Without the 2009-2010 $1,500 ARRA tax credit that helped drive energy-efficient window sales in that timeframe, successful window contractors and remodelers have needed to refresh their marketing strategies to effectively promote the benefits of high-performance windows to homeowners.
To assist in these efforts, building industry experts at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) have offered several best practices from their “Driving Demand for Home Energy Improvements” report. They include the following five ideas:
1) Sell what homeowners want
The most common selling points for high-performance windows are energy savings and lower utility bills. However, they won’t be the primary drivers for every homeowner, especially ones that already have low energy bills.
This kind of homeowner may respond better to programs that combine energy-saving messages with targeted messages focusing on other specific points. For example, certain homeowners may be more concerned about increasing comfort, reducing condensation or improving indoor air quality. They also may respond to information about what home improvements their neighbors are doing, which may inspire them to do so as well.
2) Know your audience
When bidding on and selling value-added products and services, such as installing new high performance windows, think about who in particular you are trying to reach and what strategies you can use to speak directly to them. Consider targeting smaller populations, since blanketing an area can be less cost-effective than marketing to best-case prospects.
Reach out to the best target audiences that you know. Profile zip codes, age and design of home and then deliver information and messages specifically tailored to that customer’s needs and motivations. For example, early adopters are often a good initial target for energy efficient products. Early adoptors are driven to be the first people to try new technologies, and they have the power to influence others. If an early adopter has a highly energy-efficient home in a neighborhood, their satisfaction can lead to wider adoption through word-of-mouth recommendations to neighbors. Your tailored efforts are likely to have returns beyond the already satisfied early adopter audience, as energy efficiency has become a mainstream consideration.
3) Communicate effectively. Words matter.
Choosing the right language for selling value-added building products and services can go a long way toward influencing your target customers. For example, the previously mentioned National Labs’ report suggests avoiding the word “retrofit,” as it may not inspire or motivate homeowners. Instead, the report says terms like “energy upgrade” and “home energy improvement” are more descriptive and potentially more appealing.
Style counts, too, as effective communication techniques help to promote understanding and influence buyer commitment. Effective techniques may include using specific examples or personalized information to relate directly to individuals. Again, what are the Jones doing with their energy efficient home down the street?
4) Partner with smart suppliers
As the contractor you can have a strong positive influence over a customer’s buying decisions. This makes it very important for you to work with suppliers that carry window and doors that provide clear benefits in their marketing materials.
For remodeling and replacement projects, the contractor and remodeler is the customer’s primary point of contact to an industry with many value-added new products. How can the customer make sense of what’s out there? Choosing to partner with smart building materials suppliers who work with leading-edge manufacturers that create consumer marketing material with clear selling propositions is key to being a trusted remodeling expert.
Simple product messaging helps you more easily educate homeowners about the benefits of energy efficiency and other technologies to convert leads into sales. Good supplier partnerships offer training on how to deliver the benefits of going with a particular product. This may be the value-added benefit that can put your business ahead of your competition. A smart supplier can also support your business by working with manufacturers that supply useful sales tools like training webinars, email blasts, web banner ads, pay per click advertising campaigns, print advertising templates, brochures, lawn signs and door hangers. Take advantage of supplier programs that offer these types of tools which can be incorporated into your marketing plan quickly.
5) Reach customers multiple times
As a general rule of thumb, a prime customer may need to see product messages three times to take notice and be moved to make a purchase. Frequency counts, as does diversity.
A layered new business strategy combining traditional and non-traditional tactics enables your target customer to hear your message a number of times, possibly through different media. Media tactics may include print advertising, direct mail, TV and radio or outreach via email marketing, pay per click advertising, websites, blogs and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Other potential tactics include ‘grass roots’ favorites such as holding breakfast meetings, lectures and community roundtables. In addition, online review sites like Yelp.com and others make it easy for satisfied customers to spread the word. Also, by providing customers with cards or literature they can share with friends, you can increase the chance of referral business. No matter what marketing channels you utilize, maintain consistent messaging throughout.
Outlook for 2011 and beyond
The marketing ideas above can help window contractors and remodelers achieve success in a time where fewer and fewer tax credits are available to homeowners. Unless a renewal of the ARRA tax credit to 2009-2010 levels occurs – currently at the very minimal level of $200 for eligible windows – comes to fruition in 2012, window contractors and remodelers will face another year without significant home energy-efficiency tax incentives.
Fortunately, the energy-saving benefits and increased comfort offered by high-performance windows and other building product innovations, combined with a strategic marketing effort, can generate strong sales. These are sales based on “merit” rather than rebates. So the message of the product’s features and benefits has to be clear, easy to understand and consistent. In addition, the payoff to the customer needs to be tangible. 2011 and beyond is all about the benefits that energy efficient building product technologies bring to end-users, and delivering on that promise in order to build a business.
Ric Jackson is the director of marketing for Quanex’s Engineered Products Group. He has published articles relating to the manufacturing, performance and productivity of insulating glass sealants and systems and has provided testimony to Congress on the importance of supporting improved high-performance window standards. He is also part of a group that assists in advising EPA/DOE Energy Star experts on how new standards impact U.S. window manufacturing. Ric can be reached at Ric.Jackson@QuanexEPG.com.