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?