18 Feb Does Selling Energy Efficiency Work?
Does selling energy efficiency work? No. And here’s why.
Customers buy things for all kinds of reasons. In most cases, energy efficiency is not one of them. Why and what can marketing do to help?
In my experience working for building products companies, energy efficiency alone has rarely been a key value proposition in the eyes of customers. By purchasing a premium product, customers expect performance, therefore, it is not a benefit. For that reason, sales teams and marketers don’t see energy efficiency as a top selling point for most customers.
Then, there’s substantiation. Performance is a common challenge point. Many organizations shy away from these claims fear accusations of greenwashing – conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about the environmental viability of a company’s products.
Beyond price (always a factor), easy to spec, easy to order, options galore, quick lead times, no-fuss installation and zero call-backs were the keys to the kingdom. What do these have in common? They’re benefits and advantages; not features. Energy efficiency is a feature and products are not purchased on features alone. Features sell only when paired with corresponding advantages and benefits.
Relevant? Or, Jump-the-Shark?
Energy efficiency as a feature of performance has long been bundled with other “uni-feature” messages, like long-term money savings, which is a benefit, not a feature. We can assume then, that energy efficiency alone is not strong enough to stand on its own.
To that end, research by the American Center for an Energy Saving Economy shows that for consumers to buy into energy efficiency, customers must be willing to:
- Accept higher up-front cost
- Trust that money savings will actually occur
- Assume future savings that will or might occur
…and there’s not a feature among them. In fact, these are long-standing acceptance enablers; conditions customers must bear to reach a perception of energy efficiency. The more reliable these truths become; the more likely energy efficiency is a relevant selling point. How true are these acceptances right now, and what’s the status of overcoming them?
Higher Cost = Energy Efficient
We often assume energy efficiency costs more to start with. Not so fast. That may have been true in the past, but incentives have helped curb cost for consumers and commercial entities. Experts say we’re reaching saturation levels in a lot of categories thanks to rebates on things like appliances, LED light bulbs and high-efficiency HVAC systems. At the same time, advances in energy efficiency technologies are becoming more mainstream, resulting in lower costs overall.
Advantage/Benefit: Eliminating higher-cost as a barrier makes energy efficiency low or no-cost, thereby moving it into the proverbial advantage column compared to lesser performing products.
The proof is in the performance. But how can customers know that they’ll ultimately be saving money before they buy a product? Endorsement by a neutral (and trusted) party is one way of helping overcome manufacturer bias and skepticism among consumers. Examples include programs like ENERGY STAR through the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Meeting set standards allows a product to display the ENERGY STAR moniker on a qualifying product.
Advantage/Benefit: Having the label is not a money saver. It does, however, provide neutral, third-party endorsement – strong purchase triggers for buyers.
The Energy Efficiency Value Proposition
Value is a perception. Value integrates price, quality and performance to solve customer problems. Does your product deliver energy efficiency value? Customers will place a value on energy efficiency whether intentionally or not. And, it will be different for every customer. Research through focus groups or other means can provide the insights to determine the energy efficiency value proposition(s) most compelling to your customers. Remember greenwashing? Whatever the value proposition, be sure it’s sound and substantiated.
Advantage/Benefit: No one expects perfection, but deliver on quality, perform to or exceed expectations, and back your product with stellar customer service? I’d buy that product.
Congratulations. You just got yourself a new customer.
For more sustainability marketing ideas and expertise, contact Stacy Einck, firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch for more stories about defining features, advantages and benefits in future posts. If you enjoyed this story, you might enjoy reading Positioning is Your Compass and The Cost of Water: Turning the Tide Toward True Water Conservation.