When people buy energy, whether it’s in the form of coal, electricity, solar panels, wind turbines or oil, the on-the-surface motivation is simple: People need power, particularly in this contemporary era of ultra-productivity and cities that never sleep. Look past the first glance, however, and energy sales go well beyond the simple idea of meeting energy demand. This crucial fact makes all the difference in how well energy-smart products do in the market.
As an example, the Autobytel website (autobytel.com) presented the following facts as of February 2013:
The least expensive hybrid car was the 2013 Honda Insight, which was priced at $18,500. It got 41miles per gallon city and 44 miles per gallon highway.
- The cheapest non-hybrid sedan was the 2013 Nissan Versa, which weighed in with a MSRP of just $10,990. It provided 27 miles per gallon city and 36 miles per gallon highway.
From the functional standpoint, both the Honda Insight and the Nissan Versa do exactly the same thing: They both get a person from point A to point B. The Honda Insight, however, has better gas mileage. The obvious reason people want better gas mileage is to save money, but let’s break it down assuming at least 100,000 miles on each car:
- At 27 miles per gallon, it would take a person driving the Nissan Versa 3,703 gallons of gas to go 100,000 miles. At $3.75 per gallon, that equates to $13,889.
- At 41 miles per gallon, it would take a person driving the Honda Insight 2,439 gallons of gas to go 100,000 miles. At $3.75 per gallon, that equates to $9,146.
These calculations show that driving the hybrid would save a person $4,743. Yet, the sticker price is $7,510 more than the non-hybrid. The savings don’t justify the higher purchase cost, showing that the person who opts for the hybrid really is buying something else for his money.
When a person buys a hybrid, he doesn’t just buy better gas mileage. He buys the perception of being environmentally friendly. He buys the perception of being able to afford being environmentally friendly. Both have very specific social connotations. Car manufacturers largely have ignored these in their marketing, and as a result, the transition to hybrids has been very slow. The problem extends to other energy-wise companies, as well, which largely focus on design or functionality without really being clear about why those designs and functions are desirable to the buyer.
In short, in order to sell energy-efficient or renewable energy products, companies have to look past the environmental and into the social. It’s Marketing 101, but unless businesses recognize the underlying benefits consumers get from buying these goods, they likely won’t be able to make the solid emotional connections that lead to customer loyalty and continued or increased sales.
Most big retail companies have entire marketing teams devoted solely to researching consumer trends and what spurs them. These teams get paid good money for their work, because the…