The energy efficiency market for the built environment is crowded. Anyone who’s attended Ecobuild, the world’s largest event for sustainable design, construction and the built environment, would bear witness to this. The conference has almost doubled in size every year since 2005, which means any company working in this space must adopt an effective communications strategy if they want to be heard above the many different voices.
It is therefore critical that companies targeting the built environment map their PR and marketing messages to high level trends and policies that are unlikely to change, rather than short-term incentives or issues.
Strategic messaging must also recognise both the challenges faced by their target audience and what they need, in order ensure they can respond with clear and compelling messaging. For example, the regulatory pressures and purchasing priorities of house builders and authorities, and the types of solutions they seek.
Focus on the long term conversation
Working on communications strategies for energy efficiency companies is exciting because the subject remains such a hot topic with the mainstream press and it is vital to our long-term future. However, there are so many energy efficiency related trends that companies could offer an opinion on, that it can be distracting.
That’s why we advise companies to focus their communications plans on long-term policies, issues, or concerns, such as increased electricity demand and the rising cost of living. It can be a gamble to align communications strategy to government incentives, which may peter out or be watered down. We’ve seen this happen with initiatives such as Feed in Tariffs and it could potentially happen with The Green Deal.
Another challenge for energy efficiency firms that match communications strategies to government incentives is the potential for confusion. Propertywire quoted Kim Vernau, chief executive officer of new homes insurance provider BLP Insurance, as stating “Whilst the ultimate objective of the Green Deal is laudable there is a great sense of confusion surrounding the policy.” This is a viewpoint echoed by clients and prospects that we have spoken to.
A company could tie themselves up in knots trying to map their communications strategy to the twists and turns that UK energy policy and trends can take. It is therefore far better to focus on the hot issues that will continue to burn rather than fizzle out, such as rising energy prices and increased demand. That way, companies will ensure that their messages resonate better and stay relevant for longer.
Even though the energy mix is often in a state of flux, the need for energy efficiency will always be important, as it helps to balance increased demand for electricity and drive down energy costs.
Admittedly there will be cases where it’s not immediately clear if something will be a short-lived or long-term trend, like the change in use policy for properties, which will make it easier to convert redundant office blocks for residential use. In these cases, proceed with caution, because although it could be good news for energy efficiency companies targeting retrofits, the policy has already attracted controversy and push back from the City of London.
Know the barriers to adoption and address them
PR is a two-way mode of communication: It’s just as important to listen to the marketplace as it is to speak to it. So, while on the one hand you have clear messaging about an issue such as the rising cost of energy and how your product can help save energy in terms of heating costs, you will also need to acknowledge the barriers to adoption.
For instance, you might find that a key barrier to adoption is the concern that energy efficiency improvements may de-value a property, especially if the property(ies) are secured by a bank, in which case your communication strategy should be focused on tackling these concerns head on. So, if you are in the business of selling solar panels, we’d recommend you have long-term ROI calculations (based on maintenance costs and material longevity) and use these to address concerns.
There may also be misconceptions about your product or technology that could be resolved by conducting research or using existing findings to support your case. You could also consider speaking to valuation experts for their opinion, or using case studies that demonstrate examples where solar PV installations have increased a house’s value.
In adopting this two-pronged approach, you may also find that you need to broaden the scope of your target audience. Using the example of solar PV, there is a strong chance that your communications plan should involve influencing banks, not just property owners.
In summary, when it comes to your messaging, think long term. It’s better to have one robust message that resonates well and can weather the many different ways the policy wind may blow, than multiple messages that have a short shelf life and miss your targets.