Home energy upgrades can create greater comfort, improve indoor air quality, and significantly reduce utility bills. Despite these benefits, many people are still unaware of why and how they should invest in energy efficiency for their homes.
Effective marketing and outreach motivates a consumer to invest in home energy upgrades, creating demand for services. Successful strategies provide information that resonates with target audiences in compelling ways, such as positioning your offerings as a solution to a problem many homeowners do not realize can be solved with energy efficiency improvements.
Successful marketing and outreach campaigns use various strategies to repeatedly reach out to target audiences to build awareness and drive residents toward investing in home energy upgrades. Effective programs use a mix of market research, targeted messaging, outreach efforts, partnerships, paid media, public relations, and social marketing. Note, however, that no two programs are the same, and what works for one may not work for another.
Marketing and outreach are critical to getting the message out, but they will not result in success on their own. Important ingredients for significant program impact include a streamlined upgrade process and customer experience that is simple for homeowners; incentives and access to affordable financing that enable customers to pay for upgrades; and a well-trained workforce able and ready to complete home energy assessments and upgrades.
The Marketing and Outreach component provides program administrators with strategies to:
- Define marketing and outreach goals and objectives based on an assessment of the market to help identify target audiences.
- Identify and collaborate on marketing and outreach with current and potential partners.
- Make design decisions about the program’s marketing and outreach activities and create a plan to meet the program’s marketing and outreach goals and objectives.
- Formulate a plan for evaluating the marketing and outreach program.
- Develop your program’s brand and promote it consistently in your program’s materials.
- Implement your outreach campaigns, with a plan to regularly assess and improve your strategies and processes.
- Communicate outreach results to partners and other stakeholders.
Step by Step
The following are important stages for successful program administrators to follow when implementing Marketing & Outreach activities; however, no two programs are the same, and program administrators need to take into account the unique aspects of their market to create the most effective approach possible. Select each stage to access its handbook.
- Assess the Market
Identify and prioritize potential target audiences based on their likely receptivity to your program’s services.
- Set Goals & Objectives
Establish specific marketing and outreach goals, objectives, targets, and timeframes.
- Identify Partners
Establish relationships with organizations that will assist with program marketing and outreach.
- Make Design Decisions
Decide on priority target audience segments, messages, and incentives that will motivate customers.
- Develop Implementation Plans
Develop a marketing and outreach plan that details your strategies and tactics, workflows and timelines, staff roles and responsibilities, and budget.
- Develop Evaluation Plans
Develop a plan and metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing and outreach strategies.
- Develop Resources
Create your program's branding guidelines and materials to elevate program visibility and support your marketing and outreach efforts.
- Deliver Program
Implement marketing and outreach activities in coordination with other program components to generate demand for your program's services.
- Assess & Improve Processes
Monitor the effectiveness of marketing and outreach strategies and adapt as needed.
- Communicate Impacts
Communicate marketing and outreach results internally and to partners.
Key steps and topics for marketing energy efficiency programs to homewoners and driving demand for home upgrades
Tips for Success
In recent years, hundreds of communities have been working to promote home energy upgrades through programs such as the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, Home Performance with ENERGY STAR, utility-sponsored programs, and others. The following tips present the top lessons these programs want to share related to this handbook. This list is not exhaustive.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The following resources provide topical information related to this handbook. The resources include a variety of information ranging from case studies and examples to presentations and webcasts. The U.S. Department of Energy does not endorse these materials.
The City of Fort Collins, Colorado increased the number of homes that are energy efficient through the use of community-based social marketing. Strategies to maximize impact included identifying neighborhoods based on data analysis, simplifying the process for completing upgrades, and using trusted messengers for delivery of tailored messages on energy efficiency services.
This case study describes Austin Energy's short-term, comprehensive rebate/financing offer to jump-start participation and valuable lessons learned along the way.
This marketing plan describes a social mobilization approach that leverages social networking, including social media, and word-of-mouth marketing to raise awareness and drive customers to program services. It provides strategies and tactics to target audiences most likely to participate, building on market research and audience segmentation to develop a message platform specifically designed to address their key motivating factors and barriers.
New York State Energy Research & Development Authority Task Work Order Request Integrated Marketing Communications Program for Green Jobs - Green New York Marketing Program
Request for Proposals for the EnergyWorks Public Information and Marketing Campaign for the City of Philadelphia
Request for Proposals: Development and Execution of the Communications Strategy for the Chicago Region Retrofit Ramp-Up (CR3) Program
This presentation discusses how Clean Energy Durham focuses on getting neighbors to talk to neighbors about energy efficiency to drive demand.
California Public Utilities Commission Five-Year Marketing, Education and Outreach (ME&O) Strategic Roadmap
The goal of the Marketing Education & Outreach (ME&O) Program is to motivate consumers to take action on energy efficiency/conservation measures and change their behavior. The program strives to both increase consumer awareness and facilitate the ability to act and incorporate technological advances or behavior change using all available resources to reduce energy and choose clean energy options. This Five-Year ME&O Strategic Roadmap includes two main sections: (1) the objectives, strategies, and metrics for customer engagement and how these strategies will lead greenhouse gas reduction and energy efficiency goals of the California Public Utilities Commission.
This summary from a Better Buildings Residential Network peer exchange call focused on how to identify stakeholders and map them to determine the best engagement strategy.
This summary from a Better Buildings Residential Network peer exchange call focused on using tailored messaging and approaches to meet the unique needs of families. Building Doctors is the featured speaker.
This summary from a Better Buildings Residential Network peer exchange call focused on the benefits, challenges, messaging and imagery of different social media campaigns.
Shout it from the Mountaintops!: Working with Your Communications Team to Tell Your Energy Efficiency Success Story
Capturing the story behind energy savings projects helps catapult a culture around planning future projects, funding them, and growing a team's value in your company or organization. This webcast features media experts giving tips on telling your tale.
This summary from a Better Buildings Residential Network peer exchange call emphasizes the health benefits of upgrades to make your program relevant to potential partners and audiences. Speakers include the City of Fort Collins, Colorado and Green & Healthy Homes Initiative Greater Syracuse, Home Headquarters.
This summary from a Better Buildings Residential Network peer exchange call focused on how local governments have worked with trusted community organizations and their networks to drive demand. Speakers include the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation.
This summary from a Better Buildings Residential Network peer exchange call focused on marketing energy efficiency with season-specific marketing strategies and messages.
This presentation discusses elements of developing an energy efficiency program marketing and communications strategy, including concepts to consider in a marketing plan.
The Marketing & Outreach Implementation Plan Template will help you develop a strategy for planning, operating, and evaluating your marketing and outreach activities.
Home Energy Score is an online tool used by assessors to rate a home’s energy efficiency on a scale of 1 to 10, with a score of 10 indicating that the home has excellent energy performance and a score of 1 indicating that the home needs extensive energy improvements. Once a home is scored, homeowners receive recommendations on how to improve their score.
This toolkit describes how to strengthen residential energy efficiency program outreach and marketing efforts through data-driven, tailored efforts to change behaviors. One of the greatest challenges facing the residential energy efficiency market is motivating people to take steps to save energy. This toolkit provides guidance, resources, and examples for applying community-based social marketing (CBSM) to increase the number of homes that are energy efficient.
Marketing, Communication, and Outreach: Lessons Learned In and Outside Energy Efficiency
This webcast presents lessons learned in marketing, communication, and outreach, including lessons related to marketing plans.
Tips and Tools for Promoting Your Energy Efficiency Project
This webcast provides information on why outreach is important for program success and how programs can promote their efforts.
How to Work with the Media
This publication draws on recent focus groups, polls, and other research to chart a path promoting energy efficiency through language and imagery in ways that tap public enthusiasm.
This guide provides an assessment of various approaches to Marketing & Outreach for home energy efficiency improvements.
The Residential Retrofit Program Design Guide focuses on the key elements and design characteristics of building and maintaining a successful residential energy upgrade program. The material is presented as a guide for program design and planning from start to finish, laid out in chronological order of program development.
This report analyzes four home energy report programs, and presents key insights about the long-term savings implications of these programs beyond the first years of operation and after the programs concluded.
Browse key topics that many residential energy efficiency programs need to address. Select a topic below to see curated resources, including case studies, presentations, tools, calculators, templates, and more. See a full list of all common search topics. If you have suggestions for additional topics, please tell us.
Branding is a way of presenting, positioning, and talking about a program consistently to target audiences to encourage a certain feeling, action, or behavior.
Community events allow for face-to-face contact with target audiences and provide a venue to deliver messages to potential customers by trusted sources.
Community-based social marketing aims to change the behavior of a target audience within a group, neighborhood, or town based on principles of behavioral psychology and community dynamics.
Competitions and challenges among households or towns are intended to increase program participation by creating a sense of urgency and tapping into people’s competitive spirit.
Customer engagement tactics aim to increase the likelihood that a customer will participate fully in a program by forming a relationship between the customer and the program or contractor. From pledges (which provide contractor leads and engage potential customers without requiring a full commitment from them) to testimonials (which encourage homeowners to share their upgrade experience with others), engaging customers in multiple ways can help increase program successes.
Demonstration homes and displays allow potential customers to see energy efficiency improvements that have been completed in neighborhood homes and speak directly to homeowners and/or contractors about the process and its results.
Energy advisors are typically program staff who help customers understand, manage, and successfully navigate the home energy assessment and upgrade processes. Customer services can range from providing independent technical advice to serving as the customer’s primary point of contact for all program services. A program’s decision to use energy advisors varies by community needs and program resources.
Incentives are tools to motivate potential or current customers or stakeholders to take a prescribed action by lowering risk and decreasing upfront costs. The incentive can be financial (e.g., rebates, limited-time offers, special interest rates) or non-financial (e.g., public recognition, prizes, awards).
Market segmentation divides target audiences into categories based on their attitudes, attributes, buying habits, or other characteristics. With this information, teams can research and craft messages that will resonate with specific audience groups and implement targeted marketing tactics to reach them effectively.
Media can be an effective way of communicating your program and its benefits to broad audiences. Media can be paid, earned, or social in nature; each type has a different purpose.
Messages that resonate with key target audiences are critical to a successful energy efficiency program. To motivate action, messages on communications materials need to resonate with the target audience and make a strong, immediate, and positive impression on a program’s potential customers.
Neighborhood sweeps are geographically targeted campaigns to reach a specific audience in an identified community over a defined period of time.
Energy efficiency programs provide identifiable benefits beyond energy savings, such as health and safety improvements, job creation, economic development, avoided emissions, and water savings. Quantifying these non-energy benefits may help program administrators demonstrate progress toward stated program and/or policy goals, or increase general awareness and support for program activities.
Pilot projects allow programs to gain direct experience in their markets, while testing and refining program design and processes before full-scale launch.
Process flow diagrams illustrate key steps, decision points, and interaction points between programs, contractors, and partners from home energy upgrade project inception to completion. They are an important tool for ensuring effective coordination at critical points in the assessment and upgrade process, and identifying opportunities to streamline program processes.
Program dashboards are tracking tools that summarize metrics for monitoring progress toward meeting program goals, objectives, and efficient program processes. For many programs, they are an important tool for assessing and improving programs over time and communicating results to partners and stakeholders.
A request for proposals (RFP) is often necessary to engage the services of a program implementation partner or third party evaluator. A RFP should have a well-defined scope of work and clear description of how proposals will be evaluated.
Giving customers a good experience and encouraging them to refer friends to a program and its contractors are low-cost, high-trust methods for generating demand for your program services. People often trust the opinions of friends, family, and co-workers more than a program or contractor promoting its services.
Public, private, and non-profit organizations often seek to work in partnership with investor-owned and municipal utilities to provide energy efficiency services. Utilities may already offer energy efficiency services that other organizations can enhance or promote, and utilities typically have access to energy consumption data that helps track program success.