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Selling " Green " In a Challenging Market

If you hand the average homebuyer $10,000 to spend on their new residence, how will they use it?

It would be nice to believe that the funds would go toward solar panels, energy-efficient appliances, or another envirofriendly investment. Instead, it's more likely that the money would purchase granite countertops or crown moulding.

"Green" amenities don't yet have the appeal of traditional luxury amenities. Homebuyers seem happy to have environmentally friendly homes, but when the recycled rubber hits the road, their money is going toward what they perceive to be the best value for their money, and what they believe will improve their quality of life. This is especially true in a difficult housing market where funds are at a premium and those who are purchasing homes are in search of the best value they can find-they want as much for their money as they can get.

It has reached the point where to encourage homeowners to think favorably of environmentally friendly development and renovation, the government has stepped in with subsidies and credits. The recently-passed Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010 awards rebates to homeowners who undertake steps to improve the impact of their homes, such as purchasing more efficient windows or waterheaters.

In these conditions, how does a developer effectively market environmental responsibility? How does a marketing team influence the decision-making process so that a buyer will spend that theoretical $10,000 on green amenities and not on luxury upgrades?

One approach is to position green amenities as not just money-saving features, but as enhancements that impact the quality of life for the buyers and their families. Instead of positioning green building as a cost benefit or just a positive for the environment, marketing can sell green as an enhancement to a home that is every bit as appealing and enriching as those granite countertops.

MBK Homes has developed its own campaign around green building as a way of improving the quality of life for homebuyers. Branded as LifeWise, it focuses on four distinct areas of environmental consciousness: Water, health, energy, and earth. The messaging is built around green features as true enhancements to a home, not just as responsible building or cost-saving measures. Positioning envirofriendly amenities in such a way requires a top-down approach that starts with a builder's own environmental track record and cascades to sales agents in the field.

The first step in this direction is to practice the principles you preach as a builder. Green building should be about more than just a few bullet points in the project brochure. From a development perspective, there is something to be said for responsible construction and design. It requires a proactive approach that takes environmental stewardship seriously and serves as a corporate barometer for responsible business practices.

That level of commitment speaks to buyers as a foundation for marketing green effectively. Independent certifications provide visible proof to buyers that there is a level of responsibility at work in the development, design and appointments in their new home. According to the 2009 ImagePower Green Brands Survey, 45% of consumers rely upon certification marks to determine product greenness, and 77% of consumers care that the company they buy from is green.

Next, on a project by project basis, identify the key green features and amenities, and then work to link those features to real benefits to the lifestyle and health of your buyers. Customers do care about the earth and the environment; even more importantly, prospects care about the health of themselves and their families, and about features that will protect that health and enhance overall quality of life.

Range exhaust fans in the kitchen that push air to the outside of the home can help improve air quality for residents. Interior paints with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are beneficial to the environment not just on a macro level globally but on a micro level within the home itself, protecting residents from potentially harmful toxins. Flooring options such as cork, bamboo, or recycled carpeting provide environmental benefits but also give the home a distinct, appealing look. Here the positive impact on the environment can play a role, but also spend time working to message the envirofriendly features as health and lifestyle benefits to buyers.

Once the amenities are clearly delineated and positioned as buyer benefits, a unified branding strategy helps package these messages for clearest communication to prospects. While the average homebuyer surely understands envirofriendly building at a very high level, selling a buyer on green building and add-ons requires a deeper level of communication than just the surface platitudes. Building a branding strategy around green initiatives helps to message the specifics more effectively, establishes a position against the competition's own green features, and helps to sell the overall concept of "green" to buyers.

The branding strategy should also be extended throughout the marketing for the project. More than just a single brochure, green options should be present in the model homes alongside more traditional features. Callouts and collateral materials positioned near each feature can tie into the branding and help create a seamless connection between the branding campaign, the amenities, and the value propositions being communicated to buyers.

Implementing some of the latest online marketing techniques can also be especially effective for branding and selling green features. A short YouTube video shot using a low-end handheld video camera can do more to bring the reality of your green initiatives to buyers than a slickly-produced website or brochure. Twitter can provide a mechanism for reaching prospects with the latest news about green initiatives in the region and the latest green enhancements to a project.

Finally, as with all major marketing initiatives, education is key for employees, especially sales representatives and even area real estate agents. This is specifically important when it comes to messaging green initiatives as a benefit for buyer health and quality of life. These are outside-the-box strategies for selling these features and without education, a sales team may simply fall back onto more comfortable, traditional selling techniques for green features, or even worse, omit the green features entirely from the sales experience.

There is still potential for green features and amenities as a selling point to buyers; the key is finding a new approach that underscores different benefits from the more well-worn methods that emphasize cost savings over time and environmental responsibility. It is our duty as builders and developers to support these efforts with the right sales and marketing approach; whatever the financial benefit, there is a level of responsibility. As an industry, we should be accepting that responsibility and evolving our sales and marketing techniques to help pass the message on to those who buy our homes.

Posted on May, 27th 2010

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