Sometimes market research can be a real downer. Take a manufacturer of residential construction products that has spent millions of dollars developing “greener” products and the marketing campaigns to go with them. These manufacturers know they have to get consumer buy-in, but research tells them that only about 20 percent of people are willing pay more for a product that doesn’t make them appear younger, thinner, cuter, or more successful. That’s hard to do with, say, a permeable paver.
The impulse is to educate consumers about the environmental value of products, but research also tells us that consumers don’t like to feel pressured by environmentalism to buy certain products. And they definitely don’t want to become mini-scientists. So what is a well-intentioned manufacturer to do?
Get Emotional About It
When it comes to the building industry, it would seem that contractors are from Mars and homeowners are from Venus. Connecting emotionally with the latter is the key to building a relationship.
I asked Christine Costa, Sustainability Practice Leader at IMRE, a public relations and marketing firm specializing in business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing in the home and building industry, how a manufacturer makes that all important consumer connection.
“When it comes to building products, creating an emotional connection with consumers requires two components. First, a clear end-user benefit such as a healthier home should lead the message, allowing sustainability to take a backseat. Second, educational support that provides simple, easy-to-understand specifics about how the product helps a homeowner achieve such benefits will help drive the purchase decision,” said Costa.
It is also important that manufacturers engage consumers in their brand’s sustainability efforts. Starbucks has been very successful at this, said Costa, by incorporating a pervasive “social responsibility” focus into its website. The home and building industry can do the same by leveraging social media outlets like Facebook to create a dialogue with consumers about relevant environmental issues.
Engaging with Consumers on Sustainability
Like many manufacturers, Aquatherm, maker of environmentally friendly piping systems used for plumbing and heating and cooling applications, has increased its marketing focus on consumers over the last 5 years. The company has used social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as consumer-oriented building websites to reach out to the consumer audience.
According to Barry Campbell, Aquatherm’s Director of North American PR, the aforementioned 20% of homeowners who deliberately incorporate environmental responsibility into their decision-making actually make up the majority of the company’s residential business. It has proved to be an enthusiastic audience.
“In some cases, since consumers don’t have preconceptions about plastic pipe, they are more excited about the product than trade people. Builders and contractors get more excited about how highly engineered the product is and what that means to their bottom line,” said Campbell.
In selling to consumers, Aquatherm leverages heath and safety, two well-known hot buttons for homeowners and especially women. The health and safety benefits of the Aquatherm product as it relates to drinking water is prominently featured on the company’s website as well as other marketing materials.
Rheem, a manufacturer of water heating and HVAC systems for the residential industry, also continues to increase its focus on consumers. Like Aquatherm, Rheem is actively trying to engage consumers in their sustainability story, particularly as it relates to some new, high efficiency product releases.
“With the rise of Internet usage and social media, more consumers are going online to find out about our products. This is a great thing – consumers are proactively making themselves more educated about HVAC, water heating and pool heating products. As such, it’s becoming increasingly important to focus our efforts on reaching consumers,” said Chris Peel, Senior Vice President and COO for Rheem.
As part of its new consumer strategy, Rheem is redesigning its website to be highly interactive and intuitive for consumers. The company is also leveraging celebrity to make that consumer connection by sponsoring Kevin Harvick, the well-known NASCAR driver.
“By aligning with such a recognizable and respected driver, Rheem has been able to increase brand awareness to the significant number of consumers that are also racing fans nationwide,” said Peel.
Both Aquatherm and Rheem plan on continuing their dialogue with builders and contractors, but these efforts are more focused on product education. Enhancing brand recognition among consumers, however, is more important than ever before. These manufacturers realized it, and are carefully crafting their marketing to include consumers in the conversation about all things green.