National News: Practical Stategies for Green Marketing

Leading a seminar at the NAHB National Green Building Conference earlier this month in Dallas on “Practical Strategies for Green Marketing,” Jim Groff, president of the York, Pa. firm Baublitz Advertising, offered some ideas on how green builders and remodelers can become a dominant force in their marketplace.

  1. Know your stuff, he said. “Confused people don’t buy,” Groff said, and successful green builders and remodelers cut through that confusion by positioning themselves as a source of knowledge. That doesn’t mean that every builder must be an expert in all aspects of green design and construction, any more than a successful Little League coach must be an expert on the rules of baseball. “You don’t need to know everything. You just need to know more than the kids,” he said. That said, builders should know where to get the information they need – and start with NAHB. “Be a good student to be a good teacher,” Groff said.
  2. Make sure that you have a written communications plan for your company that includes an assessment of the overall market, target audience, the effect of trends, what media to use, a message and a timeline. “You can’t be all things to all people,” Groff said.  A written plan also ensures that expectations are clear and that the builder can gauge whether the plan is achieving its goal. “What is your objective? Do you want people to visit your Web site, or attend a seminar?” he asked. When hiring an outside firm, expect to pay between 2% and 5% of total sales on marketing and media, he said. “Every expenditure is like tuition. You learn from your mistakes,” Groff said.
  3. Make sure the message you choose differentiates your business from the competition. The message, Groff said, “has to be more than about quality or green. It has to be unique, meaningful and credible. If it doesn’t mean anything to your target market, it doesn’t mean anything.” One good selling point is value, he said. Builders cannot promise energy savings but they can talk about features that can help achieve it. “Even smart people often need you to connect the dots,” he said.
  4. Make sure your customers understand the importance of your credentials and certifications, including the Certified Green Professional designation, an NAHBGreen-certified home or a Green Approved building product. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it, Groff said. Even if it’s true that in 10 years everyone will be green, it’s still an advantage for now. “Use it for the next 10 years,” he advised.
  5. “Fish where the fish are,” said Groff. So-called “dark green” home buyers still trend toward being affluent, well-educated, married and 40-ish. “Medium green” buyers are looking for hope, convenience and prevention of possible health issues or high energy prices. “Light green” buyers are driven mostly by self-expression and status, he said. “Qualify your prospects. Listen more than you tell,” he added. “You don’t know what their hot buttons are if you are doing all the talking.”
  6. Choose tactics that are right for your target audience – and also your budget. First, all corporate identity materials – truck logos, uniforms, the Web site – should be “professional and consistent,” he said. Beyond that, take advantage of public speaking engagements, social networks such as Facebook, home parade and expo participation, e-newsletters and other means “as frequently as you can give folks meaningful information,” and establish yourself as the expert they seek.
  7. If you decide to hire an advertising or public relations agency, shop around, Groff said. Make sure that work samples are the product of people who are currently on staff; also, share your budget and discuss expected results. “Look for compatibility, clear dialogue; find someone you trust, and take their advice,” he said.
  8. Don’t overpromise. “Speak the truth” about energy-efficiency claims or possible health benefits, Groff said. “Never greenwash, because all of us will lose.” All builders and remodelers who are going green are “growing” the category – but early adaptors will get the earliest benefit. Once the market returns, “growth will benefit the category leaders,” and that’s likely to be green builders, Groff said.
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