In the advertising profession, there’s an old adage that nobody wants to buy a ¾-inch drill bit; they want to buy a ¾-inch hole. In other words, people want the benefit, not the feature.

Yet, most energy efficiency marketing focuses on the feature, advertising energy-efficient products and programs as if that’s what people can’t wait to buy. Or the marketing efforts focus on the surface-level, rational-brain benefits that don’t create a true emotional connection and are so ubiquitous they don’t get noticed or seem believable (Case in point: “Save money.”)

Based on years of practice--and 10 years of consumer-data gathering--here’s what builders and manufacturers need to promise to move people to buy energy-efficient products and homes:

Comfort: In this year’s Energy Pulse survey, when we ask Americans to prioritize comfort, efficiency, health, resale value, beauty and green, in terms of expenditures, comfort wins. It makes sense: the notion of being able to wrap my family in a big, warm, fuzzy blanket and keep them cozy offers a much stronger emotional pull than saving a few bucks on my energy bill. And, by the way, in other questions when we try to get at aesthetics vs. efficiency, of course the reality is that people want pretty homes…but they also want pretty, comfortable, high-quality homes. They don’t see efficiency and aesthetics as two separate silos the way our industry does. They see those as hallmarks of quality homes. So don’t separate them. Talk about having better homes and better products, and use comfort and beauty as the proof points to that better claim.

The "king of the universe" feeling that comes from harnessing the power of the sun: In our Spring 2014 Eco Pulse survey we performed a market simulation offering up pictures and descriptions of two similar houses and asking the audience which they would purchase. We repeated that exercise multiple times, swapping out some of the features so we could begin to see a pattern in which features drove preference--and price point (in the research arena this is known as a conjoint analysis or discrete choice analysis). A solar energy system was the second most popular feature (behind a soaking/whirlpool tub, which also makes the comfort point).

Americans LOVE solar energy. It’s by far the No. 1 answer when we ask people which form of energy they’d support financially if they were the president and could only support one. We’ve done a lot of work with solar manufacturers over the years, and I can tell you that the thing solar owners love most about their system is their ability to watch their utility meters spin backwards (and to invite their friends over to watch it, too). It’s the ultimate in sticking it to the man! I am in control! I have a power plant on my house!

So the feature may be solar…but the benefit is that awesome feeling of having something that used to just “happen to you” in the form of an unpredictable monthly utility bill now under your purview.

Peace of mind: Speaking of utility bills, for most Americans it is an unpleasant surprise 12 times a year. An efficient home--particularly one with a PV system--offers the promise of more manageable bills…and the benefit is peace of mind. No more waiting for that random $500 shoe to drop in a really hot month. And if there’s a “healthier” promise that can be made about your homes, awesome. The peace of mind that comes from knowing my children are breathing cleaner air--particularly if my kids have asthma or allergies--is golden.

Resale value: We saw this drop as a benefit in this year’s Energy Pulse, but it’s still a very important notion to get across in your marketing. Resale value is the feature, the benefit is feeling like the smartest human in the universe when I sell that home for a 10% price premium. Now, you’ll need to track the resale value of your homes over time to make this claim, but if you can make the claim you should do it. And you should make it in the form of either gaining the upside of feeling smart or avoiding the downside of feeling not smart if you buy somebody else’s home and can’t get a price premium at resell. Loss-aversion actually works extremely well in our marketing tests…but you have to be careful to be light about it, lest you come off as fear mongering.

Take a look at my last post. If you start promoting these benefits--and do it using terminology that Americans actually understand--you should be able to create a marketing edge.

To learn more, or download a free executive summary of the Energy Pulse or Eco Pulse report, visit Shelton Group is the nation’s leading marketing communications firm entirely focused in the energy and environment space. The firm polls Americans on a regular basis to better understand attitudes and behaviors related to energy and the environment, and the uses the insights gained to help some of America’s largest utilities, building products manufacturers and consumer goods makers package and leverage their energy efficiency and environmental offerings in order to gain a market advantage.