Some builders are dogged in their conviction that homebuyers don’t care about green. They rationalize this conclusion because homebuyers don’t typically ask for green features explicitly. However, market research consistently confirms that a majority of mainstream Americans do care about sustainable choices. A national consumer insights study completed by Walden Hyde estimates that 60 percent of Americans, roughly 185 million people, are interested in green and healthy living.
So where’s the disconnect? The problem isn’t that consumers don’t care about green. The problem is that consumers don’t necessarily care about green in the ways that builders think they should. Most home builders are not considering consumers’ values and motivations with regard to sustainability. Instead they are projecting (either intentionally or unintentionally) their values about green onto consumers. Consider how many builders insist the only valuable green home attribute is that it delivers energy savings – see my “Are You Willing to Bet it All on Energy Efficiency” post that discusses the error in this way of thinking.
Effective green marketing is no different than effective marketing in general. Marketing messages always need to resonate with customers’ interests and concerns. With that in mind, below are what I believe are the five most important rules for marketing green homes:
Two irrefutable facts: (1) Performance is king; and (2) green homes are better-built homes.
I am confounded by how few builders promote the quality aspect of green construction. Consumers want products that perform well. Innumerable studies conclude that a product’s performance trumps eco-attributes. But if a consumer can get superior performance AND sustainable features, that will govern their product selection. Just don’t ask them to sacrifice performance because a product is green. A number of successful brands are capitalizing on superior performance with a coincidental benefit of sustainability. Consider the Tesla Motor ads: “It’s not about energy, it’s about POWER.” “Enough speed to leave anything behind, starting with FOSSIL FUEL.” Tesla is selling its sporty roadster as fast as they can make them, and their clients comprised mostly of wealthy alpha males are certainly not looking for lower gas bills. Tesla’s electric engine serves up sustainability on top of highly-ranked performance. Mythic Paint, the fastest growing paint company in the world, is another excellent example from consumer marketing. The Mythic tagline is “Legendary Performance” and it floats atop their logo with “Non-toxic paint” below. Here is a product that offers not merely low toxicity, but zero toxicity, and still their emphasis is on performance.
So performance is paramount to consumers. But how can a builder demonstrate that the home they build performs better than other homes? Builders can demonstrate superior performance by using the National Green Building Standard (NGBS) to design and construct their homes and seeking third-party certification to prove their home is NGBS-compliant. The NGBS is a rigorous, national, above-code green building system.
How does the NGBS improve a home’s quality? First, the NGBS mandates certain green building practices considered essential to a home’s performance. Second, it offers builders a menu of green building practices all aimed at boosting the overall quality of construction. Third, homes that attain NGBS Green Certification have been inspected at least twice by an independent, third-party verifier to ensure that the home meets the NGBS’s stringent requirements.
A rigorous national standard and third-party certification attests to an NGBS Green Certified home’s quality. Consequently, builders who construct NGBS Green Certified homes have a distinct advantage over their code-minimum competitors. Once you’ve established your quality bonafides, flaunt your home’s environmental attributes. NGBS Green Certified homes are more comfortable, have a healthier indoor environment, and are more durable. Say it loud and say it proud! NGBS Green homes have more, do more, and save more than the other homes a buyer may be considering.
Straight talk can be very effective. But I’ve found builders are typically unwilling to play hardball with their marketing. Why not ask, “Would you rather live in a home intentionally designed to manage moisture or not?” or “Do you want to live in a home with ventilated combustion equipment or risk carbon monoxide poisoning?”
One of the most effective green marketing techniques you can use is a comparison checklist. Equip prospective buyers with a checklist of the green features (and their benefits) in your homes that they can use when comparison shopping. Help buyers understand the intrinsic value of those green features (i.e., the benefits) by explaining the intent of NGBS green building practices and technologies. The value of some green building practices can be elusive to the mainstream consumer, however, it is a mistake to think that they don’t care about the issues. Helping homebuyers understand issues of indoor air quality, moisture management, and ventilation can help cement the value proposition of both quality construction and the home’s environmental attributes.
Forget what economists tell you. As consumers we are not always rational. Individuals are emotional beings motivated to satisfy their own needs and their family’s needs. What could be a more emotional experience than shopping for a home? Builders need to make sure homebuyers understand the benefits of their green homes. Connect-the-dots so they don’t have to, and make the message compelling, not confusing.
You know what I see all too often in green home marketing materials? A litany of incomprehensible features. R-38 Attic, R-19 Overhangs, and R-13 Exterior Walls! … Vinyl Double-Pane Thermal Insulated Low-E Glazed Single-Hung Windows! … Central HVAC-13 SEER! … MERV 8 Air Filter!
Most buyers have no idea what an R-19 overhang is, let alone why they might want one. I understand builders are excited about the green building practices, technologies, and features they use in their homes. But they need to provide context for the green features and reasons why they are important – see Rule #2 above.
Keep the green message simple and relevant. For example, if you want to highlight optimum value engineering, why not explain: Advanced house framing uses less lumber so it saves trees, saves on labor costs, and reduces construction waste. Less can really be more – less lumber means more room for insulation and greater comfort.
Women are consistently identified in surveys as more interested in green products than men. Why? Women traditionally serve as the family caretaker and are concerned about their children’s wellbeing and their family’s health. Studies confirm that women are primarily interested in green products because of concern for personal health, a healthier home, or the health of a child. Marketing related to health, home, and children are most likely to connect with female consumers. When you factor in the fact that women influence over 80% of household purchasing decisions, women become a powerful influencer regarding green choices.
Make sure your marketing messages are relevant to your prospective female buyers. Even better, target your green marketing messages to women. In making purchasing decisions, women tend to like visual aids and tactile displays so use tactics like that wherever possible – e.g., a cut-away wall to show insulation and/or a low-E window demonstration in your model.
Green can be tricky to market. Some consumers are wary of eco-branding as a result of products that are unjustifiably labeled green. Have you seen the Hummer ad where it claims to be thirsty for adventure not fuel? Others are weary because green is overused. Builders who make green claims they can stand behind can win consumers and build brand loyalty. Builders who merely give a patina of sustainability to their new homes risk reputation and sales.
Green cleaning products exemplify the importance of authenticity. Recently, SC Johnson’s Nature Source and Clorox’s Green Works – both green cleaning products – lost considerable market share, while at the same time the smaller and premium-priced Method and Seventh Generation brands experienced double-digit growth and market share gains. Let’s repeat that: consumers are selecting the higher-priced, lesser-known green products even during the recession thus securing enviable brand loyalty. Why? Some analysts attribute their success to their parent company’s overall corporate sustainability commitment across all product lines, in contrast to Clorox, which offers one green product in a sea of conventional, less-green products.
Consumers are wise to greenwashing and don’t look favorably on companies who are guilty of it. On the other hand, consumers do look favorably on companies authentically committed to being a better environmental steward and will even reward them by paying a moderate premium on truly green products.
Are you looking to sell green homes? The “secret sauces” is simple: Lead with quality because an NGBS Green Certified home is simply better built than a code-minimum home. Set yourself apart with the benefits your green homes offer to the individual and the family. Target authentic green marketing messages to women who (more than men) aspire to a more sustainable lifestyle.
What’s your recipe for green marketing success? Do you use these techniques I’ve highlighted? If not, do you see where they could fit into your marketing scheme? I’d love to hear what has worked best for you in your market.***