Language and the Art of Selling Better Homes

Language and the Art of Selling Better Homes

If you’ve read our Buzzwords report from last year, you know that one of the phenomena we uncovered is that words that sound negative don’t land well with consumers. “Low VOC,” “low carbon footprint” and “net zero” all tested poorly with consumers – and two of those got categorized as “undesirable.”

I know that sounds crazy to those of you who know a thing or two about sustainability or energy efficiency. How could people think low VOCs are undesirable? How could they not see how great a net zero energy home is? (And by the way, 70% of the population believes they can’t explain this term.)

The reality is, in our culture we’re conditioned (thanks in large part to marketing and advertising firms like Shelton Group) to believe the best things in life are the “-est” things in life … highest, greatest, biggest, sexiest, etc. In this conditioning, things that are “low” are not good, and “zero” is the worst – we want 100%!

So how can we better talk with people about concepts like net zero energy homes and low VOCs? Give them an experience of the benefits vs. trying to explain it to them.

I was at the Canadian Home Builders’ Association Net Zero Energy Builder Boot Camp earlier this week and spoke about some of these challenges. Then I facilitated a panel discussion with builders who are actively marketing and selling highly efficient homes and also net zero energy homes. What I heard is that successfully selling somebody on the benefits of a net zero home is all about making the message relatable, making the benefits visible and giving people an experience of the benefits.

Let’s break it down:

  • Relatable: What works is to stay away from technical language and talk about what the consumer cares about … and do that in a human, even funny, way.
  • Visible: Once you’ve hooked their hearts, you can reassure them with a few facts – and the best way to do that is to show them how the house is different with cutaways and small models that literally show the difference in air sealing and insulation, and by putting solar on the home in a place where it’s easily seen. The images below are a great example from Avalon Master Builder of how to nail the relatable and visible piece.
  • Experiential: By far the best way to help someone “get” the benefits of a more efficient home is to give them an actual experience of it. Here are some great anecdotes I heard this week: “Have them stand on the basement floor and ask them if their feet are cold. They’ll say no, because of the insulation below the slab, and then tell them to go stand on the basement floor at other homes and notice if their feet are cold. They’ll come back to your home amazed.” “We have a new development near the airport and people come up to the model home mumbling that they don’t think they’ll be able to deal with the noise. Once they get in the house, they can’t believe how quiet it is.”

Got any great examples to share of how to make efficient, sustainable products or homes relatable, visible and experiential? I’d love to hear about them!

Ad images courtesy of Avalon Master Builder


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Posted on

May 5, 2016

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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