Marketing Matters: Utility Building Benchmarking and the Power of Outreach
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about why and where utility programs either succeed or fail. As a long-time Utility Program Manager, I observed that good data is essential. Are programs built on a solid foundation of organized, readily available data? What is the data telling us to improve or revise? But there’s a whole other dimension to my main question here about programs – especially when you’re talking about launching and maintaining a successful whole building benchmarking program: Marketing.
I’ll start by saying something most of my colleagues will agree with: Programs that depend on customer engagement should communicate with those customers in ongoing ways. Building benchmarking programs are no different, but they are often compliance-driven – building owners are mandated to benchmark and utilities are often under pressure to maintain data access solutions. As a result, you often see marketing efforts limited to informational sessions for building owners. In my experience, this approach might keep the lights on, but the program won’t grow – and as we’re always saying at Calico, there are so many great reasons to grow a building benchmarking program.
With an outreach approach that’s half promotion, half-networking, utility managers and leaders can build programs that do more than provide a service. By engaging the right stakeholders at the right times, utilities can scale their benchmarking programs to drive more combined savings for customers and value across the utility business.
I have found that the following groups are essential to engage in the marketing process. Each plays a roll in long-term program success and growth – understanding their needs and knowing how to reach them is a small investment with a huge payoff.
Internal Utility Teams
I can’t overstate the importance of this phase. Getting energy efficiency and cross-functional teams involved in the planning and program design process will mean you have more input, not to mention a program built to connect with others. This kind of “marketing” starts early but should continue through the program lifespan.
Primed for Engagement
Like I said above, this group is often required to comply depending on the specific policy. Still, building representatives are eager for guidance and are primed to engage. One benefit of reaching them early is reduced support calls and emails leading up to a deadline. In practice, this looks like educational webinars, training sessions, user guides, cross program promotions and more. We should be reaching this group preferably before new policy takes effect, or even in the rules making stage (which I’ll discuss later).
For the record, this probably isn’t news to most utilities with an existing building benchmarking program. Still, in our industry everything is subject to change. Regulations will evolve, compliance will become more multi-faceted and a successful benchmarking program with engaged, happy participants is a steady, solid foundation to build on.
Energy Service Providers, Consultants and Technology Vendors
ESCOs and energy efficiency firms have a vested interest in driving building owners to get access to their data, and in some areas they’re even benchmarking designates for their customers. The whole building baseline is where their advice and retrofits start – without it, they’re stuck building the baseline from scratch. Just like utilities should seek out building owners, they should also put effort into engaging with these groups – analysts, consultants, and technologists have the ear of large building owners and property management companies – if you reach them directly, whether it’s through listening to their challenges or targeted materials and webinars, the return in program participation (even beyond those covered by a mandate) could be substantial.
Commercial Real Estate and Large Corporations
The Benefits of a Baseline
There’s some overlap with the building owner category, but when you’re looking to drive adoption of a building benchmarking program, you should also look beyond covered buildings – those who don’t have to comply but do have a vested interest in leveraging your solution for a baseline. It might take some outreach to find them – national chains, large CREs with building portfolios, etc. Investing time with these entities will extend the reach and value of your program.
It’s important to get involved with government stakeholder in the process of rolling out a new mandate, but utilities should also be talking to city/county/state governments, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others in advance of existing legislation. Utilities already running popular benchmarking programs can increase adoption through new legislation, a win for everyone. Those without a program but facing the possibility of new legislation also benefit from getting involved early – the more policymakers know about utility processes and systems during rules making, the better.
Industry groups like the Institute for Market Transformation, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA), Alliance to Save Energy (ASE), Energy Efficiency Alliance (EEA), American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and so many others are great connectors to the right contacts in government, but they also are content powerhouses with reach. Most utilities have memberships, but whether you’re promoting a program, pushing for new legislation to address a growing need for whole building data in a region (much like my experience in Chicago), or both, use these groups for early advice and ongoing evangelization.
About the author...
As a Calico Senior Advisor, Kevin leverages his extensive experience in managed energy data services to advise customers, helping with program design and growth, marketing strategy and coordination across energy efficiency programs. A longtime utility program manager himself, Kevin intimately understands the challenges and opportunities facing utilities, as well as the industry at large.
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