ACI New Orleans 2015: Peter Troast's Big Takeaways
The ACI National Conference is my favorite event of the year - exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time. Add in a healthy dose of New Orleans shenanigans and, well… let’s just say my recovery isn’t quite complete.
As ever, it’s impossible for any one person to chronicle all that goes on at this Mecca of the home performance industry, but here are some things that stood out for me:
The Role of Programs in Marketing
Within the Program track, I was a panelist on Technologies to Reach Customers. A great group, including Stephanie Swanson of Clean Energy Works, Ryan Buckley of Renew Financial and Will Schweiger of Long Island Green Homes/City of Babylon, talked about some cutting edge approaches they’re using to drive leads. What was most significant to me, however, was a very healthy discussion about what role programs should play relative to contractors in the lead generation process. My view is that these efforts have not typically been well coordinated, either from a market timing standpoint or in terms of where in the marketing process Programs can be most effective.
We all know that the ultimate purchase of a home performance upgrade happens between a contractor and a homeowner. Strong efficiency marketing programs work when contractors and programs play their positions - utilizing their respective strengths at different points in the conversion funnel. There seemed to be unanimity in the room about this point, with programs focusing more on awareness and ripening phases, while ceding the closing to strong contractors. There was also a lot of positive feedback about co-op efforts, where programs contribute directly to contractor marketing efforts in a shared risk sort of way. More co-op approaches across the country, like those in NY and NJ, would go a long way towards growing home performance.
Cutting Edge Home Performance Marketing
My favorite session was the contractor panel I moderated consisting of Chad Ruhoff of Neil Kelly (OR), Dan Thomsen of Building Doctors (CA), and Sammy Chu of Powersmith (NY). These three companies openly shared some of their most effective marketing programs, ranging from canvassing to cause marketing to paid search. I am always amazed at the willingness of folks in this industry to tell their peers what’s working and what’s not. It’s part of what makes the home performance industry great.
Solar & Energy Efficiency
All three companies on the Innovations in Home Performance Marketing panel are active in selling solar PV. As much as I personally believe in the “reduce before you produce” approach, and that homeowners are better served by buying solar from an efficiency company, the panel consensus was that people on the path to solar are not easily diverted. The best practice is to sell them the solar they want, and use smart drip marketing over time to capture efficiency opportunities. We also discussed the efficiency opportunity on homes that have compromised solar potential, either from shading or poor roof orientation. The contractors on the panel reported some initial successes getting solar-interested homeowners to embark on efficiency first when solar is limited.
Other topics of conversation included the growing appeal of the concept of net zero energy. We’ve definitely noted the rise in search volume for that term. I love the net zero concept both for it’s broad appeal, and because the conversation over the right mix of efficiency and generation is inherent. If net zero is the goal, there’s hope for the truly optimal mix of efficiency and renewable generation. In addition, the timing of Tesla’s announcement of the home battery Powerwall certainly created some buzz. Once again, the ability to store renewably generated energy is a great frame for the discussion.
Internet of Things
I don’t recall hearing the term “Internet of Things” a year ago at ACI, but it was everywhere this year, from Blasnik’s Nest Big Data-fest (more below) to the Home Energy Management working group, as well as in many conversations in between. As unsettled as this marketing is, it is clear that ubiquitous sensors within houses are going to transform home performance. What hasn’t quite surfaced yet are the health-related sensors. Various parts of the puzzle - CO, Temp, RH, CO2, VOC’s, Particulates - seem to be emerging in individual devices but not yet (as far as I know) in a single system. It seems obvious to me that we’re very close to collecting quite a bit of IAQ data within homes. However, the challenge of how home performance gets the call to fix these issues remains. As much as our practices resolve many IAQ issues, we’re still not yet the obvious solution.
A small group of interested folks agreed to share intel as this market emerges. Let me know if you’d like to be part of it.
Blasnik’s Nest Big Data
One of the more fascinating sessions was our old friend Michael Blasnik’s Big Data from Nest presentation - a romp through the data produced from hundreds of thousands of Nest thermostats. Michael is the Senior Building Scientist for Nest and the most recognized statistician of the energy efficiency industry. Many of the takeaways were air-conditioning related, and there is no one better than Allison Bailes of Energy Vanguard to interpret that.
Go read his post here, including a lot of helpful photos.
One thing I found particularly interesting was the data around trigger points for the start of heating and cooling season. Looking at Michael’s slide, the trigger appeared to be related to both the temperature and the extent of the temperature swing. We actively use bid multipliers in paid search campaigns around changes in temperature, but if we could better understand that single point in time when an entire market starts thinking about the change of season, it could be a very powerful home performance marketing insight.
The Energy Efficiency Meter
The energy efficiency meter concept--essentially a means by which to quantify and, therefore, value energy reductions--was front and center this year. If there is any single thing that has disruptive potential for contractors delivering efficiency, this is it. Imagine a world in which contractors are fairly compensated for the actual energy savings their projects deliver. That aligns everyone around quality, deeper energy reductions, and real data. It’s very exciting and thanks to Dan Kartzman, Matt Golden, Gavin Hastings, and all the good folks at EnergySavvy for driving this. I find the name--EE Meter--to be potentially confusing (it sounds like a device, which it is not) but I’ll stand down if that horse has left the barn.
Financing Comes to the Fore
PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing, left for dead just a couple of years ago, was very much alive and in full force at ACI this year. Led by the team from Renew Financial (formerly Renewable Funding), PACE financing is transforming California and appears to be ready to storm the rest of the country. We’re privy to the real impact this innovative form of financing is having for some of our contractor clients in CA, and it is most definitely driving faster closes and substantial growth in ticket sizes.
The Tony Woods Award
The Contractor Conundrum
Once again this year, there were too few contractors present at ACI. I say that mostly from the perspective that the quality of the content and the people - spanning from building science to running your business - is so unbelievably strong. Too many contractors are simply missing out. That said, I am well aware of the effort that ACI staff have put into growing the number of contractors present. Perhaps 3-4 days in a big U.S. city is just too much time for most people to be away from their businesses, and the growing regional events are more realistic venues. But you cannot come away from an ACI National Conference without a profound sense that thousands of companies are missing something truly extraordinary. Personally, I’m not willing to throw in the towel.
Once again, a huge high five to the staff of ACI & the Home Performance Coalition, as well as all the volunteer Program Committee folks for a what continues to be the event for the home performance community.
Other Posts and Write Ups from ACI
Nest Thermostat Data Unveiled At ACI Conference on the Energy Vanguard Blog.
Why Did The Chicken Go To The ACI Conference? on the Energy Vanguard Blog.
Where are the rest of you, at Betty Ford?