Challenge Accepted! Marketing Total Electrification - The Concept & The Services

- By Shawn Cohen, Director of Digital Strategy at Energy Circle

Electrification is widely viewed as a critical step toward decarbonizing the world’s energy infrastructure.

In 2016, energy and climate change writer David Roberts published an article on Vox.com on the topic that helped catapult the concept of “electrify everything” into a more mainstream consciousness.

Since the Vox article, we have watched the concept gain momentum as a full-blown movement. The hashtag #ElectrifyEverything has solid and sustained traction on social media, and you can easily find a range of content online dedicated to the idea — from webinars, to blogs, to Facebook groups and beyond.

The steps necessary to convert a home’s energy systems off of gas and oil to efficient electric systems — heat pumps for space heating and hot water, induction cooking, etc. — are inherently comprehensive contracting jobs. When combined with rooftop solar to provide that electricity, the electrification movement has the potential to provide a significant new demand channel for the home retrofit and solar contracting sectors.

In this week’s issue of Challenge Accepted, we examine the opportunities that electrification presents for companies and professionals in the better building and home services industries, as well as the challenges of marketing the associated services to consumers on a larger, more impactful scale.

Today’s Challenge: How to market the concept of total electrification, as well as the home performance, energy, and HVAC services associated with it.

The Ask

In Short: Convince more consumers to consider converting their oil and gas reliant appliances and systems to electric.

In Long: Support and grow the electrification movement by helping to define the concept and associated services, and working to educate consumers about the environmental and economic benefits of going all-electric. In doing so, help HVAC, clean energy, and home performance contractors book more, larger projects associated with converting entire homes and buildings to electric systems and appliances.

The Challenge(s)

A Lack of Awareness Has Bred a Lack of Interest

So far, much of the “Electrify Everything” movement’s traction has been initiated and sustained by a relatively narrow group of “insiders” – climate change activists, the academic and scientific communities, government organizations and some public utilities, and a very select group of home performance, HVAC, and clean energy professionals. To make an impact, however, a much larger and broader population needs to understand and implement the concept in their homes and businesses.

But, how do we reach that broader audience, and how do we frame the message in a way that more homeowners are likely to understand — and be compelled to take meaningful action?

The Revolution Needs a Name

One issue contributing to a general lack of awareness stems from a lack of consistency in the industry as to what the concept or associated services is actually called. In a recent webinar, we at EC refer to this phenomenon as “wonk talk,” and while we’re able to identify and find some information on a few of the terms that are floating around (beneficial electrification, decarbonization, strategic electrification, etc.), no one term is the clear dominator. Google Trends turns up pretty much no search volume for any of the wonky terms, and some quick research using Google’s suggested search functionality shows us common searches that do contain the term “electrification” are more likely related to the “original electrification” movement of the early 20th century.

It’s very difficult to build awareness around a concept with no real established identity (or name), so it makes sense that interest and demand for electrification services would have a hard time gaining traction.

The same Google Trends and Suggested Search research did reveal some momentum around comparison searches. For example, “electric versus gas” and “electric versus oil” presented with some steady search volume. It is worth noting that based on the search suggestions and the corresponding organic results, it’s likely the majority of these searchers are looking for content around a cost comparison – relating to both the initial cost to convert, and the ongoing costs to power and maintain electric systems and appliances.

Combatting Mistrust & Misinformation

It’s no secret that the public utility companies in many areas are not the most popular service providers among their customers. From coast to coast, prominent electricity providers are struggling with bankruptcy, maintenance of aging grids and infrastructure, outdated technology, and full-on scandals involving the failure of safety practices and protocols. This has led to a culture of mistrust and skepticism among the general public, presenting a serious challenge to the electrification movement. Consumers are literally looking for ways to get off the grid!

In addition to combatting the mistrust bred by utility companies, we are also up against competing energy industries who have been marketing fossil fuel dependent systems for longer, with bigger budgets and more established legislative and industry support than those backing the “electrification movement.” Effective marketing tactics touting the benefits of having a balanced energy portfolio, or capitalizing on consumer fears that home electrification will lead to soaring utility bills have been deployed by the oil and gas industries for years.

In marketing the concept of total electrification, we will need to sort through the misinformation and combat the conceptual confusion caused by much of this competing messaging with facts of our own. The challenge is educating a large majority of people to whom it is not immediately obvious that going electric is a path away from fossil fuels, particularly in locations where the grid is largely coal. The content we produce will need to clearly explain that even if the electricity feeding homes is coming from a non-renewable source, the appliances and technology that use electricity in homes now-a-days are so much more efficient, making it a better choice from the perspective of reducing carbon emissions. (Not to mention the added benefits of increased comfort in home temperature and humidity control, reduced overall costs, and access to air conditioning via heat pumps that many homes wouldn’t have otherwise). The bottom line is that eliminating the need for combustion (burning fuel) in a home by using electric heating and cooling systems and appliances, instead of those fueled by oil or gas, is enough to offset the “dirty” power being pumped onto the grid on the electricity supplier’s end.

Opportunity is Easy; Leveraging it is Harder

This point is actually more of an opportunity than a challenge, but just because an opportunity exists doesn’t mean it’s easy or obvious how to take advantage of it, and that presents a challenge in and of itself. Right now, markets and consumers are more primed than they have ever been to absorb messaging around electrification. There are so many options for how to win the attention of this primed audience, and so many outlets on which to reach them, that the opportunity is almost overwhelming.

Climate change is no longer a fringe cause; it’s a major global crisis. People are actively searching for their role in affecting change, and acknowledgement that each individual needs to do their part is at an all time high. Upgrading to renewable sources of energy and working to reduce carbon emissions are both already popular tactics in the fight against climate change. But, while the broader population understands the impact of actions like installing solar or purchasing an electric vehicle, many American consumers have yet to grasp the benefits of converting their homes’ heating, cooling and cooking systems to electricity.

So, the motivation (the opportunity) is there! The target audience is amped up (couldn’t let that pun pass us by) and ready to invest in real change. In certain areas, there’s even infrastructure already in place to help support that customer base. For example, there are areas where public utilities offer aggressive incentive programs or where there’s a strong push for heat pump installations from the local building/HVAC industry, backed by manufacturer provided product incentives. Even areas where the oil or gas company has a poor record of safety, efficiency, or environmental consciousness creates a huge population of people looking for an alternative to their fossil fuel dependant lifestyles.

With such a strong foundation already in place in many areas, it is challenging to pick the right path: which audience, message, or incentive do we (as marketers) focus our limited resources on? Which opportunity is the best one to leverage?

The Approach: Strategy, Tactics & Execution

Strategy: Be the First! And Leverage the Opportunities!
Time is of the essence. Right now, awareness around the concept of “electrify everything” and the financial and environmental benefits of going all-electric is still relatively low, presenting a unique opportunity to be first at bat (in biz speak: first move advantage.) The earlier and more aggressively you get your chosen message to your target audience, the better positioned you’ll be as a leader, innovator and trusted source for credible information. To accomplish this, employ tactics designed to reach large, broad audiences quickly with compelling and engaging content.

Tactics:

  1. Video Marketing: Create custom, branded educational video that speaks directly to the target audience that holds the most opportunity for your business or in your area. (Consider the opportunities highlighted above, and tailor your video content accordingly). Remember: video alone is not a “build it and they will come” solution. To reach your audience quickly and effectively, develop and execute a dedicated video marketing campaign. Generate different versions of your video that leverage the strengths of the platform on which it will be published, and then amplify it across multiple channels. For example:
    • Feature a teaser or excerpt of the video on your website’s home page, and publish a long form version on a dedicated landing page. Drive traffic to the page via paid search and display advertising, as well as email and GMB posts.
    • Generate several shorter (10 to 15 second) versions of the video to use as pre-roll and post-roll ad placements on YouTube via Google Ads. Additionally, consider direct placements for the shorter cuts and audio versions on other streaming platforms like Hulu, Pandora and Spotify, to further amplify its reach.
    • Promote the video on Facebook and Instagram through video ad campaigns aimed at gaining views and building an audience. (Take advantage of Facebook’s remarketing capabilities to nurture that audience after they view your video, too.)

  • Dedicated Content Series: Produce a series of related content to publish on your site focused on the concept of total electrification, the science behind it, and any supporting infrastructure that’s available for your customers in your area. One blog post alone is not enough to secure your position as first. Take advantage of the lack of competition in this industry right now for this specific type of project, and be the first (and best) provider of quality, helpful comprehensive information on the topic.
  • Develop a list of at least 10 to 15 topics that will help inform your customer base, build awareness and interest, and again, position you as a knowledgeable authority on electrification. Focus first on subjects where there is already some traction — even if that traction is currently in a negative form. For example, many homeowners don’t like the idea of giving up their gas stoves. Confront the objection by promoting the quality and ease of induction cooking appliances. Work with a writer to frame the topics into articles, blogs, case studies or landing pages to incorporate the content throughout your entire site.
  • Release the content as a series — staggering blog publications on your site by one or two a week for several weeks. If incorporating landing pages, case studies or other formats besides blogs, make sure to implement well organized internal linking strategy within the site.

    • Amplify the content and build your audience by posting excerpts on social media that drive users back to your site to read the full article.

  • Co-op and Other Strategic Partnerships: Inform yourself about the various incentives, rebates, and other financial support programs available in your area, so you can inform your customers. Are there opportunities to join forces with or leverage the brand recognition of product manufacturers, like Mitsubishi or Fujitsu, by promoting product incentives or entering into a co-op or other partnership arrangement? Research the availability of community solar projects, or similar programs which might help consumers further offset the costs of going all electric. Highlight your knowledge and strategic associations in your marketing and offer to help your customers navigate all the options available to them.

    • Promote co-op or other partnerships in PPC Display Advertising, taking full advantage of the recognition and trust that more established brands might already have among your customer base.
    • Make information about the available support programs easy to find and scan on your website with dedicated landing pages and FAQs.
    • If possible, make use of live chat or a dedicated support number to help users quickly contact you and learn more about how your associations will benefit them.

The Conclusion

As an HVAC, home performance, or solar contractor, at the end of the day, the goal is to book more impactful and higher quality home improvement projects. In the area of total electrification, that means informing potential customers about the concept, and leveraging existing opportunities to generate interest and start capturing those leads! Positioning yourself as a leader and expert on the process and benefits around electrification is a great start toward building trust, awareness and demand for home and building electrification services in your area. Creating a series of videos, blogs or articles is an effective method for quickly reaching and educating large audiences, and when deployed as dedicated marketing campaigns as opposed to stand-alone pieces of content, their ability to grow and nurture your target customer base becomes even stronger.

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Tags: digital, electrification, electrify, energy, everything, hvac, marketing, solar, website

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Comment by Gary Heikkinen on May 23, 2019 at 12:04pm

With all due respect to the author, the concept of "electrify everything" being touted as a critical step to decarbonization can be very expensive, can have the opposite effect of decarbonization and is not the only strategy to reach long term goals of reducing carbon.  The electricity grid is certainly getting cleaner with the addition of renewables and the retirement of coal plants, but it will still be primarily fossil fuel-based for decades, especially on the margin.  Electricity generated from coal or natural gas is delivered to the home at about a 35% efficiency.  This means that a heat pump with a COP of 2.5-3.0 is really only operating at a COP of .88 to 1.05 when taking into account all of the losses  in generating and transmitting that electricity.  Carbon emissions are affected in the same way.  The best strategy for home performance professionals should continue to be helping home owners reduce heating and cooling loads through envelope improvements and then installing the highest efficiency equipment possible, regardless of whether it is a heat pump or natural gas furnace.  

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