, federal government, or utilities. The program enlisted respected local citizens and organizations to work phone banks and spread the word about home energy upgrade opportunities. This effort helped the program connect with low- and moderate-income homeowners and complete nearly 200 home energy upgrades just six months after the program began promoting its services to the community.
- When Better Buildings Program San Jose in California set out to encourage homeowners to undertake home energy upgrades, it joined forces with trusted community-based organizations to accomplish its goals. The program knew that religious organizations not only shared its mission but also had the ability to help. The City of San Jose previously worked in these communities with its partner, the Strong Neighborhoods Initiative, and was able to leverage the trust and goodwill generated by this program to increase its access to partners for the home energy upgrade program. The Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church lent its office space free of charge to Better Buildings Program San Jose, which saved overhead costs and allowed program staff to host meetings with homeowners to discuss their energy upgrade options and schedule home energy assessments. Additional events were held at a Boys and Girls Club in the community. Partnering with highly regarded organizations in the community enhanced the trustworthiness and visibility of the program.
- According to the Small Town Energy Program for University Park (STEP-UP) in Maryland, “low-cost social marketing using trusted, established neighborhood channels was the comparative advantage of the small town model” to catalyze homeowner action to upgrade their residences. STEP-UP’s social marketing approach included:
- Town events
- Direct mailing
- STEP house parties
- Yard signs
- Neighbor-to-neighbor outreach
This social marketing approach proved to be effective and low-cost. STEP-UP’s marketing budget was just 3% of its overall program budget and resulted in 30% of town households signing up to participate in the program.
Foster “word of mouth” communication from satisfied customers
Programs found that encouraging word of mouth outreach by asking satisfied customers to promote their program experience to peers helped attract more homeowners who completed energy upgrades. Referrals from neighbors and friends who are happy with their energy improvements can provide a good source of leads. Marketing materials can feature homeowner testimonials about real benefits to build community trust in the program and enhance energy efficiency awareness efforts.
The research paper, Environmental Sustainability and Behavioral Science: Meta-Analysis of Proenvironmental Behavior Experiments, analyzed the most effective methods for encouraging environmentally sustainable behaviors. The authors define “social modeling” as the passing of information via demonstration or discussion in which the participants indicate that they personally engage in the behavior. This concept can be one of the most effective behavioral tactics for promoting home energy efficiency. Many programs found that homeowners are more likely to participate after hearing neighbors or peers describe their experience and how they benefited.
- As part of its efforts conducting “neighborhood sweeps” to test various outreach strategies in 58 different neighborhoods across the state, Michigan Saves regional coordinators learned that preparing neighborhoods for the sweep was essential. To prime neighborhoods for sweeps, the program first worked with early adopters, who were trusted, high profile people who could publicly vouch for and perhaps canvas neighborhoods for the program. In some cases, the early adopter was from a neighborhood church, and in others, the community trusted their mayor, local council, or a nonprofit organization. These early adopters helped spread the word about Michigan Saves, formerly BetterBuildings for Michigan, by encouraging colleagues to sign up for the program at community events, meetings, press events, and in printed marketing materials and written testimonials on websites. Brochures and word-of-mouth recommendations doubled and tripled sign-up rates, respectively. Regional coordinators based their marketing plans on using these trusted messengers in letters, case studies, community meetings, and canvassing efforts.
Source: Michigan Saves
- Using social media such as Facebook, the Milwaukee Energy Efficiency program (Me2) promoted “referral rewards” to customers who recruited their friends and family to sign up for the program. Homeowners would enter their friend’s contact information into the Refer a Friend section of the Me2 website. In return for providing this lead to the program, the homeowner received one free LED light bulb. If the friend signed up for the program, they would both receive $50.
Language matters – use words that resonate with your target audience
Words have power, so many programs decided to use language with positive associations. For example, the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program encouraged use of the term "assessment" instead of "audit" to avoid the negative connotation of a tax audit. "Home energy upgrade" sounds more positive than "retrofit," a term that might not be clear to the average consumer or may imply something old that underwent makeshift improvements in order to work.
Programs found it was important to create messages and materials that resonated with homeowners. Messages were more likely to be well received if the messenger sounded and looked like the target audience. Vivid examples (e.g., "home performance professionals are mechanics for your home") and statements of avoided loss rather than gain (e.g., "until you get the flue fixed, your hard-earned cash is flying right up that chimney") worked better to inspire potential customers to participate. A comprehensive evaluation of more than 140 programs across the United States found that successful programs were more likely than others to promote upgrades on the basis of increased comfort.
- Michigan Saves program staff who spoke directly to residents while canvassing homes during neighborhood "sweeps" initially found little success convincing homeowners to sign up for the program. The problem was that their messages were framed around energy savings and environmental benefits, and they used energy efficiency jargon, such as "reducing leakage" in the home. Once the program reframed its messages around comfort and lower heating bills, canvassers felt better received by the homeowners; they also talked about specific neighbors down the block who were feeling fewer drafts since their participation in the program.
- Philadelphia's EnergyWorks married comfort with value in their online advertising’s weather-focused messaging, which included phrases like "Lower utility bills, warmer cocoa breaks." From October 15 through December 15, 2011, when these advertisements ran, the program received 9,350 website visitors, 77% of who were reported as new visitors.
Motivate action through financial incentives and time-limited offers
Incentives can be the easiest approach to overcome motivation barriers and attract customers’ and contractors’ attention, as long as the upgrade and reimbursement processes are kept simple and easy to follow. Successful programs have found incentives help entice customers to complete upgrades, particularly during limited time offers when a deadline further motivates action. Because incentives are expensive for programs, determining the minimum level needed to achieve your goals or offering incentives for limited periods can be important strategies for success. Also, according to a comprehensive evaluation of more than 140 programs, successful programs were able to offer lower incentives than other programs that also had incentives.
- Efficiency Maine used large incentives during the program launch to create consumer demand for energy improvements and stimulate contractors’ interest in adapting their business models to accommodate more comprehensive energy upgrades. From January 2010 through May 2011, homeowners could receive a rebate for 30% of project costs, which could total up to $1,500 for comprehensive projects that were projected to achieve at least 25% energy savings. To further motivate consumer and contractor action, Efficiency Maine launched an additional, limited-time $1,000 bonus incentive in the summer of 2010. As Efficiency Maine’s rebate funds wound down in spring 2011, the program underwent a one-month transition period during which customers could qualify for both rebates and financing. This approach, in addition to contractor sales training, residential direct installs, and other program design features, contributed to the creation of a successful market for residential energy efficiency in Maine. Learn more in the U.S. Department of Energy case study, Spotlight on Maine: Transition to a Sustainable Level of Incentives.
- Michigan Saves, formerly BetterBuildings for Michigan, focused its incentive dollars on completing home energy upgrades rather than on energy assessments and direct install measures, after experimenting with various incentive designs from November 2010 through March 2012. When they adjusted the program’s incentive structure in this way, program staff saw the conversion rate from assessments to upgrades increase, depending on the neighborhood, from a range of 5-25% up to a range of 30-60%. The incentives for deeper energy upgrade packages, including air sealing and duct sealing, seemed to attract a higher percentage of the eligible population—20% to 30% participation for a package valued at around $1,000 versus 10% to 15% participation for a package valued at around $350. Learn more in the U.S. Department of Energy case study, Spotlight on BetterBuildings for Michigan: Experiment to Find the Right Mix of Incentives.
- To develop momentum for its Clean Energy Accelerator program, Austin Energy started off with a 3-month Best Offer Ever promotion from October 1 through December 31, 2010, that offered a combination of rebates from local utilities that varied based on work performed and interest rates that were bought down to 0%, representing an additional $1,200 in incentives per household compared to Austin Energy's typical offer. Contractors completed comprehensive energy upgrades in a record 568 homes in the six months after the campaign launch.
- In addition to its base rebate levels, Enhabit, formerly Clean Energy Works Oregon, offered limited-time bonus rebates on top of its $2,000 base rebates ($500 for the assessment and up to $1,500 for the upgrades) to grab the attention of potential customers. The first limited-time promotion occurred in spring 2011 and offered an additional $1,700 to the program’s base rebate. The second promotion was offered in March and April 2012 and added $500 to the base rebate. The program found that repeatedly offering bonus promotions attracted the attention of new customers each time, even as the program reduced the dollar amount of the bonus from $1,700 to $500.
Enhabit’s Applications, Assessments, Upgrades, and Loans Per Month
(March 2011 - July 2012)
Source: Spotlight on Portland, Oregon: Use Incentives to Get Attention and Encourage Deep Savings, U.S. Department of Energy, 2011.
Programs often discover that offering limited time incentives can bring about a sizable surge in assessment and upgrade requests. A few programs found that they were not sufficiently prepared for the additional work and lost interested customers because they could not get back to them quickly. Some programs added temporary staff for call centers when a big push was set to take place, or created a temporary pool of contractors to help with increased workloads; others scheduled their incentives to coincide with seasonal capacity.
- NeighborWorks of Western Vermont’s (NWWVT) Home Energy Assistance Team (H.E.A.T. Squad) incentivized homeowners to complete a home energy assessment by offering the assessment for $50, which was $200 less than the typical evaluation cost offered to Vermont residents through Efficiency Vermont. One year in, the program found that its contractors were struggling to keep up with surging demand for home energy upgrades. In 2011, NWWVT established LaborWorks@NeighborWorks (LaborWorks) as a nonprofit temporary labor pool to assist professional contractors involved with the H.E.A.T. Squad during busy periods when they could not keep up with demand or hire full-time help. The extra staffing helped reduce the number of backlogged projects.
- When planning its Best Offer Ever promotion, Austin Energy collaborated with contractors to account for their seasonal workload and launched the promotion during the fall and winter, typically the slow season for contractors in an otherwise sunny and hot region of Texas. This careful timing increased the likelihood of upgrades being completed in a timely manner and helped contractors avoid seasonal layoffs. Contractors completed comprehensive energy upgrades in a record 568 homes in the six months after the campaign launch.
Conduct one-on-one outreach where people gather at their own homes
Programs that conducted one-on-one outreach found that community events provided good opportunities for the program and its partners to connect and build credibility with potential customers. Particularly successful events were ones that attracted the program’s target audience and aligned with their program's messaging—such as an Earth Day celebration, home improvement expo, or green fair—because these events had established participants.
Programs found events to be the most successful when the program provided the opportunity for interested homeowners to take action (e.g., sign up for a neighbor-hosted information session, schedule a home energy assessment) right on the spot. Every program found that some events they thought would be great actually deliver fewer leads than expected, so it is important to track the number of leads and program participants that result from each event to determine the effectiveness of participating.
Neighborhood canvasses or "sweeps," were another tactic used by some programs to directly reach potential customers. Sweeps can be time- and labor-intensive undertakings that some programs found to have the greatest impact when targeting specific communities likely to participate in the program. Sweeps were successful for some programs, but not all. A comprehensive evaluation of more than 140 programs across the country suggests that programs engage in a concerted priming effort in the target area before canvassing the neighborhood. Learn more about neighborhood sweeps in the Marketing and Outreach Develop Implementation Plans handbook.
- Energize Phoenix held a community energy efficiency exhibit and contractor fair at the local library to promote its "One Day Only" financial incentives of up to $3,000 per home. Sixteen out of 25 approved contractors participated. More than 500 people attended, 125 homeowners signed up for a home energy assessment on the spot, and the program noted an impressive 58% conversion rate from home energy assessments to home energy upgrades.
Source: Energize Phoenix
- Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s Neighborhood Program—a Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partner in California—promoted its home energy upgrade program at high school fundraisers, outdoor concerts, homeowner association meetings, parent-teacher association meetings, car shows, and other community events. The program sent direct mail pieces to invite homeowners to attend, speak directly to the participating contractors, and sign up for a free home energy assessment at the event. At some events program staff also had activities for children and prizes or giveaways for homeowners who signed up for their free assessment. The program found that 65% of homeowners who heard about the program did so through these community events.
Communicate with audiences at least three times; once is not enough
All residential energy efficiency programs have found that outreach needs to be repeated to connect with and remind potential participants about program offerings. As marketing gurus note, the majority of people need to be exposed to a product message at least three times (on separate occasions) to buy into it. The more time between communications, or “touches,” the less likely the customer will take action. Some programs even coordinated marketing strategies with partners, so that potential customers get multiple, complementary touches from different communication channels or groups.
- NOLA WISE (New Orleans, Louisiana, Worthwhile Investments Save Energy) used a combination of traditional paid media, grassroots outreach, and earned media outlets to communicate with its audience. The program generated the highest number of high-quality leads through its homeowner showcases, which were events held at the home of a resident who completed upgrades. The NOLA Wise team and contractors were on hand to highlight the completed home energy upgrades and educate attendees on how to make their own homes more comfortable and energy efficient. NOLA WISE’s homeowner showcases were promoted through neighborhood canvassing, electronic newsletters, social media, collaboration with nearby neighborhood associations, and earned media strategies.
- To promote its residential direct install (RDI) program, Efficiency Maine combined radio advertising with strategically placed Web banners, print, and movie theater advertising to reach the program's target audience. Demand from the radio ads became so rampant, according to program administrators, that Efficiency Maine was able to halt marketing and continue getting RDI customers through word-of-mouth referrals. Asking customers how they heard about the program in preparation for the program's process evaluation helped Efficiency Maine determine where referrals heard about the program.
- Philadelphia's EnergyWorks promoted its program through a multi-phased advertisement plan. This first phase focused on radio and weather-related websites to take advantage of peoples' moods during specific weather conditions, which resulted in 15,000 visits to the EnergyWorks website and 303 completed home energy assessments. The second phase used print, online, and regional rail marketing materials to create a sense of urgency to compel consumers to act on their immediate needs by introducing the benefits of energy efficiency. In its third phase, EnergyWorks' advertising continued to emphasize the value and comfort of energy efficiency upgrades, and introduced an educational component that defined some common home energy upgrade terms, such as insulation and air sealing, in ways customers could understand.
EnergyWorks Aligns Advertisements With Weather
Source: Energy Efficiency Residential Marketing Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. EnergyWorks, 2012.
These EnergyWorks online banner ads rotated on accuweather.com during days with anticipated temperatures of 85 degrees or above.
Follow through with customers
Following up on leads that result from your marketing and outreach efforts quickly and consistently will help your program convert them from interested parties to satisfied customers. Many programs found a sizable drop-off in action if they or their contractors were not able to follow up within a few days to a week. Additionally, contacting initially interested participants regularly (e.g., through a monthly email, with a phone call every few months) was also a successful strategy for turning potential customers into paying customers.
- BetterBuildings for Michigan saw more homeowners undertake upgrades in cities where it held a neighborhood sweep and followed the sweep with a city-wide offering a year later. While the program initially planned for a timeframe of four to six weeks for homeowners to decide whether or not to undertake a home energy upgrade, following up with customers after giving them time to better understand the program’s offer helped BetterBuildings for Michigan achieve success. Based on the success of the initial follow-up offers, BetterBuildings for Michigan lengthened the time for each sweep to a full year. Overall, the program was able to complete nearly 8,000 home energy assessments and more than 6,300 home energy upgrades.
One successful approach programs used to maintain this connection was through energy advisors who followed up with homeowners after their initial interest and coached them through the home energy upgrade process.
- The Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance (GCEA) realized that many of the homeowners who signed up to learn more about the program were getting stuck between creating their online profile to initiate program participation and completing a home energy assessment, and then between the energy assessment and home energy upgrade stages. Instead of accepting these customers as losses, GCEA had its full-time energy advisor make phone calls to each of these customers to learn why they were not completing their home energy assessments or upgrades and to explain to customers how to move on to the next stage. By explaining the entire upgrade process to individuals, GCEA was able to ensure that potential customers did not drop out of the program simply because their questions were not answered, they did not understand how the program worked, or they forgot that they signed up in the first place. Of the customers the energy advisor contacted, 50% who completed assessments followed through to complete home energy upgrades.
- The Denver Energy Challenge provided customers with free energy advisors who recommended energy improvements and guided participants through the process. The program found that those advisors with a background in customer service had a better conversion rate than those whose expertise focused on building science. Overall, three out of every four customers who worked with an energy advisor went on to complete a home energy upgrade. Although not all participants made all of the improvements recommended at once, because Denver’s energy advisors kept in touch with participants, program staff reported that many homeowners completed additional upgrades later on in the process.
- Connecticut’s Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge used energy advisors and a customer management database to help ensure that their contractors were following up on leads and following through with customers in a timely manner. Through weekly meetings with contractors and daily monitoring of contractor activities, the program’s energy advisors made sure contractors were leading potential customers through the program’s next steps. The program set up its database to send automatic reminders to contractors when they needed to take a new step with the homeowner. This regular follow-up helped ensure that homeowners heard back from contractors within a certain number of days, depending on where they were in the process.
- Michigan Saves, formerly BetterBuildings for Michigan, saw more homeowners undertake upgrades in cities where it held a neighborhood sweep and followed the sweep with a city-wide offering a year later. While the program initially planned for a timeframe of four to six weeks for homeowners to decide whether or not to undertake a home energy upgrade, following up with customers after giving them time to better understand the program’s offer helped Michigan Saves achieve success. Based on the success of the initial follow-up offers, Michigan Saves lengthened the time for each sweep to a full year. Overall, the program was able to complete nearly 8,000 home energy assessments and more than 6,300 home energy upgrades.
Make upgrade benefits visible by showcasing completed projects and actual results
Unlike remodeling projects, home energy upgrade benefits are generally not immediately visible to the casual observer. Strategies that demonstrate tangible benefits from upgrades can help increase understanding and motivation with potential customers. To help energy efficiency become real, some programs successfully used house parties and demonstration homes to show potential customers what a home energy assessment or upgrade entails. In some cases, the hosts of these events were interested or satisfied customers who invited friends and neighbors, allowing the program to leverage word-of-mouth marketing from trusted sources. Program staff and a contractor were typically present to walk the attendees through a home energy assessment of the house or, when showing an upgraded home, point out the home performance measures that were installed.
California Puts Homes on Display
Source: California Center for Sustainable Energy
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, 2012.
- During a one-year "house party" initiative, Energy Impact Illinois worked with trusted neighborhood champions to host more than 650 house parties, which enabled more than 3,000 Chicago homeowners, neighbors, and friends to see for themselves what energy efficiency upgrades can mean to a home. Each gathering included a real-time energy assessment demonstration on the homeowner’s home, and the opportunity for attendees to sign up for their own assessment or upgrade. Program administrators estimated that more than 900 house party participants completed upgrades. Learn more in the Focus Series interview with Energy Impact Illinois.
- The California Center for Sustainable Energy, which manages a residential energy efficiency program in San Diego, partnered with municipalities to conduct demonstration home tours, which successfully promoted both energy assessments and the contractors who performed them. During the tours, neighbors heard testimonials from demonstration homeowners, took a firsthand look at contractors' work, asked questions of the contractors who installed the upgrades, learned about available incentives, and had an opportunity to sign up for an energy assessment of their own home. Between January 28 (when the initiative formally launched) and April 21, 2012, about 25% of the home tour participants signed up for a home energy assessment with a contractor.
- NOLA WISE (New Orleans, Louisiana, Worthwhile Investments Save Energy) generated its highest number of high-quality leads through its Homeowner Showcases. NOLA WISE organized and promoted the open house events, which were hosted by homeowners who completed home energy upgrades. The NOLA Wise team and contractors were present to highlight the completed home energy upgrades and educate attendees on how to make their own homes more comfortable and energy efficient. The program saw an uptick in home energy assessment requests in neighborhoods where these events were held.
Provide expertise and newsworthy stories to media outlets to garner earned media coverage
Many successful programs found that getting media attention for their offerings and benefits helped add credibility to marketing efforts and expand their reach. By positioning "green" stories or home improvement mini-segments on local television or radio stations, they provided timely content that generated interest in their programs' services (e.g., a story about how to cool homes in a heat wave).
Although television coverage or advertising may not always generate immediate leads, it can increase program recognition and lay the groundwork for future leads. Successful programs also tracked where customers heard about their program to understand which outlets were working (e.g., by including promotional codes on materials and asking for the code when potential customers call or visit the program's website).
- The media is often interested in stories about the first or the biggest, or about breaking thresholds. The Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance used its 1,000th upgrade milestone as the basis for a press conference, which garnered newspaper and television coverage for the program and its satisfied customers.
- Virginia's Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP) earned media attention for its "house doctor," Guy Caroselli. As an expert on building science and energy efficiency, Mr. Caroselli hosted a weekly radio show, provided home improvement advice at events, and wrote a blog to address recurring issues for contractors and homeowners. Putting a voice with specific expertise in home improvement added a great deal of credibility and human interest to LEAP's outreach efforts.
LEAP's House Doctor Is In
Source: Local Energy Alliance Program
LEAP's "House Doctor" creative approach to providing advice on home energy efficiency garnered media attention for the program.
- The Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF) in St. Lucie County, Florida, was able to capture media coverage by continuously refreshing its messages and maintaining a tone of "new-ness" to what the program was doing. SELF found that highlighting "first" experiences (e.g., its first Community Reinvestment Act loan, the county's first property assessed clean energy [PACE] program) was key to this approach. As these first experiences are hard to maintain over time, the organization also drew attention to milestones such as its 200th client or hitting a $2 million dollar mark in its lending. Finally, SELF shifted from its own success to highlighting the success of others related to its efficiency program and sharing stories about its customers as well as its affiliated contractors. By stressing that SELF was the local community's nonprofit and that the successes achieved were not only for SELF but for the community as a whole, this engaged the local media over time.
Last Updated: 03/28/2016