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Green builders need to tread carefully in drumming up interest in their homes, and in their marketing they need to zero in on specific segments of the marketplace where they believe their best prospects can be found, Tim Costello, president and CEO of BuilderHomesite, told the NAHB Green Building Conference in Raleigh, N.C., last month.
“It’s not a single market,” Costello said. “You have to decide who is the target market and create messages that will touch them,” with the expectation that buyer decisions will be driven more by emotion than logic.
“The green market is a mosaic of buyers of different psycho-demographic segments,” he said. “It’s far more complex than a few frugal penny savers” who are primarily concerned about cutting their utility bills.
Included in the mix of possible customers are the true environmentalist, who is sophisticated and will give some thought to the products going into the home and wants to know more about the philosophy and operations of the company; the concerned mother who is worried about poisons in the home; the socially conscious hipster who wants to be seen doing the right thing; the patriot who cares about the bearing on the national interest of such global issues as energy consumption; the self-sufficient survivalist family that home-schools its children; and the technology geek, he said.
Among the themes that can work in attracting buyers of green homes, he said, are energy conservation, preserving the quality of life for future generations, protecting the environment and saving resources, saving money, protecting the nation and reducing greenhouse gases.
Most receptive to green home buying messages, he said, will be primarily women who are 18 to 54 in age and who comprise the vast majority of people actively shopping for housing. Green marketing will resonate with both activists and pragmatists, he added, who make up about 60% of consumers according to research by the Sheldon Group, public relations consultants. And 30% of people who were surveyed said that a $25 to $50 reduction in their monthly energy bills would spur them to action.
“Don’t try to be all things to all people,” advised Costello, because “you may not be able to satisfy all their needs.”
What Consumers Don’t Know About Green
Reviewing survey findings that have been presented at past green building conferences, Costello pointed out that 76% of consumers pride themselves on knowing something about green. Fifty-five percent respond that green homes are important, but only 40% of them can then identify a green feature. Roughly half of consumers surveyed can’t name a renewable energy source.
“Consumers know nothing about green building, but we can help them,” he said.
Green has extremely low brand awareness, he added, with 64% of consumers unable to identify even one green brand, and Walmart is the one mentioned most often. “Forget building a green brand,” he said. “Seventy percent of people who bought a home could not remember the name of the builder 12 months later, so make sure you tell your home owners who you are before you pick up the check.”
According to survey results from McGraw Hill on consumers’ trusted sources of information, people are most confident about what they are told by friends and families, but when they are looking for what’s available they begin their search on line, which is a complete change from a couple of years ago.
Websites now present the “biggest and best opportunity” for green builders to market their homes, Costello said, and they provide the easiest access and are the most economical of the various advertising media.
He cited the website of Plantation Homes in Texas as an example of how the Web can be used by builders most effectively. Its ecosmart Green Living uses an embedded video in which a woman presents features of the program that are explained further by going to several links. For visitors, this is an “interactive” experience that provides “incredible engagement,” he said. “If you want to get the lift, you have to put that out there."
Costello was less enthusiastic about the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, because “you have to be followed; this is not advertising. People have to be so interested in you they want to follow you.”
Three Bullets in the Gun
Again referring to Shelton research, he said that there “are three bullets in our gun that people are aware of.” What customers mean by green refers to lower energy bills, environmental impact and the health/toxic home issue. After that, “it falls off to nothing.”
There are other possible approaches to get specific consumers interested in green, he said, “but they haven’t heard from us yet about why they need to buy green.”
Green builders need to determine what’s most important to their buyers. Men, for example, tend to want to save money while women are more socially conscious and think globally. “You have to change the message according to what part of the country you’re in. This is just one population of users and you need to figure out what makes them tick,” he said.
Builders, for their part, undersell green, according to Costello. “Look at the design centers and what they tell prospects. Half of the options offered are never mentioned, and in the half that are covered, roughly half the information is wrong or misleading.” Products with a technical component are typically not covered.
To address this problem, he suggested integrating online content from product manufacturers into the process. Through a virtual design center, “people can sell it to themselves.” Experience has shown that the online approach can boost sales of technical options by 50%, he said.
Builders should also keep in mind that many “green consumers want others to know they are green” and for them green symbolizes who they are across the community. In its appearance, the home should suggest what is being sold inside, creating an allure. “Don’t look traditional,” he said.
Finally, he warned builders about the information paradox. “More information makes people feel more helpless and less satisfied with the process,” said Costello. Hone and clarify the message, he said, because consumers “do not want to feel incompetent or helpless” when they are participating in the sales process. “The more you know, the less you know how to deal with it,” he said.
For information about green resources available from NAHB, e-mail Calli Schmidt, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.
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