|A string of local satellite media tours resulted in broadcast hits such as this Austin, Texas, NBC affiliate station airing a segment on energy efficiency that features a Trane product (at right). Photo courtesy of Carmichael Lynch Spong|
Agency: Carmichael Lynch Spong
Timeframe: January 2010 - Ongoing
How can PR overcome a reeling economy and a skittish public? In the case of PR agency Carmichael Lynch Spong and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC) manufacturer Trane, they did just that by delivering key messages about cleaner, healthier air, energy efficiency and cost savings through a variety of platforms, including influencer outreach, engaging national and media and educating Trane’s distributors and dealers.
When the U.S. economy bottomed out, big-ticket items such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems fell to the bottom of the list of necessities for Americans facing rising unemployment rates and declining balances in their bank accounts.
By 2010, the harsh economic climate forced many consumers to build purchase barriers rooted in the uncertainty of payback and long-term savings regarding their HVAC systems.
To overcome these challenges, Trane enlisted Carmichael Lynch Spong to execute a research-driven communications campaign to inform consumers and drive preference for Trane products through messaging focused on reliable payback and long-term energy savings proof points.
In the fall of 2009, Trane conducted qualitative and quantitative research to:
• Evaluate the potential barriers to purchase;
• Determine the strength of marketing messages and product information that could potentially overcome those barriers; and
• Explore the importance of dealers for consumers and the reasons for dealer selection.
Results revealed that messaging that provided a specific percentage savings on heating and cooling costs were most motivating to consumers, with tax credit eligibility and product reliability also resonating. In addition, dealer contact was the first step in the HVAC purchase process for more than one-third of consumers who recently purchased a system.
Furthermore, the National Association of Home Builders and McGraw-Hill Construction’s “Preferences of Green Home Buyers” study— along with primary consumer surveys conducted by Trane— showed that while HVAC systems seemed discretionary, consumers were willing to purchase them if they could realize cost savings in the long term.
Armed with valuable insights, a 13-member team (10 from Carmichael Lynch Spong, three from Trane) set out meet the following objectives:
• Educate consumers about Trane product benefits by generating at least 100 million gross impressions in targeted media outlets; maintain the lead share of voice.
• Increase traffic to Trane.com and dealer contact over the previous year to generate preferences, leads, interest and sales.
• Shape/reinforce dealer perception of Trane as the HVAC category leader by educating dealers—the consumer conduits for Trane—about the energy-saving benefits of Trane products.
Julie Batliner, managing director for Carmichael Lynch Spong, says that at a time when consumers were having to make tough economic choices, thinking about replacing their HVAC systems was daunting. “We had to tell a story that focused on the long-term savings and value that a new Trane system will add to your home,” says Batliner. Beginning in February 2010, educational materials that explained the federal energy tax credit benefits and spelled out cost savings for key audiences were distributed across a variety of platforms, including traditional and social media placements, Web site updates, advertisements and dealer education tools.
Joyce Warrington, director of HVAC brand marketing for Ingersoll Rand Residential Solutions (Trane’s parent company), says the campaign needed to explain the message more than simply tell it. “We couldn’t just run an ad, we had to bring educational messaging to the consumer base,” she says.
NATIONAL AND LOCAL REACH
Trane’s primary target audience is an astute, family decision maker who takes pride in their home, is concerned about the economy and needs to be emotionally motivated to make a discretionary purchase. To reach that target, national and local media were pitched with messages on tax credits, energy efficiency and reliability issues, and how Trane products provide homeowners with a reliable payback and a long-term energy savings solution.
Local satellite media tours (see sidebar on satellite tips) were conducted with Tom Kraeutler, host of The Money Pit home improvement radio program, delivering Trane’s key messages to local markets.
“We wanted to strengthen our messaging though credible third-party resources that people look to when they’re confused, to clarify things,” says Batliner. In addition to Kraeutler, Lou Manfredi, home improvement expert and host of the TV show HouseSmarts, was tapped to deliver energy efficiency and clean air messages.
When in the market for a new HVAC system, consumers typically use Google to find product reviews and to find a dealer, says Batliner.
With consumers relying on the Web for recommendations, it was important that industry bloggers and influencers understood energy efficiency and talked about Trane products. Thus, Trane-branded tools and resources for understanding HVAC’s role in federal energy tax credits were provided to bloggers.
In addition, a programmable thermostat giveaway during Energy Efficiency Awareness Month in 2010 gave bloggers added incentive to post about Trane. “We were able to have bloggers help keep HVAC top of mind and discuss ways to save money and have a comfortable, energy efficient home,” says Batliner.
MANAGING MEDIA/ARMING DEALERS
For Batliner, the biggest challenge of the campaign was remaining technically accurate while taking a dense, technical subject and boiling it down into simple terms people can understand and act upon. “Educating the media and using them as a conduit for informing consumers, and making sure that the dealers who sell and install the systems can explain the value of a high-efficiency HVAC system, was critical,” says Batliner.
The team examined each media outlet’s audience and tailored messages about HVAC systems to appeal to them. “If we’re talking to The Today Show, we’re keeping the message simple and quick for a general audience. If we’re talking to Family Circle magazine, we play up the needs of today’s family and the benefits of clean air,” says Batliner.
Dealers and distributors were armed with information on why Trane products are the best option for energy efficiency, cost savings and cleaner, healthier air. Tools and materials were made available via Trane’s intranet, informational webinars were held and tool kits focusing on energy efficiency were provided for dealers to use for in-home selling opportunities with consumers.
By leading off with solid research, understanding the barriers consumers have and putting together strategies that meet their needs, Trane gained more than half the industry’s earned media share-of-voice in the HVAC category. Specific results include:
• 262 million gross media impressions, from The Today Show to the Science Channel’s How It’s Made.
• Traffic to Trane.com increased by double digits over 2009 (exact numbers weren’t revealed).
• A 2010 dealer satisfaction survey shows Trane rates highest in satisfaction in business training, selling skills training and national-brand advertising; Trane dealers rate its products the best in reliability.
Warrington says that consumer education efforts were the golden nugget of the campaign and that, if given a chance to do it over, the team would put more emphasis on education from the start. “It was one objective that we had, and it rose to the top very quickly as the primary one,” says Warrington. In any case, that tactic proved to be a breath of fresh air.