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Shelton Continues to Drive Changes in Behaviors, Attitudes Around Energy Efficiency

The "Avoid Energy Drama" campaign takes a lighthearted look at the drama that can ensue when it comes to making a home more energy-efficient. | Image credit: Shelton Group

Shelton Group, known for its 2011 “Wasting Water Is Weird” campaign, has set its sights on helping consumers understand and improve energy efficiency in the home through a series of campaigns, partnerships and interactive tools. We spoke with CEO Suzanne Shelton about their impacts to date, the “holy grail” of consumer engagement, and the missing ingredient for doing it effectively.

Tell us about your "Do 5 Things" (aka Fiveworx) platform — when and how was it developed? How is it different from other tools for engaging people in energy efficiency?

We came up with the idea for Do 5 Things three years ago because of the trends we were seeing both in the utility industry and American consumers. Utilities in 28 states are required to achieve 1–2 percent energy savings through efficiency rebate programs. But some of their programs are stagnating. Based on our ongoing polling of American consumers:

  • 49 percent think their homes are already energy-efficient.
  • 50 percent claim to have done 1–3 things to make their homes more efficient ... and 63 percent of those people report that their utility bills have gone up, not down.
  • Only 29 percent of the people who could take advantage of utility rebates for energy-efficiency improvements (a key metric for utilities) have done so, and the vast majority of those people have only taken advantage of one. That’s a problem because utilities use the number of rebates redeemed to measure whether or not they hit their state mandated goals for consumption reduction. 

Our data also show that customers who complete five or more energy-efficiency improvements report that their bills have gone down; they are far more likely to complete additional activities, adopt energy-efficient behaviors and encourage others to do so; and they are much more satisfied with their utility. 


Suzanne Shelton,
speaker at
Sustainable Brands 2014
San Diego

So that’s how we landed on the notion of teeing up five recommendations. With Do 5 Things, participants get a personalized list of five measures and/or behaviors they can adopt to improve their home’s energy efficiency. Each list is generated using software algorithms that factor in their consumer segment (which is determined based on how they answer our questions when they first engage with the platform), the measures and behaviors they say they’ve already adopted, and predictive analytics about what they’re most likely to do derived from years of polling data. 

Do 5 Things is different because it uses consumer segmentation profiles and behavior change principles to communicate with users on a highly differentiated and personalized level, tapping into their deeper emotional drivers to motivate them to make more energy-efficient improvements and change behaviors. And it actually cross-markets a variety of programs on an ongoing basis and continues to engage/nudge participants to stay on the path and do the next thing and the next thing. That may sound obvious, but the utility industry has not been doing any of that.

We expect such big things from this tool that we’ve created a new company to continue building/enhancing the platform and managing the ongoing deployment. That new company is called Fiveworx.

Where and how has the platform been used? What have the results been?

We’re about five months into a two-year pilot with Consumers Energy in Michigan, and our second pilot launches with another Midwestern utility next month. The early engagement results with the Consumers Energy pilot are very encouraging:

  • The initial email we send to invite participants into the program gets a 38.4 percent open rate and a 5 percent click-through rate. That’s compared to utility industry norms or a 15 percent open rate and 2.1 percent click-through rate.
  • We’re converting 7 percent of the people who open the email into participants — meaning they go all the way through our survey and get their recommended list of 5 Things. 
  • A little over 10 percent of participants have already completed two energy-efficient improvements.

Shelton Group is well-known for the 2011 “Wasting Water Is Weird” campaign. This year, you’ve launched the “Avoid Energy Drama” campaign — how did that come about? What have the results been so far?

We know that 80 percent of Americans think they use less energy than they did five years ago, and nearly half think their homes are already energy-efficient, so they are disengaged and disenfranchised about their energy consumption and generally tune out advertising that promotes energy-efficiency solutions and savings. We also know you can’t educate, scare or trick people into behavior change — you have to meet your audience where they are and lead them down the path to the desired action. This PSA campaign does that by taking a lighthearted look at the drama that ensues when it comes to making a home more energy-efficient, whether it involves critiquing a husband’s handiwork or fighting over the thermostat. It’s a fun way to help people see that they do, in fact, have an energy-efficiency problem. 

The campaign was developed with support from Consumers Energy, DTE Energy and Dow Building Solutions (DBS), a division of Michigan-based Dow Chemical Company. It was inspired by our research, and we developed the creative aspects of the campaign, which includes a website, TV and radio spots, social media and online advertising. Four months into the 12-month campaign, it has already been broadcast on more than half of the television stations in Michigan, which is a big deal since these are PSAs with no paid media support — that’s all donated air time. Plus:

  • We’ve reached 5,338,794 true media impressions (excluding PR) towards an annual goal of 15 million
  • Exceeded unique visitor goals to the web site at 3,483 (goal was 2,500)
  • 47 percent of visitors click-through on a sponsor logo

At SB ’14 next month, you’re moderating a panel that will examine “the holy grail of consumer engagement” in relation to Johnson & Johnson’s “Care to Recycle” and Unilever’s “Project Sunlight” campaigns, both aimed at engaging consumers in more thoughtful, sustainable habits and lifestyles. What are some noteworthy successes or failures you’ve seen —– in your own work, or in the space at large — in terms of engaging the public in sustainability?

Our biggest failure as an industry is that we keep framing “behavior change” just as marketing campaigns without really considering the key notions of behavioral economics. Many sustainability communications efforts fail to give people specific action steps to take. Without that, people might feel good about a message but actually do nothing.

What’s next for Shelton Group?

We are really excited about what the future holds! We will keep honing our craft of nudging Americans to make real behavior changes, whether that be engaging in new energy programs (time-of-use billing, solar leasing programs, or any of a number of new offerings we’ll see in the next several years), recycling properly (we’re beginning to see a big problem with contamination in the recycling stream — stuff getting thrown in the bins that can’t actually be recycled), or truly putting their money where their hearts are and switching brand preferences, based on a brand’s evidenced commitment to sustainability. 

 


Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]


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