Demand generation: how the Green Deal is being marketed to consumers

29th April, 2013

Matthew Wright, Green Deal Project Manager at Wickes, claimed at a conference last week that his company ‘desperately needed to see some more communication and publicity surrounding the Government's flagship energy efficiency retrofit scheme’.

Commenting on the DECC Green Deal With It campaign, he said "It is just completely inadequate. They have spent £10m, and if you think how much Tesco and John Lewis spend on their advertising, it is insignificant, it is a drop in the ocean," he said.

He added: "It is at least a figure of ten short of what any of the DIY retailers are spending. If they wish to create a market which private companies are going to invest in, they have got to put the money up, they have got to create the market and without that, it is going to be a really slow uphill struggle."

The comments beg the question – just how effectively is the Green Deal being marketed to the general public? Who is responsible for doing it? And do we understand the customer we’re trying to engage with?  

Impact of the DECC Campaign

Greg Barker shocked many in 2011 he made clear that he saw the promotion of the Green Deal as the responsibility of Green Deal Providers. He was often heard saying that major high street brands would be better able to communicate effectively than Government ministers or Whitehall mandarins. There was an audible sigh of relief when, in late 2012, DECC announced plans to invest in a consumer-facing launch campaign.

DECC promised that ‘The campaign will help inform people about the benefits of the scheme and how they can sign up for a warmer home and energy savings’. So just how effective has the campaign been in practice? Sadly, DECC were not available to comment.

The scary bit is that the campaign seems to have passed many people by all together, including many of the professionals working in the sustainability sector you would expect to know. One senior local authority sustainability manager, responsible for a large scale retrofit programme, told Retrozine that she had only seen the ads because her dad had shown her it in The Independent. It doesn’t sound like there is a great cascading of information and learning between central and local government. With many local authorities about to unleash their plans for Green Deal and ECO, this needs to be addressed. It has never been the specialist domain of local authorities to sell anything, and we should not assume they are going to start now simply because residents trust their brand.  

Some take comfort in the jump in assessments carried out in February and March 2013, which could be attributable to the Green Deal With It campaign. Maria Wardrobe from National Energy Action comments ‘The Government’s initial marketing appears to have generated some interest in the Green Deal in relation to the number of assessments having been carried out and some level of national marketing should continue as we eagerly await the first GD installation.’ Roy Wallington, Relationship Director at Carillion Energy Services, said:  ‘The Green Deal With It campaign is helping consumers gain recognition of the Green Deal provider kite-mark and anything which drives confidence in Green Deal providers as regulated and professional will help.  In Birmingham this combines well with our Birmingham City Council branding to drive trust.’

Others are less generous. Ed Gillespie, co-founder of sustainability communications agency Futerra, says the campaign has several flaws. ‘It looks cheap and lazy’, he said, ‘almost as though the government are trying to say that they are not really spending money on expensive advertising. The government is failing to articulate an energy vision that is credible and desirable. Consumers are more intelligent than these ads give them credit for. They respond to messages about home improvement, and like to be offered the opportunity to control their own situation. They like to have a feel good factor about things. Just because we live in age of austerity doesn’t mean that people only buy things because it saves them money.’
The reality of course is that the DECC campaign never set out to create a mass-market. The limited amount of cash available meant that it was a short-term awareness raising campaign. It is down to Providers to move householders through the stages of interest, desire and action. The baton needs to be passed to private and public sector marketers. The government simply does not do marketing. It does information campaigns well; its endorsement gives the whole programme credibility and the industry confidence. The Green Deal is not, though, a government programme; it is a programme enabled by government. Entrepreneurs and big business alike need to grab the opportunity by the scruff of the neck and push the message hard to customers.  

Understanding Customer Needs

Read any marketing text book and it will tell you that understanding your target customer’s needs is the first step towards developing a marketing plan. Judging by DECC’s campaign, they clearly understand that saving money and solving problems are the key drivers for uptake. ‘Boiler burning money?’ headlines one ad, ‘GREEN DEAL WITH IT’ booms the response. ‘Hate rising energy bills?’, posits another, ‘GREEN DEAL WITH IT’.  
So it’s clear we’re not expecting people to retrofit in order to save the planet. Maria Wardrobe from National Energy Action agrees with the campaign message. ‘We think that the messaging should focus on ‘saving money’, being warmer in your home and the health benefits that the latter can bring. It needs to be personal to them, it is the minority who would do this to be more ‘green’ and help the Government meet their carbon targets.’

Read chapter two of any marketing text book, and it tells you it is essential to segment mass-audiences and to deliver targeted messages to each through the most impactful channels. As we all know, the national retrofit programme aims to retrofit upwards of 27 million homes in the UK, making this the ultimate mass-market.
Presumably, somebody somewhere has developed a segmentation analysis of the general public and their attitudes towards all things retrofit? Thankfully, explains Ed Gillespie, yes. Chris Rose and Pat Dade’s Pioneer, Prospector, Settler model is widely used. In the model pioneers are ethically motivated, are reactive to change and like to try new things. Prospectors are outwardly motivated, are interested in status and lifestyle. Settlers are inward facing, resistant to change and generally sceptical.

So who exactly are the DECC ads aimed at? Behind the stark SAVE MONEY messages stand a middle class couple, all smiles and feeling warm because they have solved their household problems and saved themselves money. Great – we’re targeting middle-England, young couples with young families - except for the fact that no demographic is less likely to buy a newspaper than time-and- cash-strapped 35-44 year olds.
Turn now to chapter three of the text book and you will see the ‘Product Adoption Model’. You remember the one with the Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards. There are no commonly-agreed targets for retrofit, but it is widely understood that DECC hopes to persuade one million householders to invest in green technology by 2015 with 14 million homes the target by 2020. On that basis, following the textbook model, DECC wants to convince 58% of the total market (householders) to have retrofitted in the next seven years. This would put us comfortably in the late majority stage, with only 10 million homes to retrofit between 2020 and 2050. Happy days then for all concerned, except that we’re currently waiting for the first Green Deal approval. Perhaps the Green Deal will buck all accepted marketing norms – and let’s hope it does – but let’s make sure we are being realistic too.

Most would agree that the Pioneers are the most likely early-adopters of retrofit – just as they were with solar panels. It is critical that we get to know these people, and fast. But if they respond well to altruistic messages, are we in danger of being a bit too gung-ho about dropping messaging about carbon reduction and averting climate change? Marketers need to consider this carefully as they begin to target consumers more actively over the next 12 months. And the industry has never had more need of good marketing and good marketers. 

Local Endorsement Key to Success

Remember the HSBC adverts that told us to Think Global, Act Local? This could be a mantra for Green Deal marketing given the emerging success story in Birmingham, where resident engagement via voluntary groups has been the key to driving enquiries. The Birmingham Energy Savers scheme (BES) is delivered by Carillion Energy Services, a respected brand within the industry but essentially unknown to the average Birmingham resident. The brand fronting the programme is Carillion’s partner, Birmingham City Council. Research demonstrates that local authorities are amongst the most trusted of brands, but even then initial enquiries for BES scheme were modest. It was only when engagement via more than 40 voluntary groups commenced that resident enquiries increased four-fold almost overnight.

Carillion commented that ‘Birmingham Energy Savers are using an integrated promotional system, mixing citywide and local activities – advertising, community engagement, social and traditional media relations while building a presence in the industry by being present at trade exhibitions and conferences.’
Maria Wardrobe from the NEA agrees that local engagement is the only way to reach the fuel poor. “NEA recommends marketing the schemes at a local level, linking to the national marketing campaign, using trusted intermediaries such as local authorities, community groups, faith groups, schools and through other avenues where people come together and pass on these messages by word of mouth.”

Retrofit for People at Retro Expo - The national retrofit show

Retro Expo this year has a major focus on understanding customers and how to market to them. It is what we call Retrofit for People. The construction industry is excellent at marketing within its own value chain, and selling its services to B2B ‘clients’. House-builders and tradesmen apart, what experience does the industry really have of consumer marketing? As we set about the task of convincing 27 million homeowners and landlords to retrofit their properties, Retro Expo aims to help develop a deep understanding of what makes them tick, and what makes them buy. This understanding of customer needs and fears will help your organisation to win more business, and to retrofit better. Register FREE now at   
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