It turns out energy conservation is still a pretty serious issue in 2016, one that’s gained traction over the years but still struggles to achieve widespread adoption and commitment.
Countless programs from utilities, government organizations, and environmental groups have attempted to make it easier and more affordable for people to implement newer, more efficient technology. These same stakeholders have invested in generous subsidy and rebate programs. And marketers have tried just about everything to get into the heads of consumers and identify the trigger capable of changing the way people think about energy.
The answer may not lie in incentives or knowledge, but good old-fashioned peer pressure.
Telling people how much they can save by using less energy has proven fairly successful and is a common tactic, as a simple google search will show you. But when that same savings is framed in the context of something that your equal receives but you do not, it becomes much more powerful.
The idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” has been around since the early 1900s and typically carries the negative connotation of buying things you don’t need to avoid being seen as inferior. But in the last decade or so, the energy industry has been able to harness the concept’s powers for good.
A great example of this is the Home Energy Report (HER) created by Opower, a software-as-a-service company that predominantly partners with utility companies. The reports provide utility customers with an in-depth look at how much energy they’re using and how much it’s costing them, as well as the figures for comparable households in the area. The results have been impressive, with the program contributing to a reduction of around five billion kilowatt-hours to date.
The many forms of marketing with social norms.
The key to their success isn’t necessarily the pages of comprehensive reporting filled with dissected figures and slick graphics (but those are helpful), it’s their roots in behavioral science. Combining the almost instinctual motivation inherent in social norms with the vast amount of data available creates a compelling message that appeals to both the head and the heart.
And it can take many forms spanning the full spectrum of complexity. You can target specific neighborhoods with variable data direct mail campaigns comparing energy bills per square foot. You can also put up a billboard letting the community know that 53% of residents participate in an energy savings campaign. At the simplest level, this train of thought is also the rationale behind the classic case study.
Behavior change is complicated. Our solutions don’t have to be.
On the surface, encouraging people to keep up with the Jonses in the context of energy conservation isn’t earth shattering. In fact, like many of the most successful approaches to behavior change, it’s painfully simple. That’s because we often project the complexity of our challenges onto our solutions. Reshaping the complicated relationship consumers have with energy couldn’t possibly be accomplished by looking at the ways high school kids try to fit in … right?
I’m not saying this is the single solution destined to save us from ourselves and fix all our energy consumption problems. But it is a great example of simple, smart thinking being able to incite action in a notoriously hard-to-reach space.