Energy Circle’s 17 Industry and Digital Marketing Predictions for 2021
Will the COVID pandemic finally end? Will Google solve their proximity bias problem? Will our Energy Circle webinar (and podcast!) host Jake Van Paepeghem be able to top his critically acclaimed performance as 2020’s webinar host of year?
At the end of 2020, as is tradition, Energy Circle founder and CEO Peter Troast dedicated our last webinar of the year to his predictions for the coming year. So, from HVAC, solar, and home performance industries to digital marketing trends we believe will be increasingly important in the new year, here are Energy Circle’s definitive predictions for 2021:
BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY TRENDS
1. The End of the Coronavirus Pandemic Is in Sight
Undoubtedly the most significant change we believe we’ll see in 2021 is the end of the COVID era. 2020 was a bumpy year for businesses in our industry, but we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Keep in mind, we are not predicting that business will just go right back to “normal” (and if you haven’t visited our COVID-19 resources page, now’s a good time), but we’re hopeful that the worst is now behind us.
2. “Virtual” Isn’t Going Away
Are homeowners forever changed? People, generally speaking, still aren’t super excited to invite contractors into their homes, and we believe that some of the virtual options businesses have introduced over the past year are here to stay.
Companies should keep their virtual options available in 2021, and remember that there can be upside to less face-to-face interaction with customers. Lower touch could equal lower costs for your business—initial qualification meetings are a good example.
3. Incentive Programs Will Continue to Drive Heat Pump Sales
Heat pump sales are up 41% year-over-year, based on AHRI data from last September. We’ve spoken with a few contractors who think growth is being driven too aggressively by incentive programs, but for better or for worse, those programs—and the general push for electrification—aren’t going away, and we’d all agreed that we’d rather have high quality, house-as-a-system contractors doing the installation work than somebody else.
4. Growing Demand for Home Electrification
Air source heat pumps might be leading the charge, but more and more we’re hearing the same refrain from homeowners: “I want the fossil fuels taken out of my house!” Whole home electrification, or the “electrify my home” movement, often means good jobs for contractors, and we’ll be seeing more of them in 2021 and beyond.
5. Power Grid Instability Will Increase
Generac, the generator manufacturer, is banking a lot of their company strategy on rising grid instability—according to a recent investor presentation, total outage hours in the United States have seen a CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) of 28%. That instability has been driving their generator business, and whether your company sells and installs generators or solar batteries, it can increasingly drive yours as well in 2021.
6. More Success for Companies Embracing “Integrated Contracting”
“Integrated contracting”—contractors who offer home services for both the mechanical and the building envelope side, not just one or the other—might not be the right choice for every business, but the Energy Circle data paints a clear picture: home services companies embracing a wide array of services are thriving. Will you be expanding your service offerings in 2021, or will your competition?
7. Federal Policy Will Be on Our Side with “The Biden Plan”
President-elect Joe Biden’s plan for clean energy and sustainable infrastructure sets some ambitious goals: to upgrade 4 million buildings and weatherize 2 million homes over the next four years. The Building Performance Institute (BPI) is at the table with the Biden transition team working on the formulation of this plan, and there is real opportunity for companies in our industries.
Additional good news came with the announcement that Biden has nominated former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm for Secretary of Energy—we believe Granholm is on “our side” of things when it comes to energy and we expect to see encouraging progress during Biden’s term in office.
8. There’ll Be No Going (All the Way) Back from Digital
If there were any stragglers still avoiding much digital marketing for their business before March of last year, 2020 probably pushed them into action. The coronavirus pandemic forced HVAC, home performance, and solar companies to lean into digital, and while in-person marketing opportunities like events, open houses, tabling, and canvassing will likely begin to return in some form this year, it’s unlikely that companies who only just got their feet wet in digital marketing will completely abandon those efforts moving forward.
What that means for 2021 is more businesses in the mix in your service area, as well as more digital competition for your company.
9. Companies on Top of Their GMB Profiles Will Win
We’ve seen extraordinary growth for businesses who are taking the right amount of time to invest in their Google My Business (GMB) profiles—for one Energy Circle client, traffic is up 27%, conversions are up 20%, and impressions are up 59%! It’s not uncommon for GMB to account for 40% of a company’s total traffic, so if you aren’t on board with GMB, it’s important to start now so you don’t get left behind in 2021.
10. In the Land of Reviews, Quality is Now King
It used to be that you could measure the strength of a company’s Google reviews by quantity. And while that magic number has continued to rise over the years, the content of your Google reviews has grown increasingly important as well. In 2021, Google will be paying more attention than ever to what customers are saying about your company and rewarding businesses with high quality reviews.
11. Turning Our Attention to Google’s Local Services Ads
At the end of 2019, Google made a big change to their Local Services ads, moving away from fixed prices and towards “pay per lead, not per click” bidding. While we’re only a few weeks into the new system, we expect that LSAs will be a better value and a larger part of the average company’s overall digital marketing mix in 2021.
12. Google Will Solve Its Proximity Bias
Well, we don’t get every prediction right… one of our 2020 predictions was that Google would take significant steps towards addressing its proximity bias against service area businesses. While COVID-19 had other plans, we remain hopeful that with fewer distractions in 2021, Google will finally recognize that where a service area company’s brick and mortar business is located is less important than the overall area they serve, and make changes to their algorithms accordingly.
13. Short Form Video Marketing Will Continue to Grow on YouTube and Facebook
The people want video! Studies show that consumers are 4x more likely to watch video than they are to read, and that people lose interest in a company that doesn’t use video.
Luckily, video marketing on YouTube and Facebook can be very cost effective, and as we showed in a case study from last year, effectively utilizing these different platforms can expand your reach dramatically and maximize the value of your video production. More and more companies will be producing marketing videos in 2021—will you be one of them?
14. More Advertising Opportunities on Hulu, YouTubeTV, Pandora & Spotify
Not only will there be more video marketing on well-known platforms like YouTube and Facebook, but video advertising will also begin to rise on streaming platforms like YouTubeTV and Hulu, as well as audio advertising on apps like Spotify and Pandora. These options are becoming much more accessible for contractors in our industries as the cost of entry drops.
15. Nextdoor Will Be More Important (for Some)
Nextdoor is a rapidly growing hyperlocal social networking site and it’s becoming a go-to for home services. The strength of Nextdoor for your digital marketing will largely depend on the strength of the neighborhoods or communities in your service area, but the old $15,000 per-month advertising minimums have been significantly reduced, making Nextdoor a potential new advertising platform for your business in 2021.
16. New Emphasis on Your Business’s “Brand” Strength
Digital marketing companies talk about “brand” all the time, and it can be a little confusing to those outside the industry. “Brand” doesn’t refer to your logo, but about your fundamental company reputation. We like to break this up into two sides: the way Google’s algorithm sees your company, and the way customers in the real world see your company.
A McKinsey study from October of last year showed that as a result of COVID-19, 78% of US consumers have changed stores, brands, or they way they shop, and are putting more emphasis on the values that a company has, how it treats its employees, and how it acts in the world. This is a fundamental shift that we think will continue in 2021, regardless of what happens with the coronavirus.
17. Investments in Your Website Will Still Pay Dividends in 2021
We’ve spent the last year putting more and more emphasis on Google and the zero-click experience, but in 2021, your website will still remain the portal through which everything flows. Despite GMB growth, most people do not contact you without at some point stopping by your website, and Google still relies heavily on your website when it decides how to rank your business organically.
The companies who are taking the time to invest in their websites (having a good site, feeding it with new content, keeping it up to date, maintaining best SEO practices) are the ones, in our experience, seeing very significant rises in organic traffic. And of all the things we think might change in 2021, this ain’t one of ‘em.