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When Paint is a Barrier to Adoption

Sometimes it’s the little things that keep people from getting on-board with new solutions.

This week Honeywell announced its latest foray into the “smart” thermostat market, the Lyric. From the design, there is absolutely no question they are trying to compete with Nest, the sexy startup founded by ex-Apple designers and acquired by Google for $3.2 billion earlier this year.

Both of these products are going after the high-end early adopter who doesn’t mind spending 5-10 times more than what a comparable but less functional device would cost, and most people are actively choosing to buy one of these devices when their old thermostat is functioning just fine (thermostats are usually pretty reliable devices that last for decades).

With that in mind, Nest and Honeywell and anyone else targeting this market are already facing an uphill battle – asking people to replace something that works just fine with something way more expensive because of features they didn’t know they wanted. I faced a similar challenge at BigBelly Solar, where we were selling a significantly more expensive solution than the status quo (solar-powered, self-compacting trash cans) that introduced features no one had really considered possible before (knowing when you had to go out and collect based on remote monitoring vs. just following a schedule). I can attest that it isn’t easy to convince people to make that kind of change.

But, once you have convinced a potential customer that the benefits of the new solution are worthwhile, other obstacles may still stand in your path. For example, at BigBelly Solar you had to pour a concrete pad or bolt the devices into the sidewalks – significantly cheaper projects than the devices themselves cost, but kind of a pain and often involving other parts of the organization that normally wouldn’t be required.

For folks like Nest and Honeywell, their circular design is certainly sleek and, for those customers that are upgrading from a programmable thermostat (which would be the customers that are far more likely to be interested in all of their fancy features), there is a slight aesthetic issue: it will look terrible in any room that has been painted since the programmable thermostat was installed.

Now, the Nest product team did not completely ignore this issue, and they do offer a “trim plate” that will cover up your plaster and wiring mess, but that is still not the most visually pleasing solution. So, for those who care about style (you know, their actual target market), if they have ever repainted and not removed their thermostat in the process you are now asking them to repaint a room or at least part of it.

This creates some additional friction in the acquisition and installation process. This has undoubtedly deterred some consumers along the way, and since these sales are being made in a B2C fashion (i.e. there are not Nest and Honeywell salespeople walking them through the process) they have no way to mitigate it without also drawing attention to it (such as actively promoting said “trim plate”).