What can Toyota teach us about marketing green homes?

Here are a few suggestions for how marketers in the green home industry (and other industries as well) could benefit from emulating certain aspects of the marketing of hybrid cars:

2014 Toyota Prius hybrid“What can we learn from the marketing of hybrid cars that can help us market green homes?”

A LEED AP contractor posted this question as a discussion last month on the LinkedIn group Building Green.  “The cost premium for a high performance house is 5-10% for 90% better efficiency,” he added, “while the cost premium for hybrid cars is (only) 15-25% for 10-15% better efficiency.”

He didn’t elaborate, but I’m pretty sure he meant to imply that more consumers are springing for hybrids than are purchasing energy efficient homes, despite the better energy performance of the homes. In a quick search, I was unable to find hard numbers to back up this assertion. However, I do think he may have a point.

Here are my thoughts (in no particular order) on the topic:

  •  Marketing is (in general) less about logic than it is about appealing to the emotions. I hate to say it, but cars have the advantage here. They just have more sex appeal than houses for the average consumer. (Try creating a home ad that can even come close to this Porsche hybrid concept car ad in the sex appeal department!)

It’s great when your product has native sex appeal. However, there are plenty of other deep emotions that can be just as powerful. Look how Toyota openly uses the concept of non-romantic love to speak to their target audience’s desire for purposeful living in this hybrid ad:

(A nice additional touch: the YouTube post includes an invitation to join the conversation on other social media via the #LoveHybrid hashtag.)

  • Branding has merit. Toyota gets about 60% of the hybrid market. They have done an excellent job of elevating the Prius in particular to virtual cult status.
  • Related to branding, consider the mass media exposure that hybrid cars as a category enjoy. When was the last time you saw a TV ad for Passivhaus?
  • Despite the fact that people spend way more time in their homes, the energy efficiency of their cars is more top of mind. Think how many times per month people come face to face with their home energy bills. Compare that to the number of times they look at their gas gauge.  The act of driving (and fueling up) could also be functioning as a type of physical involvement device – a proven response-boosting marketing tactic.
  • Speaking of face-to-face, there are enough hybrids on the road now that their popularity is becoming obvious. (They are no longer just for tree huggers, either. My former neighbor, a deer-hunting, die-hard Green Bay Packers fan who throws all his recycling in the trash despite having access to curbside pickup, now drives a bright red Prius.) Thus, the all-important (in marketing) social proof is being offered. In contrast, it’s often difficult to tell from the outside whether a building has any progressive features.
  • Interest and accessibility. Start talking about R value and watch people’s eyes glaze over. Yet many in the green home industry continue to try to hook buyers with loads of energy efficiency data rather than presenting them with emotional benefits. On the other hand, watch a few car ads and see how technical they get. (I’ll save you some time: they’re typically 95% emotion, with a few MPG statistics thrown in.)

green roof buildingHere are a few suggestions for how marketers in the green home industry (and other industries as well) could benefit from emulating certain aspects of the marketing of hybrid cars:

1. Appeal to people’s emotions in your marketing.

2. Use language they can relate to. If you’re speaking to engineers, get as technical as you want. They love it. (Just make sure you’re accurate.) Otherwise,  translate your benefits into plain English.  Shoot for a middle school reading level. Your audience may be educated, but they’re also busy and distracted.

3. Get physical. Don’t just talk about R value and HVAC. Demonstrate energy efficiency in ways people can see and feel. Involve them. Have them handle samples of building materials. Hold an open house or expo. Sponsor a contest. Shoot a video that illustrates how your green technology works.

4. Address as many benefits as you can, including deep benefits. A lot of people don’t understand all the benefits of an efficient home. For example, a well-insulated room will feel warmer (in cold weather) than one kept at the same temperature that is not adequately insulated and air sealed. The benefit? They’ll feel much more comfortable in the insulated room. A deeper benefit is that feeling warmer reduces stress on the body (especially for older people and small children.) This means a healthier, happier family, fewer trips to the doctor, and lower medical bills.

5. Show social proof. Share testimonials and case studies of successful green buildings. Don’t just talk about meeting LEED standards. Show and tell how your type of building is meeting real people’s needs, saving them money, allowing them to enjoy a more comfortable experience, etc.

6. Try cooperative marketing. You may not have the ad budget of Toyota or Honda, but if you team up with other companies with similar target markets, you can certainly do a media blitz in your local community. Co-sponsor an event, form a local green building association, pool funds to purchase billboard space and other co-op advertising – the possibilities abound.

7. Don’t forget PR. Local press, especially, is always looking for interesting stories. Green building success stories certainly qualify – especially if you can tie in a human interest story or make a connection to a trend.

(One last thought: are green building sales really that far behind those of hybrid vehicles? Some recent research indicates that homes with green features are in high demand, and are commanding higher prices. Social proof, in and of itself!)

Lots to learn from Toyota – but should you emulate their marketing strategy to promote your construction business, architectural firm, manufacturing company, or other small to medium sized enterprise?

No way.

The image-building marketing strategy Toyota and the other major car manufacturers follow requires a huge budget and would bankrupt most smaller companies.

A much smarter and more profitable approach for most companies is to design and implement a multi-media inbound marketing funnel  – including lead-magnet pieces such as white papers and books, compelling sales letters and landing pages, events, and drip marketing campaigns such as print and email newsletters. One study found that on average, inbound delivers 54% more leads at an average of 13% less cost per lead than is typical for traditional outbound marketing strategies.

What successful marketing strategies have you used that could help market green homes?

Make your Green Marketing Fun!

How to educate your customers effectively without causing confusion or turning them off

Part 4: Make it Fun!

As people become more aware of the problems facing the environment, they begin to feel guilty.  They often react by going into denial or shutting out the bad news.  This can easily result in their shutting you out as well.  Overcome this problem by making your presentation interesting and fun.

Annie Leonard’s eco-educational films are a great example.  Using storytelling, engaging animation and generous doses of humor and hope, she manages to address very serious environmental problems in an engaging, entertaining and informative way.  (By the way, Leonard’s Story of Stuff and other works are also a great example of messaging that creates a buzz and spreads virally like wildfire.)

Try integrating stories, contests, events, jokes, food and the arts into your Green marketing.  Involve your customers.   Ask them to invite a friend.  Don’t be afraid to do the outrageous, if it’s consistent with your personality.  And by all means have fun yourself! People who are having fun are invariably attractive to others.  You’ve doubtless noticed this fact at social gatherings, right?  The same is true in business!

Show, don’t just tell, your customers what’s in it for them

How to educate your customers effectively without causing confusion or turning them off

Part 2: Show and Tell in your marketing…

…but especially show.  Try to come up with ways your audience can experience your ideas with their senses.  Anything hands-on is great.  Involve their imaginations, and their emotional as well as their rational minds.  By engaging as much of the whole person as possible, you’re much more likely to get through to them, especially if they’re distracted or have preconceived ideas or objections you need to overcome.

Live or video demonstrations, case studies, testimonials, before-and-after pictures, samples and free trials are all excellent “show me” techniques proven to engage customers and encourage sales.

So is quantifying – translating raw data (such as X number of kilowatts of energy produced per hour) into concrete real-world examples your customer can wrap his mind around (like, “that’s enough to power every single appliance in your home with juice left over to crank the stereo – and it’ll save you $xx.00 per month on your utility bill!)

And don’t forget storytelling – one of the most powerful “show-me” techniques available.

Showing lets your prospects come to their own conclusions based on real or imagined experience and is often much more powerful than straight-up telling.  Try “showing” – both directly using hands-on experience, and indirectly in your marketing copy – and see what a difference it makes in your sales.

Use the “Rule of One” to laser-focus your marketing message

How to educate your customers effectively without causing confusion or turning them off

Part 1: Follow the “Rule of One”

This is a basic copywriting principle championed by master marketer and copywriter Michael Masterson.  It’s also an excellent rule of thumb for any kind of teaching.  The Rule of One states that you should address ONE idea at a time.  For example, if you’re writing an article don’t try to cover two different topics at once, even if they’re related.

Of course, within that article you may have several main points.  Just make sure that each point addresses ONE major idea, and that they all relate directly back to your ONE primary topic.  It’s really just a more sophisticated version of “Keep It Simple, Silly.”  Following the Rule of One will let you engage your reader more fully without distracting or confusing them.  By focusing on one primary idea you will make a much stronger impression and are more likely to persuade and convince your readers.

Use the Rule of One in all your advertising, marketing copy, and presentations for maximum clarity, impact and response.  It even works in management!

What’s In It for Me? The Importance of the Offer

“That ad is driving me nuts,” I remarked at dinner the other night.

My husband was out of town so it was just my kids and me.  The new phone book had arrived earlier in the day, and someone (probably me) had left it face down on the dining room table.  “Why?” asked my son Isaac with a grin.  He knew what was coming.  At 14 ½, he’s deep into the let’s-dissect-reality stage.  Even though he’s not into advertising, he enjoys the process of picking ads apart.

“Because there’s no offer,”  I said.

The ad in question was for a home improvement magazine, and occupied the entire back of the book .  Prime real estate.  Not cheap.  It was eye-catching in its simplicity:  a logo, a tagline, a graphic of the magazine, and – way down at the bottom and contiguous with the border  – a URL.

“What do you mean, ‘offer’?”

“It doesn’t give you a good reason to buy anything,” piped up my daughter Clara.  She’s 11, and loves advertising.  Mostly because she loves to shop.  “Not like the Highlights ads.  They’re always saying, ‘go here, win this, get that.’ It drives me crazy, ’cause I end up wanting everything.

“Right,” I said.  “What if these guys offered a free trial issue, don’t you think they’d get more people going to their website and ordering?  And then they’d have names they could keep selling to.  If their magazine is  any good, a lot of those people would end up buying a subscription.”

“Yeah,” Clara exclaimed.  She was getting excited.  “Or they could have a contest.”

I have to admit, my daughter can be brilliant.

“Oh, yeah!”  I said.  “They could have people sign up for a chance to win a whole year’s subscription.  It would cost less than sending everyone a free issue.  Bet they’d get ten times more people to their site, too.  Heck, I might even sign up.”

Out of curiosity, I visited the site.  And there it was.  Not obvious, but definitely present:  an image of their magazine cover, and in small print on the corner, ”Click Here for your Issue.”

They had an entire issue posted online, for free!  Couldn’t they have mentioned that in the ad?  I clicked.  To my amazement, they didn’t even ask for my contact information.  Just gave it to me.  Some pretty nice stuff, too.  Video, even.

Hey, we just happen to be remodeling our house.  My husband is a real do-it-yourselfer.  (I’m not a bad hand with a cordless drill myself.)  In many ways I’m a prime prospect for these folks.  But the only reason I left the dinner table to visit their site was to take a look at their marketing strategy.  Had I been a normal person, would I have bothered?

Without a stronger incentive than a picture of their pretty covers, not likely.

Pass the potatoes.

Folks, never assume your prospect is going to be interested in you.  Even if you’re perfect for them.  Even if they really, really need you.  It’s up to you to catch their interest and lure then in.  And that means think the way your prospect thinks, not the way you do.

What about your last ad?  Did you give your prospect a real reason to look you up?  Or did you just feature what  you found exciting?  How did your prospects respond?

Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer specializing in helping Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.

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