Electrification is awesome…but how, exactly, do you get people to buy electric?

This post was written by Suzanne Shelton, founder and CEO of Shelton Group, the nation's leading marketing communications firm entirely focused on energy and the environment.

At Shelton Group, we poll Americans several times a year to dig into their beliefs and expectations about energy and the environment. For years, we’ve seen that we have a few fundamental value proposition problems with energy efficiency:

  1. Americans don’t think they need it. Seventy nine percent of us think we don’t use more energy than we did five years ago, and that number hasn’t changed in 10 years. Further, 44 percent of us think our homes are already energy efficient, thank you very much. So that great rebate or program we’re trying to sell to people? No thanks! The people you’re selling to don’t think they need what you’re selling.
  2. Americans don’t think it works. About half of us have done 1-3 things to make our homes more energy efficient. And how did we get them to do that? We screamed “save money!” at the top of our collective industry lungs. That’s the message we’ve been using for years and we just keep doing it. The problem? Sixty three percent of the people who say they’ve made 1-3 improvements to be more energy efficient say their utility bills went UP, not down. And they have literally packed up their toys and gone home. They are NOT interested in more energy efficient products or programs and have no plans to.
  3. Eighty four percent of us say we know only a little or nothing about what to do. Yet, our industry keeps running ads that say, “Be energy efficient! Save money!” As if they know what to do, and as if saving money is the right promise.

Clearly, we have to stop promising savings as the reason to participate. And our new data indicates we have similar value proposition challenges with the emerging message for electrification: it’s better for the environment!

Well, presuming we continue to green up the grid, electricity IS better for the environment than oil and gas or natural gas alone. And the green-leaners in our industry are bought in. In meetings I attend, I hear things like, “electrification is the only way we’re going to hit the Paris Climate Accord 80X50 goals!”

OK. But that doesn’t mean you should talk to Americans about it like that. In our latest Energy Pulse® poll we asked folks, “what’s better for the environment, heating with electricity or natural gas?” The answer? Essentially, “whatever I’m heating with now.” People who heat with natural gas believe it’s better for the environment…and people heating with electricity believe it’s better for the environment.

And I’m afraid natural gas has it over electricity from a branding perspective. Americans equate the word “natural” with “eco-friendly.” So trying to convince them that electricity is the greener option is a tough hill to climb.

So if we want to shift them, we’ll need to figure out the benefit that really makes sense for them. On the transportation side, the environmental message is more of a winner – most Americans believe electricity is cleaner than oil and gas. The problem is that cost and range anxiety are very real barriers and “better for the environment” isn’t enough to get them past it. Case in point, though over a third of Americans expect EVs to be “the new normal” in 10 years, less than nine percent expect to actually buy one in the next year. Based on our polling – and my personal experience in driving one for the last two years – the better benefits are:

  • They’re zippy/fast/fun to drive
  • You never have to go the gas station again (and you don’t realize how terrible that experience is until you start thinking about never having to touch the nasty gas pump handle ever again and notice yourself smiling)
  • You get the best parking spots

Bottom line: our industry needs to find the right benefits and focus the messaging on those. “Not wasting” is a way better hook for energy efficiency than “saving money.” Health and comfort work better as well. So we need to determine if we can tie to those benefits with electrification. And for EVs? We need to tout the awesome experience of driving one.

To learn more, drop Suzanne a line at sshelton@sheltongrp.com.


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