Let’s leave aside the dollar figure to focus on the messaging – waste. Despite our society’s consumption ethic, we also have a cultural aversion to “waste.” Think about rueful recollections of a youth wasted or talent frittered away. The idea of “government waste” is enough to get some people’s blood boiling. Buying something and throwing some portion of it away before it is used simply strikes most of us as offensive, something to be avoided.
Thanks to some excellent market research by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA), some utilities are starting to use the “waste” message in promoting residential energy efficiency. I recommend that more utilities experiment with this term. The Northwestern U.S. may have significant different demographics and psychographics than other parts of the country. And what drives commercial and industrial customers often is different from what drives residential customers.
But none of those differences are valid reasons not to try out the effectiveness of the “waste” message to drive enrollment in customer programs. Maybe there needs to be some local customization – after all, Washington, D.C. is not Walla Walla, Washington. And given the anemic sign-up rate for customer programs reported by many utilities, what have they got to lose?
Quantitative market research conducted last year by NEEA showed that traditional utility messaging around residential energy efficiency programs – the opportunity to save money – caused only a small percentage of customers to say they would act, as shown below.
But when NEEA tinkered with the messaging, and set up a structured messaging platform that introduced the concept of not wasting energy, there was a sharp increase in the percentage of residential customers who said they would be extremely likely to act, as shown below.
We advise utility communicators to put this fresh messaging concept into practice to help meet increasingly stringent regulators requirements around reducing energy sales, or increasing customer program participation. Long gone are the days when utilities simply dialed up another power plant when they saw peak load get close to available resources. Regulators are insisting – with hefty penalties for failure – that utilities do better on the demand side.
Yes, a lot of money has been spent by utilities to develop customer programs in recent years. But even the best-designed programs need to be marketed. Typically, the public is indifferent. In case after case, the standard messages – saving money, saving energy, or saving the environment – simply don’t produce acceptable results for efficiency and conservation program enrollments. Enrollments are almost irrespective of how good the payback is. Discussing their efficiency and conservation programs, one utility communicator told me, “our payback numbers are beyond compelling, but we’re not getting the sign ups.”
Communications Tip of the Month: As part of a messaging platform, consciously use the word “waste” in marketing your efficiency, conservation and other customer programs.
Successful advertising – indeed any form of communications – depends on saying something compelling in a short but memorable way. Perhaps it’s eye-grabbing art. Farmers Insurance TV ads demonstrate this masterfully. Maybe it’s unexpected messaging. In a prior blog post, I discussed tips how utilities could be more “SUCCESful” in their messaging.
So let’s get granular: In your next focus group, or even in your personal interactions, find a way to work the word “waste” into the discussion. Watch how people react. Do it in several settings and with different age groups. If you have an online customer community site, as a growing number of utilities do, test that message using that vehicle. Conduct as much market research as you can, given your budget. Then take a fresh look at your marketing and communications materials.
Here are some specific ideas – not endorsed by NEEA — you could experiment with to work the “waste” message into your marketing and communications:
- Our efficiency and conservation programs help you reduce energy waste
- Renewable energy programs cut energy waste
- Paperless billing guarantees we don’t waste nature’s resources – or your time
- Because every drop counts, let’s work together to eliminate wasted water – call our water specialists today for a free in-home audit.
- Our utility has cut $10 million of waste by redesigning its business processes