A new approach for selling green buildings and green retrofits

This doesn't look like green building. But his story will help sell them.

This doesn’t look like green building. But his story will help sell them.

Green buildings make their occupants happier and more profitable and are worth more. How come every new building isn’t green? How come every existing building isn’t getting a green retrofit?

The message isn’t getting through because of the way our brains process information. To summarize:

  • Thinking requires a lot of oxygen and calories.
  • To prevent exhaustion the brain filters out most incoming data.
  • Most is routed to the subconscious and processed there.
  • Conscious thinking is only engaged on exceptional things.

So how do we overcome our own defenses? Here’s a 3-step solution.

  1. Reframe the story.
  2. Find a respected community leader to re-tell the story
  3. Repeat, repeat, repeat

Let me give a simple example based on my own experience. I’m a skier and follow downhill ski racing. For a long time I only cared about who finished 1st, 2nd or 3rd. Then I changed my mind. Here is how it happened.

Reframe the story. I read a book by a retired racer. He explained that the difference between 1st and 15th is less than a tenth of second. That’s time it takes to blink 2 or 3 times. That’s incredibly close after racing 3.5 kilometers (2.5 miles) at 150 km/h (92 mph). Reframing showed that my focus on 1st, 2nd and 3rd made no sense.

Messages need messengers. The person who explained this was himself a world champion. At the time he was the first non-European ever to win the downhill championship. Plus he’s Canadian, as am I. All this credibility and personal identification has been proven to help new facts slip past the old guard.

Repeat, repeat, repeat. We are bombarded with more information than any creature that has ever existed in the 4 billion years that earth has circled the sun. This racer likely said these  things before and I follow racing news. But I only came across the story after he retired and wrote an autobiography.

Viagara vs energy conservation

It pains me deeply that viagara spam often has a better success rate than energy conservation programs. Researchers have known for 30 years that the ways we motivate people to conserve energy often don’t work. But we keep at it the old way.

Here’s what we do. We carpet bomb people with facts about how much energy we waste and how much all that waste costs. Then we offer to pay them to behave better, to use energy efficiently.

Studies of the success of these programs show them to be hit or miss. Some programs are heavily used, some gather dust. Sometimes people permanently cut their energy use, alot. In others people still guzzle energy like there’s no tomorrow.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. With thanks to http://www.fark.com.

So I dug into the roots of the problem. Over the next little while I’m going to share what I found. It all starts, and stops, with how we think. We assume that people think rationally. We don’t.

Big bonuses produce better performance, right?

Bigger bonus = smaller results. Huh?

Wrong. This is no left-wing spin – the research was funded by the Federal Reserve Bank.

When you pay people who have to think, the bigger the bonus you pay them, the smaller the results your get. Bigger bonuses only drive more results when you pay for work done by your people’s hands and arms, legs and feet.

So why are we laughing?

Don’t believe me? In fact, do you feel rather angry? Rant away. But if Vegas ran a book where you bet on the results of these experiments, and you put your money on the players offered the big bonus, the house wins. Come to think of it, the house does win in Vegas.

For a 10-minute visual picture of the perverse power of bonuses, check out Dan Pink’s talk Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. The infographic at top right is from Pink’s talk.

For detail, check out Dan Ariely’s The Upside of Irrationality. It’s fascinating.

Sport: the new energy saver?

Popular wisdom says that there are huge spikes in electricity dyring big sporting events. It’s all because of the intermissions. People leap up for hot snacks, cold beer and a trip to the loo. All that microwaving, fridge opening and hand washing burns up the kilowatts.

In fact, just the reverse happened during the final mens hockey game at the Winter Olympics when the host country played for gold.

The two curves on the chart show electricity consumption in Ontario. The grey line is a typical Sunday in February. The yellow line shows demand on Sunday February 28, 2010. That was the Canada-US gold-medal hockey game.

Is it good strategy to watch TV to save electricity?

The close game attracts more and more viewers. People stop doing everything else. Electricity demand drops. Sure, there are spikes for food, refreshment and sanitation. But overall, people glued to a TV use less juice than if they were doing the usual.

And the change lasts. Post-game electricity demand is still at least 10% below the usual Sunday peak.

OK, not too practical as an energy conservation strategy. Even for Canada.

Makes you wonder what the effect of the Spain-Netherlands game was.

“We have no competition” is the worst thing a start-up can say

Every sale starts with awareness and creating it is costly. Even leading companies in existing categories have to spend heavily to maintain their position. Don’t believe me? An Interbrand study reports the 1999 marketing spend of three companies: Yahoo $206m; Amazon $402m; and IBM $1b.

Without Blackberry, and especially Palm, would iPhone have been so successful?

That’s why smart companies spend alot of time defining competitors. Customer experience with competitor products reveals untapped opportunities. Smart companies focus their product development spend on exploiting those opportunities. And they focus marketing spend on promoting this unique value.

These rules apply to startups. Smart investors know this. So when you say “we have no competition” it’s a red flag. It is a warning. It could mean bigger potential and bigger risk. Or that you are naive.

Expect to be grilled. Acknowledge the size and scope of the marketing challenge. Be prepared to step through your strategy for developing awareness and the thinking that went into it. Show how your tactics will leverage your marketing spend. Social media like blogging, and co-marketing partnerships, need to take prominent roles.

If you can’t prove that you are prepared the conversation will end in short order. Smart investors will never take your call again. The other kind of investor you don’t want.