The Concept of Home Performance—Will We Commit to the Term or Let it Wither? Professional content

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By Peter Troast - May 21st, 2010

At the Affordable Comfort (ACI) Conference in Austin in April, three giants of the home performance industry sat on a panel describing their business models. They were WellHome, the subsidiary of $7.3 billion MASCO, GreenHomes America, and Recurve, the California contractor formerly known as Sustainable Spaces. I couldn't help but notice, in their generally well-designed presentations, that none was using the term "Home Performance" in their branding.

That's right. At the mecca of Home Performance, the biggest players in the industry seem to have abandoned the term.

Naturally, I stood up and asked about it. The answer came from Brett Knox, President of GreenHomes America, who essentially said: with limited marketing budgets we can't afford to educate consumers on what home performance means. The other panelists, Matt Golden of Recurve and Larry Laseter of WellHome, nodded in agreement. In fairness, Rick Gerardi of WellHome ran up to me afterwards to defend their use of the term. Rick was there, he said, 20 years ago when the term was born. And he assured me that WellHome hadn't completely abandoned it, which is true if you read their fine print.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post that looked at Internet search volume for various energy efficiency terms. It was clear from that research that Brett Knox's point is a fair one: consumers' aren't familiar with the "Home Performance" label, and they rarely search for it online.

So here we are: our industry is poised for massive expansion, thousands of us in every corner of North America are using the term Home Performance, and what we call our business isn't resolved? This isn't good.

Since that meeting, and in our interaction with contractors and auditors across the country, I've been thinking about this dilemma. Home Performance is a long standing concept, conceived by the founders of the industry, and remains, in my opinion, the best way to describe the full range of the whole house approach. As a way of grouping the big 5 benefits of the whole house approach--comfort, efficiency, health, safety, durability--Home Performance is still the best umbrella term. Yet 20 years after its conception, it remains a mystery to most consumers, and even the largest companies in the industry aren't able to invest in the necessary education. So where does that leave us?

I believe that it comes down to knowing where in the selling cycle the term fits. Let's all agree that the day when consumers are saying, "I want Home Performance" is a long way off. But that does not mean it should be abandoned alltogether. When introduced at the right time in the consumer's consideration process, the idea and concept of Home Performance remains a powerful way of communicating all the benefits of whole house and, equally importantly, positioning the energy auditor/home performance contractor as a critical, consultative, long term advisor to homeowers. Here's my best effort so far, in infographic form, to describe this concept:

 Leveraging the Concept of Home Performance in the Sales Cycle

Overall, the point is that Home Performance as a concept is not driving demand, but when introduced once a homeowner is in the consideration phase, and increasingly throughout the sales and job completion cycle, can be the powerful communication idea that it was originally conceived to be. I consider this infographic a first draft, so please let me know what you think.

One final point, which is the responsibility we all share. Disagree with me if you don't think Home Performance is our core conceptual term--I welcome the discussion. But if you agree that it is our best umbrella term for the whole house idea, then all of us have an obligation to promote the term for our collective good.

© Energy Circle LLC


Comments

I use the termo Home Performance frequently to describe what we do. I refer to our company (Building Performance Services LLC), as a "Home Performance contractor" The reason that I capitolize the words is that I am referring to the EPA's "Home Performance with ENERGY STAR" program. I agree that the term "Home Performance" is the best umbrella term for what we do, and I feel that the industry should use it frequently (it sounds so much better than "Green"). Posted by Brad Cook on May 21, 2010 5:10pm

Thanks Brad. One of the reasons for this post was the recognition of your exact point--at so many levels we as an industry are committed to the term Home Performance--yet we're also so ambivalent about how effective it is for communicating with homeowners. I hope this post provides some clarity to all of us on how to use it most effectively.

I'd be especially interested to hear how it works for you when communicating with customers.

Posted by Peter Troast on May 21, 2010 5:36pm

Speaking from the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) side of the Energy Circle house, I agree, and think it's important that we embrace standards, and Home Performance is better than some other options, to be sure.

The challenge is: until Home Performance is a term used by home owners (our customers), we may need to market our businesses using the words people know now, while continuing to reinforce the "right" term.

Consider this www.google.com/trends graph comparing how often people use these terms in web searches:

  • home performance
  • home star
  • energy audit
  • home energy

The good news is that HOME STAR ("Cash for Caulkers") is getting almost as much attention as home energy, but for every 100 searches containing "home energy", only 4 contain the term "energy audit".  And sadly, "home performance" isn't there, yet, with less than 1% share.

Hopefully if you're reading this a year from now, "home performance" will be doing a lot better.

While Google Trends is a very imprecise tool, I use it as an example.  I have been using a lot of different research tools over the last year or so to understand how (in particular, the words) people are thinking about our industry.  Google Trends provides a reasonably accurate picture of what I have found, in this case, at least.

People ... customers ... are thinking about the home performance industry.  They do want what we've got to offer.  But they are not thinking about it using the words we use.  If we want to get customers to us, we need to put ourselves in their shoes, speak their language, and teach them about the science of building performance.

Preferably while on site with a signed contract :-)

Posted by Tom Harrison on May 21, 2010 8:33pm
Tom is certainly right. The meanings of words and language are social and virtually organic things - likely all but impossible to synthesize or construct at will. We can hardly use words and language to identify things in our world effectively if people don't generally agree on their meaning. Words and language primarily respond to things that we find in the world, describe things that seem to have an independent (pre-)existence. It may be the very definition of "a time of rapid change" that we find many things in our world are new to us, previously unknown, nameless. Part of coming to know anything is giving it a name. Greenwashing. Everyone knows what that means, even if they don't know exactly what "green" means. We will help establish the vocabulary to describe new things to the extent that we make ourselves knowledgeable, expert, that we make the value of our craft real to people. Nobody markets anything in a foreign language. When you find your market, you learn its language as part of making your wares accessible, desirable, valuable to it. (ps: Peter, you use "whole house", sometimes along with words like "idea" or "approach", informally and easily, clearly confident that the term has widely recognized meaning...) Posted by Ben Walsh on May 22, 2010 12:15am

Ben--great points all around. I think the Wayne Gretsky analogy is appropo here--that his brilliance was in knowing "where the puck was going to be." It is important for all of us to have conviction for the language and words that are coming, not just those that are understood now. I certainly hope Home Performance will become one of those, and many others that are routinely referred to amongst professionals and those "in the know"--like air sealing--are also essentially nowhere now, but critical language for the future.

Good catch on my use of the term "whole house." Like HP, that is another example of an understood concept amongst those who have gone through BPI that has little to no recognition amongst consumers. Yet, if introduced to the homeowner at the right point in the relationship cycle, is also a powerful explanatory concept.

Posted by Peter Troast on May 22, 2010 8:07am
Peter & Tom, Congrats on the launch of Energy Circle PRO! You are providing a much needed set of online services to the Home Performance community (or whatever we are calling it today ;) Wattzy is supplementing the services you've launched with free online tools to track the utility bill savings from Home Performance retrofits. Contact me to learn more. Good Luck! Alex Posted by Alex Patriquin on May 22, 2010 11:03am

Ben -- right on!

Peter (my boss, I hope still after this comment :-) -- another thing to watch out for is acronyms.  HP means Hewlett-Packard to some people.

As for where the puck will be, I think the Gretzky analogy is only part of the issue.  He knew where the puck was going to be because he played on teams that knew how to put it there, and was a master at playing hockey like some play chess.  It would be great if we could predict or even cause the arrival of the terms coming in the future.  We can, to one degree or other, but like a team, we all have to develop the plays that cause it to happen.  But while we're waiting for the puck to arrive (a 20 year shot, at this point) ...

I also think Ben's point about inadvertant use of jargon is a good one.  My career has been in software engineering, Internet and computers in general.  It's almost (almost) funny when I hear people in my field trying to talk to what I self-depricatingly refer to as "normal humans".  We have a whole language that is foreign to the rest of the world.  Doctors, lawyers, and every profession develops jargon to speed up communication amongst themselves; good sales and marketing people know how to identify jargon, but also to pick terms that become meaningful to the customer -- I think this is the point of Peter's proposal.

But no matter how hard you try, it's only the most coordinated, long term marketing efforts that can make a term or concept stick in peoples' minds.  Companies selling mass-martket goods (soda, beer, cars, etc.) spend hundreds of millions of dollars a month putting terms and ideas in front of people through every medium possible.

Perhaps in our field, we need to be a little more opportunistic: if the President uses the term "weatherization" or the news is using the term "green", even if it doesn't truly differentiate our services, we still need to use those terms as the "hook".

Posted by Tom Harrison on May 22, 2010 11:19am
Perhaps we should start with a basic definition that the industry is willing to adopt. Something simple that the customer/client can easily grasp. I have collected a few definitions, but I am looking for others. Perhaps when there are a few definitions, we can start to look at them and adapt one. When I think of Home Performance, I think of it as a holistic term. Everyone knows that one goes to a doctor when there is a physical problem, to a dentist for a tooth ache or preventative care, to a mechanic for automotive performance. Is the translation so difficult? If the house hurts, it needs to be fixed. Sales is sales. Good salespeople must educate. If one wants to win the bid, education must be a part of the process. Engage the homeowner by asking questions about the home, health of the residents, overall satisfaction. And, yes, use the word 'green', it is what people are beginning to understand. For most comfort, safety, health and durability are primary considerations. Energy is the benefit of the home that performs well. Financial savings is the icing. Posted by Carol Markell on May 24, 2010 10:23am

I'm not sure where you're getting your information,
but good topic. I needs to spend some time learning
more or understanding more. Thanks for great info I was looking for this information for
my mission.

Posted by indian dj new york on Jan 16, 2014 2:05am
I think the term home performance is a great way to describe it. I have taken classes from Everblue Training Institute (www.everblue.edu), they are the people that can train you to do the jobs you do with energy audits and such and they use that term too. It is better than using the "go green" terms because people have a preconceived notion of what "green" is and that is not necessarily what you all are doing. Posted by Anonymous on Sep 16, 2011 2:29pm

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