Marketing Green: How to sell homeowners on the benefits, not the features - Fine Homebuilding

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The Deans of Green

The Deans of Green

Marketing Green: How to sell homeowners on the benefits, not the features

comments (2) June 12th, 2009 in Blogs
MChandler Michael Chandler, member

Click To Enlarge Photo: courtesy of Michael Chandler

I teach the NAHB Certified Green Practitioner class here in North Carolina. Pretty much every time I do it I’m faced with a wonderful gang of skeptics and beleaguered tough guys. These guys don’t sign up for the class until they’re ready and eager to learn; they want to build tighter, healthier, more durable and efficient homes. But they are convinced that the customer isn’t ready to pay for it. The bottom line is, they aren’t ready to sell it. If they can’t get the contract signed at a price that supports the effort of stepping up to Certified Green building practices, this whole movement is dead in the water.

There are two themes at work here. First, green building is not an upgrade, it’s a differentiator. To a certain extent green is just a handle that we put on durable energy- and indoor-air-quality- focused building. If you are a conscientious builder you are probably pretty close to building green already. So when builders are just getting started on green certification I encourage them NOT to try to build the next house “green” before finding  out just how close to green the last house they built was.

We need to stop dancing around the discussion you don’t want to have with our customer. “I can build you the very worst performing, D-minus type, barely legal home (code minimum) or I can go green, but green will be more expensive.” We’re not going to have that conversation because you wouldn’t be reading this unless you’re already building a much better-than-code home because both you and your customers demand it.

So when you run the last house you built through the on-line calculator at you are going to find out that, but for a few cans of low VOC paint, having a pizza lunch to get all the trades together to go over the plans before construction, a legitimate manual J calculation from your HVAC guy and some CRI labeled carpet, you could have certified that last house Green and Energy Star just for the cost of the report cards. And the only thing that costs extra out of all that is the pizza, the manual J and the report card.

Green isn’t an upgrade, it’s the way quality builders build houses. We would no more offer our customers discounts for letting us build to the lowest standard allowable by law than we would charge extra for building a house that’s just good enough to allow us to sleep well at night. Green building certification is just a way to put a meaningful number on just how well built a home really is under the granite countertops and the fancy trim details. It’s what differentiates the good builders from the mediocre builders. 

Back to the class. We had an experienced green builder there who was just banging his head against the wall. “I know,” he said, “but I talk to them about the HERS ratings and the blower door numbers and ERVs and low VOC everything we use and their eyes just glaze right over.” This guy was so passionate and so frustrated. And I can relate; I’m a shelter nerd too - I think Energy Recovery Ventilators are just fascinating. My customers find this amusing I think.

The regional marketing director from the giant national building company had the answer that makes the second theme for this story. “You’re trying to sell the features when what they are interested in are the benefits.” The customer doesn’t really care what you do to make their house better than the one across the street. They care that you are conscientious enough to build them a home that uses less energy, is more comfortable, has cleaner indoor air, conserves water, is more durable and requires less maintenance on the weekends.

This is what green means to them. It helps if it gives them a warm and fuzzy feeling when they talk about how green their house is at the family reunion and if it looks like it will hold its resale value better than the energy hog across the street with the smelly carpet. But it’s about the benefits to their family, not the methods you employed to achieve them and it’s the same for the small custom builder, the small production builder and the national giant.

So we’re not selling green features, we’re selling differentiation and benefits. As green builders we don’t just say we’re conscientious about the details, we prove it with third party testing through Energy Star and a Green Building Certification program. We bring value through our green building systems and products which have measurable benefits for the family that will live in this house.

Green building is not an upgrade (from brown to green), it is what differentiates your company from those who don’t care enough to build green. The customers don’t care about what you do to make their house green, they care about how living in a green house will benefit their family.

posted in: Blogs, business, green building

Comments (2)

YukonJoel YukonJoel writes: I agree that there is a problem building green homes if no one will buy them. The solution is education- for builders, bankers, realtors and buyers. I attended a series of "contractors breakfasts" offered by the Yukon Housing Corporation in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory this spring. At the last one they addressed the issue of building green being too expensive. Jurgen Korn who works at YHC and was the presenter had crunched the numbers to compare the building cost of four houses of the same footprint but different building styles- 1)2x6 stud walls, R-20 insulation
2)2x6 studs with 2x3 horizontal strapping, R-28 insul.
3)R2000- A Canadian energy efficient building program
4)Supergreen-see A new wall system with R-60 insulation, R-80 to 100 ceilings, greatly reduced thermal bridging, HRV, etc.

The difference in building cost was about 10%. This could be a lot depending on your perception and your financial situation but look further. the difference in energy use between house 1 and house 4 was that the Super green house used five times less energy for heating. Jurgen looked even further and calculated the heating costs over 25 years (using todays oil prices, not even accounting for the inevitable increase in the cost of heating over the 25 years) and found that the Super green home would save approximately $175,000 in heating costs over that of the house built with 2x6 walls. The person in the Super green home would be ahead of the game right from the start because the savings in heating costs was greater than the increase in mortgage payments for the higher building costs.
Now, what if i went to my investment advisor and told her I had some money to invest and she told me about two mutual funds I could get into. One would cost me $150,000 and after 25 years it would be worth... $150,000 (okay, maybe a bit more for inflation, etc.). The other would cost 10% more and after 25 years would be worth $340,000. The choice would be a no brainer. It should be the same in choosing a regular house or a Super green house. And this only speaks to the financial advantages. It says nothing about reducing our impact on the environment, increased comfort and air quality in the home, improved resale value and the every day satisfaction of knowing you are in a quality home.
Posted: 12:16 am on July 7th

MFournier MFournier writes: Great article. It reminds me of my previous job before I returned to the building trades. I was a graphic designer in a marketing department for a software company. At that job the software developers would go on and on about the latest technologies they were building in to the software and to them the they thought it was obvious how 32 bit vs 16 bit code was better or multithreaded applications were a worth the upgrade costs but they had no idea how to relate it to customers needs.

Now that I am remodeling homes and building custom homes I understand the technologies that make for a better built home and a greener home but I also remember my experience in marketing. Fist rules is know you customers NEEDS and concerns and fill them. Don't sell them technology but solve a real problem they have with it.

Real Problem 1. Higher fuel costs
Solutions: better sealed and insulated shell, High efficiency HVAC systems, and alternative energy mechanical systems.

Real Problem 2. Tighter houses mean bad air quality
Solutions: Properly designed HVAC systems that include air exchangers., Building products that do not off gas or contain unhealthy chemicals.

Real Problem 3. We all live in a world of limited resources and are concerned with the our impact on the environment we live but more important is the immediate environment of your own back yard, our own drinking water or septic system and our families comfort.

Solutions: Low water consumption fixtures. limited or no use of unhealthy chemicals on the job site that will be their home. remind them building waste is their waste and can end up in their immediate environment local land fills leach into local water supplies do they really want to risk it to save a few bucks?

Real problem faced buy all home owners hiring a contractor.
Solutions: Independent certification and energy audits that prove you are really providing what you promises with out the homeowner having to take your word for it.
The cost of these certifications is nothing compared to the piece of mind they get from them.

The key is make the customer feel that it is not a mater of higher cost or lower cost or built to code minimum or built to green specs. But that it is the difference of built right or built wrong. No one cuts what they deem as necessary so it is up to you to show them that they need to build green if they are going to build a properly built modern home anything less is simply a waste of money and a risk to their health and their families and also a risk to their investment in a new home.
No one wants to spend more then the need too but even worse no one wants to feel that even though they spent less it was a waste of money because they ended up with less then what they needed or it was inferior to the point of being a hazard to their health or their wallet.
Posted: 10:30 pm on June 15th

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