Consumer Engagement

Why is consumer engagement important?

From 2016 new build homes in England will have to meet the zero carbon standards. This will mean changes for the industry in the way homes are built but also changes for consumers – both in terms of the design of homes and the way these homes will operate day-to-day.

Lying at the heart of successful delivery against the UK’s sustainability targets is an enduring market for low and zero carbon homes. Growth in this market could be hindered by a lack of common understanding of how tomorrow’s new homes, with their enhanced environmental credentials, should be marketed.

Marketing tomorrows new homes

Published in 2010, Marketing Tomorrow’s New Homes’ advises that our approach to the marketing of new low and zero carbon homes should, not focus on eco-credentials but instead concentrate on the lifestyle advantages and promoting ‘A new way of living’. To achieve this, a fundamental rethink over how low and zero carbon homes are positioned was recommended - moving from the current terminology, towards ensuring that these new homes are perceived as the new normal (Figure 1) and become a purchasing proposition that can be easily and favourably compared with the existing housing stock.


Figure 1. Re-framing the issue so that it engages the consumer

A key recommendation was for the creation of a generic pan-industry marketing strategy to prime consumers, and to also inform the specific marketing propositions from developers (Figure 2). In developing this strategy, ten recommendations were identified that should underpin an effective marketing strategy:

  1. Clarify the vision

  2. Target consumers but also their influencers

  3. Position homes as a joined-up homes policy

  4. Integrate (don’t ghettoise) green

  5. Create constant innovation rather than radical changes

  6. Help industry to create a more saleable product

  7. Simplify financing

  8. Amplify homes marketing not just homes sales

  9. Identify the ideal consumer-facing delivery channel

  10. Promote examples not just exemplars

 

Figure 2. Generic and brand marketing pan-industry marketing primes the market and supports branded marketing from developers 

Consumer attitudes

Some positive shifts in consumer attitude and engagement with low and zero carbon homes have been identified, but certain areas still remain cause for concern. Published by NHBC Foundation in 2012, Today's attitudes to low and zero carbon homes (NF40), in which Zero Carbon Hub was closely involved, explores the views of occupiers, house builders and housing associations when considering low and zero carbon homes, examining general perceptions as well as real experiences of construction, occupation and maintenance.

In 2008, NHBC Foundation published valuable insights into attitudes to low and zero carbon homes, climate change, energy efficiency and microgeneration and since that time much work had been done to address the recommendations. NF40 investigates, whether attitudes have changed and contains a detailed examination of responses from occupiers, house builders and housing associations. It examines the thoughts, awareness and understanding about issues such as climate change, the 2016 zero carbon definition, airtightness and renewable energy technologies.

Key findings were that:

  • Occupiers like their new homes, with very few stating a dissatisfaction with their occupational experience.
  • Energy efficiency and the savings that can be made on fuel bills are recognised and liked by occupiers.
  • Those looking to move would like more information about energy savings and would value information presented in monetary terms or indications of utility bill costs.
  • Some change in attitudes is evident, with evidence for an increasing concern about scarcity of resources.
  • There is confusion about zero carbon homes, especially about the details of the policy and the associated costs of construction.
  • Home valuations are not taking renewable technologies into account, although a large number of occupiers state they would pay a premium when it can be directly linked with a saving in energy bills.
  • There is some industry scepticism around the implementation of zero carbon targets.
  • Consumer awareness of solar technologies is high with over half of respondents slightly or strongly attracted to buying a home with these features.
  • Financial incentives could help encourage people to consider a more energy efficient home but awareness of current incentives is low.
  • User-friendly terminology would benefit consumers, especially when communicating about technological features of a home.
  • Action is needed to help understanding of use and maintenance of renewable technologies, through verbal and/or written instruction.
  • There are concerns about product manufacturers' service, which have resulted in some housing associations installing backup systems or even decommissioning a technology.