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The ‘right’ energy information: consumer messages and methods that work


Rebekah Thielemans

Over the past twelve months we’ve been undertaking a detailed research project to understand the best ways to communicate with energy consumers about how to reduce their energy bills and energy usage.

In our first phase, we uncovered that a successful energy information campaign involves communicating the right information at the right time, and that who the information comes from is key to consumers.

In our second phase, we drilled down on consumer understanding and the actions they have taken to reduce their energy bills and usage. We also looked at who households and small businesses trust for energy information.

Now, in our third phase, we’ve unpacked what the ‘right information’ looks like. We commissioned The Insight Centre to run a series of focus groups with both households and small businesses to understand what messages and methods best resonated with them.

Messages that work

We know that finding the right messaging to speak with consumers about energy use isn’t easy. Use the wrong combination of words, or invoke the wrong ‘frame’, and you can just as easily turn people off instead of persuading them to act. Here’s what the research tells us about which messages resonate with Australian households on energy bills and use.

Cost benefits

The most effective messages about reducing energy bills and usage for households and small businesses emphasise the cost benefit. Consumers want to understand what’s in it for them! This is backed up by our latest ECSS data which showed that 75% of respondents prioritised price when choosing a new energy offer (significantly above any other factor). This means that simple and clear messages that highlight how much money households can save should be embraced.

Control and Certainty

Households responded equally to messages that prioritised control and certainty. This means that messaging should combine these two frames. For example, to provide certainty, deliver clear information about what is driving energy costs. This should be combined with messages that empower households to take control and address these drivers, providing easy to achieve call to actions.

Throughout the focus groups, the following themes also emerged about messages to embrace and avoid when speaking to households about their energy use.

Messages to embraceMessages to avoid
“A small change can make a big difference” – demonstrates that small actions taken at a household level can make an impact.Messages that remove agency for households.
“Heating and cooling contribute up to 50% of your energy bill” – households are provided with clear, precise information about the main
source of their energy costs.

Include messages that provide specific information about the simplest, highest value changes (and how to make them) and the potential savings on offer.
“Adjusting your temperature by a couple of degrees is one of the biggest things you can do to save money” – this lacks sufficient detail on its own, many people wanted to know what the optimum temperature is to set their thermostat to.
While households prioritise cost above all else, messages about the environmental benefits of changing your usage can resonate with many consumers when included in addition to cost saving messages.“You can help take pressure off the grid” or “You can help avoid outages” – many consumers feel institutions should be responsible for reliability, not households.
“For our business, cutting energy costs was quick and easy.”

“An energy audit found X for my business, and we save $X every year.”

For small businesses, these messages connect with their need to see cost savings/ROI and address their feelings of being too time poor to act. The use of case studies is also powerful.
For small businesses, focus on messages that emphasise cost savings and avoid talking about environmental or system benefits.

Methods that work

Of course, it’s not enough just to have the right messages. These need to be provided using the right channels and the right sources.

Trusted sources

To deliver energy related information, participants expressed the highest level of trust in consumer organisations – consistent with the findings in phase two of this project. Consumer organisations are seen as independent, transparent, and focused on the best interests of households and small businesses. Governments are also seen as trustworthy and unbiased.

While small businesses, value consumer organisations, they also want expertise from either energy specialists or technical specialist. They also want to hear about energy-saving options

from other business owners like them. Not only do they see these voices as credible, the sense of connection means they’re more likely to take action, as they can already see the benefits for someone else.

Self-contained communications

The household members that we spoke to told us that they don’t have time for research and won’t pay to access information. This means that any communications need to be self-contained and provide consumers with enough information to act without having to go to a secondary source (e.g. a website) for additional information. Consequently, any campaign should prioritise outbound communications (i.e. advertising) as the primary means of reaching households.

Encouraging wide-scale behaviour change is always going to be challenging. However, the research from this project provides consumer and government organisations with some of the tools they need to assist households and small businesses to take action and reduce their energy use and bills. If we get this right, it will be a vital piece in the puzzle in ensuring a successful energy transition that benefits everyone.

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