U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Building Technologies Office – Run a Program
Step 3: Conduct Audience Research
Chicago Grantee Employs Ethnographic Approach to Community Engagement
Energy Impact Illinois (EI2) is developing communications and community outreach strategies based in part on innovative ethnographic research conducted in diverse neighborhoods throughout the city of Chicago by anthropologists from The Field Museum. The research was originally commissioned by the Chicago Department of Environment to recommend strategies for engaging communities in the Chicago Climate Action Plan.
The Museum's findings have resulted in community-based climate action programs that:
- Work through trusted community-based organizations
- Engender community leadership by linking energy efficiency and other climate action to broader community concerns (e.g., crime and safety, cultural identity, youth development)
- Address significant cultural barriers such as fear of gentrification and distrust of outside institutions.
Learn more at The Field Museum's site.
After establishing your marketing goals and objectives and developing a plan to evaluate them, the next step is to conduct research to learn more about your target audience. The more you know about your audience, the more successful your energy efficiency marketing efforts will be. By understanding who comprises your audience, what their needs are, what motivates them, and what prevents them from undertaking energy efficiency upgrades, you will be able to craft relevant messages and deliver them by the methods, at the times, and in the places that will inspire action and changes in behavior.
Understand Different Types of Research
Develop a Research Plan
Understand Different Types of Research
To better understand your target audience, you might want to undertake both quantitative and qualitative research.
- Quantitative research sources include census data; county and city tax records; and online, mail, or phone surveys. Draw on these sources to create a statistically relevant profile of your target community. This information will provide data on audience demographics (e.g., age, income), their current behaviors (i.e., how they act), and their attitudes toward energy upgrades. For example, census data will show income levels and ages of residents, tax records will show which households have taken advantage of energy efficient rebates and tax breaks, and surveys could show how respondents feel about the importance of energy efficiency and what might motivate them to pursue energy upgrades.
- Qualitative research sources include focus groups and one-on-one interviews. These allow you to delve deeper into a community's beliefs and values. Qualitative research should be used as a guide for decision-making on specific strategies and messages. Qualitative research should not be used to predict the behavior of your target audience, because sample sizes are generally too small to extrapolate widely.
Develop a Research Plan
Take the following steps to develop your research plan.
- Define available resources. All research plans are shaped by financial and human resource constraints. So a good first step is to determine how much money, time, and staff you have to devote to your audience research.
- Select research techniques. With resource constraints in mind, select an appropriate mix of research techniques. Email or phone surveys and targeted interviews can be a cost-effective way to collect information. Formal focus groups generally cost more.
- Draft your research plan. With these resources in mind, document what types of research you can undertake, which resources you are going to use, and what you expect to learn from your research efforts.
Where possible, use existing research sources from colleges and universities, research institutions, foundations, and other local sources, including city departments, state agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Local media often have good data on target audiences.
Picking the right mix of research methods is a key step in your planning process.
Things to Consider
For surveys (telephone, online, or mail):
- Caller ID and cell phones are making it harder to get enough participants from telephone surveys.
- Online surveys favor people more comfortable with computers; you can use them to show visual items.
For focus groups:
- Offer incentives for participation; the bigger the incentive, the less time you will need to spend on recruitment.
- Avoid having one vocal participant dominate the group by asking participants to write down their initial reactions/thoughts before group discussion.
For one-on-one surveys (e.g., at malls, parks):
- Keep them short (i.e., no longer than 5 to 10 minutes).
- Go to locations where your target audience gathers.
For in-person interviews:
- Combine and use these as an opportunity to brief business leaders about the program as well as gather information.
Testing Program Messages
Energy Impact Illinois (EI2) conducted 1,600 phone surveys of mid- to high-income households. Its aim was to test program messaging and gauge attitudes toward home improvements and energy efficiency upgrades. The surveys provided a number of insights on the target audience's decision process:
- While most homeowners viewed energy efficiency improvements positively, they didn't necessarily believe they were urgent or a priority.
- When considering a home improvement, recommendations from personal sources such as family and friends were viewed to be very persuasive.
- Homeowners were more inclined to make simpler improvements.
- After hearing about potential financial incentive programs, 8% more respondents said that they would be very likely to make an improvement.
This presentation provides a full summary of the research findings.
With your plan in hand, begin conducting audience research. If resources permit, hire experts to conduct the most challenging qualitative or quantitative research activities to ensure unbiased results and analysis.
Tips for conducting research include:
- Ask open-ended questions, not leading questions.
- Do not treat results of qualitative research as quantitative (e.g., do not extrapolate a focus group's responses to an entire population).
- Be aware of self-reporting biases (e.g., when respondents give answers that they think you want to hear or that they themselves want to believe).
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