Communicating with Consumers About Green Initiatives in 2021
The move to renewable energy is upon us. President-elect Joe Biden has set a 15-year timetable for eliminating emissions from the electric system and states have established their own mandates to hasten the move from fossil fuels to renewables.
How utilities speak to customers about the impact of renewable energy will determine whether this change is viewed positively or negatively. Going green undoubtedly comes at a cost. Projections for infrastructure updates could add anywhere from $20 to $58 to monthly bills for residential and business customers. Effectively communicating rate increases to customers will be essential to get right.
Energy utilities should lay the groundwork with education around renewable energy, work to segment communications to speak to different customers appropriately and promote energy efficiency programs with incentives and personal recommendations. Simply “leading with green” isn’t enough in 2021.
Generational shifts in green messaging
According to the U.S. Census, more than half the U.S. population is now the millennial generation and younger. Often referred to as Generation Green, they are more likely to think people have a large role in climate change and that the U.S. should focus on developing alternative energy sources. They are also willing to pay more for products and services that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact.
Meeting younger audiences with messages that resonate on core values will be essential for energy providers as they work to grow these customer relationships.
Keep in mind, millennials and Gen Z aren’t the only generations to care about the environment. Gen X and baby boomers care about eco-friendly efforts but require different messaging to encourage conversions.
An environmental message has the power to emotionally connect with some customers, but it is not always successful at driving conversions or achieving program goals with an older audience. Instead, when promoting something like an electric vehicle rebate program, the focus should be on the cost savings, with a secondary message about the environmental impact.
A straightforward green message may not be enough to drive conversions with all customers. Do research to understand your different customer segments and their feelings towards green energy shifts. Then build communication plans that speak to each specifically.
Growing environmental awareness
The EIA projects that the share of renewables in the U.S. electricity generation mix will increase from 19% in 2019 to 38% in 2050. As the transition to renewable energy continues, utilities must address their customers’ learning curve. While most consumers understand the concepts of solar, wind and hydroelectric energy, there remains misinformation about the environmental impacts and effect on rate structures.
Utilities bear the responsibility of becoming the unbiased educator around renewable energy sources. To build trust with customers, utilities must facilitate proper understanding. Generating and sharing reliable content that helps customers take control of their energy use will be imperative to digital communication efforts in 2021.
For green messaging to be successful, customer education is key. Many customers simply aren’t aware of the environmental benefits of a particular program. For example, if your energy utility is creating a campaign to promote a community solar program, provide customers with information about the energy-saving benefits and the impact on their energy bill.
More than ever, customers are looking to be informed about their energy choices. Providing reliable and unbiased information with a multi-channel digital strategy can help grow new and existing customer relationships.
Promoting smart home technology
With more people expected to work from home in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, residential energy use in the U.S. is predicted to rise by 6% to 8%. This at-home energy use increase is prompting consumers to incorporate new tools for monitoring and managing their electric bills.
Smart thermostats have seen an uptick in sales, with projections for continued expansion. The smart thermostat market is expected to see a compound annual growth rate of 23.1% from 2020 to 2025.
But many consumers still have a lack of understanding or fear around the impacts of smart home technologies. They don’t fully know how they can effectively conserve energy and save money by incorporating systems that monitor energy usage and have concerns about the safety of smart devices. 79% of US households fear that they lead to data security and privacy issues.
Utilities again have the responsibility to act as the trusted resource, building trust with customers. They should educate customers on the impacts of smart home technologies, explain how to properly get started, provide transparency around data usage, qualm fears, and guide purchase decisions with product recommendations.
Build trust around green initiatives
Carbon-reduction efforts are undoubtedly in full swing, but how energy utilities market these efforts and programs matters.
In 2021, energy utility should focus on education and transparency to best communicate with customers about green energy initiatives. Don’t simply push green messages and expect them to resonate. Understand the values, fears and existing knowledge base of your audience segments and build campaigns and educational content that match their needs.
Dave Reim is president and owner of Questline, a content marketing agency that works exclusively with energy utilities to build long-term digital engagement with residential and business customers.