In his INC.com article, “20 Epic Fails in Global Branding,” Geoffrey James lists several brand marketing mistakes that did not translate well, and thus did not send the correct message to the consumer. His entire list can be found here, but here are a couple that I found amusing.
First on the list is Braniff International. The airline had a slogan, designed to promote their comfy leather seats, which read “Fly in Leather” in English. Harmless, until you translate it into Spanish and it becomes, “Fly Naked.” I’m pretty sure this is not the meaning that the company wanted to transmit to their Spanish customers! The second one I found funny was farther down on his list. Our friendly Colonel Sanders’ “finger licking good” slogan turned heads in China when it translated to “eat your fingers off!”
I often think of that article in regards to ground source heat pumps and geothermal, because I’m not sure the intended message is getting to this industry’s customers either. It is not due to a language translation problem, but the impression building owners and consumers have of the technology. Think of ground source heat pump systems, heat loops, heat pumps or any other “heated” word combinations. Do you hear it? We are excluding the entire air conditioning component of the systems we offer.
At trade shows or after a geothermal class, warm weather contractors have told me they don’t “install a lot of geothermal [down south] because they don’t use heating as long as we do up north.” Huh? These are contractors explaining why they don’t install geothermal, instead of explaining to their customers (and mechanical partners) why they should. Sit in an industry seminar and you will hear about the “free air conditioning” with geothermal heat.
What if we turned that around for contractors in warm weather areas? How about in those climates we start saying, “free heat” with geothermal air conditioning? My coworker, George Dugan, has told me over and over about the benefits he received when he installed a geothermal system in the house he built in Houston. Judging by the harassment I take from him about my Ohio winters, I must assume that Texans don’t use heat as much as we do in the Midwest.
His numbers were impressive: a 2,400-square-foot house that had average electric bills of $107 a month. That was running his system in air conditioning mode 10-plus months out of the year. For reference, my gas and electric bills average out to double that per month. George and another friend of mine both commented on how the house was evenly heated and cooled with no hot or cold spots. They credited this to how the heat pump manufacturer took every aspect of the home’s construction into consideration when sizing the system. Also, his drilling contractor sized the loop field properly, and the pipe and grout were designed to effectively transfer energy to and from the surrounding ground.
The excitement he showed as he described his awesome, warm-climate geothermal system shows how industry professionals should convey the message of geothermal to homeowners and builders alike. We have to believe in the systems we install and know that we are giving the building owners a top-notch green system that works for total climate control. It works in Maine and in Houston.
Earlier this year, in an industry interview, I suggested using the term “ground source climate control systems” as a marketing makeover. I received emails confirming support for taking “heat” out in favor of an all-inclusive term. The folks at KFC understood what their slogan really meant. Engineers, contractors, distributors and manufacturers understand that our systems do more than heat. BUT (Behold the Underlying Truth), we are not the consumers.
Geothermal is a good alternative to fossil fuel systems that people want to install and want to feel good about … once they understand it. Geothermal seems to be the “third mention” after solar and wind, yet we have a system that works in the dark and when the winds don’t blow. Geothermal is equal and can stand on its own legs, with or without tax credits, if it is promoted and marketed correctly. In summary, geothermal is cool!