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“The Real Cost of a Light Bulb”

As DSM professionals we now have a wide variety of channels to available to us to deliver the energy efficiency message.  These can include social media (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, et al.), direct and indirect contacts through various sales efforts, as well as traditional media including e-mail, direct mail, and advertising.  Of course, with modern media your message will have to be succinct and quick, and its benefits may be fleeting given all the other messaging floating around the web. 

In thinking about the challenge we all face in encouraging energy users to use  energy products more efficiently, it reminds me of some of the basic fundamentals that at times seem to be getting lost in all the background noise.  The first fundamental is to keep in mind what the customers wants and needs.  In all cases customers buy the product because they need comfort (e.g., lighting, refrigeration, dishwashing, etc.) and they want to do it at a reasonable cost.  So, for example, back in the 70/80’s my then current company “overhead slide deck” had a slide called “The Real Cost of a Light Bulb,” which made the simple point that if a fluorescent lamp lasts 20,000 hours and an incandescent lasts 1,000 hours one to should factor in the costs and inconvenience of the changing an incandescent bulb 20 times over the lifetime of a of a fluorescent tube when comparing the products. So… not only is the customer saving money, but they are also saving the time and energy of climbing up a ladder every few months to change a light bulb.  Contrast this with messages about cost-effectiveness and complex calculations that require an “expert review” (e.g., TRC test to qualify) and it’s easy to see that if we can keep it simple we’ll more readily spur action.

Let’s carry this idea a step further: there is little question that people will be influenced by their friends and colleagues; but we again need to ask what the key motivator is.  The motivation for change was expressed very well in a 1991 paper published by Princeton University called “Neighborhood influence and technological change.” The paper covered why farmers adopted certain technologies and stated that, “…the farmers must persuade themselves that the technology is or is not suited to their needs….the farmer is likely to seek conviction that his thinking is on the right path from peers.”  This, of course, can be a two-edged sword. When a neighbor tries a CFL and doesn’t like it, that will lower the likely adoption rate through their circle. On the other hand, as I can testify personally,  I just replaced my indoor flood lights with LEDs and was pleased  at how bright the lights are as well as saving me a lot of energy. Oh, and by the way, my local utility provided an incentive to buy them.  To me, this form of testimonial is far more effective than a blanket general message about what your neighbors do.

So, in summary, even though the marketing channels are changing, we still need to focus on the fundamental themes that focus on what customers want. Customer wants can be summarized as people want comfort and safety first and then savings. Now more than ever messaging must be simple and direct, and keep in mind that people will be influenced by their peers as validation of their decisions—not just because the “neighbors do it.” Of course the challenge and opportunity is if one is limited to a 140 characters the messaging has to extremely direct and to the point. So, “let’s do it.”


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