Lean Times Call for New Marketing Approach for Green Houses

Ecohome Suzanne Shelton provides some insights from The Shelton Group's Eco Pulse survey as relates to green homes.  The research shows that consumers are interested in energy efficiency, taking control, and quality – all without breaking the bank.

Posted Sept. 15, 2009
By Suzanne Shelton, ecohome

 

Suzanne SheltonA few short years ago, when the economy and the housing market were
going gangbusters, people buying or renovating a home were focused
primarily on such features as hardwood floors, natural stone
countertops, commercial-style stoves, and deluxe cabinetry, according
to my company’s proprietary surveys, which track shifting attitudes and
opinions about energy efficiency and sustainability. Not many sought
Energy Star-rated appliances, energy-efficient windows, or increased
levels of insulation.

Then everything changed. Stock prices collapsed, the housing market fizzled, and America’s home builders braced for lean times.

As
a result, consumers are not as concerned about making their homes more
beautiful. Instead, they want their homes to be more energy efficient.
A room full of new carpeting is out; an attic full of new insulation is
in.

Based on recent research by my company, the Shelton Group,
here are some other characteristics of American consumers that
influence how builders should market their green homes and products: 

 

They want to save money. The economy is clearly
driving consumer thinking right now. The good news is that although
they’re worried about the recession, consumers are willing to pay a
premium for a green home–but they want it to translate into savings.
Our Eco-Pulse survey recently found nearly two-thirds of consumers
surveyed would be willing to pay a 10% or higher premium for a home
with a number of green features. Nine percent were willing to pay 30%
more.

Why? Consumers aren’t interested in saving the planet; they
want to save the green in their wallets, and an energy-efficient green
home will do just that.

They want to feel in control.
In one of our new surveys, nearly three-quarters of consumers cited
saving money as a reason to buy energy-efficient products. Only about
half chose “to protect the environment” and “to protect the quality of
life for future generations.” That is a significant change from surveys
we conducted before the recession, when Americans chose “to protect the
environment” most often.

 

This is more than just a dollars-and-cents issue. Now more than
ever, Americans have a deep desire to be in charge of their lives. They
want control. And seeing utility bills drop brings much-needed peace of
mind. 

 

They don’t want to break the bank. Builders,
however, should be careful about how they market their green homes. Our
Eco Pulse 2009 survey shows that 90% of people believe “green” equals
“more expensive.” So when consumers see a home branded as “green,” they
hear “cha-ching.”

About half of the respondents to our survey
were able to name at least one green home feature unaided, and the
feature they named most often (33%) was the most expensive: solar. This
contributes to the consumer perception that buying a green home would
break the bank.

They have high standards. While
there is no established industry benchmark for the number of features
required to categorize a home as green, consumers have high standards.
When asked to pick the three required features from a list of 17
possible features, one-third of respondents said all of them would be
required. The green home features chosen most often were:

–Renewable electric power generation systems such as solar, geothermal, or wind (25%) 

–Higher-efficiency Energy Star-rated appliances (25%)

–Water-conserving features such as low-flow showerheads and rain water collection systems (21%)

Respondents’
all-or-nothing mentality that every one of these features should be in
a green home contributes to the perception that such a home is a
luxury. It’s something only Hollywood celebrities can afford.

Green Marketing in a Recession
Here are some ways that builders can reach out to this new category of eco-conscious, budget-conscious home buyers:

–Market homes as energy-efficient instead of green and play up their
money-saving features. Our recent Green Living Pulse survey found
almost three-quarters of respondents (72%) were interested in
owning/renting an energy-efficient home versus a green home (47%).

–Make sure that prospective buyers know that green homes have
lower operational costs due to their energy efficiency, water
conservation, and longer-life components.

–Talk in concrete, specific terms about money-saving features and
how a particular home will pay the buyer back: “This home’s mortgage
payment plus its utility bill will cost you less each month than a
cheaper home that’s not as energy efficient.”

–Position the homes’ long-term healthcare savings, linking the
improved indoor air quality  to a better quality of life for residents.

The
bottom line: Green homes give consumers more control over their
finances and their lives. Builders just need to make sure they know
that.

Suzanne Shelton is president and CEO of Shelton Group
in Knoxville, Tenn., an advertising firm that is entirely focused on
motivating mainstream consumers to make sustainable choices. The firm
tracks consumers’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors through four
annual, proprietary studies:  Utility Pulse, Eco Pulse, Green Living
Pulse, and Energy Pulse. You can learn more at www.sheltongroupinc.com

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