How can any one solar company use marketing to stand out and capture more of this hot market?
The challenge is daunting because of the nature of solar energy itself: Nobody owns the sun, and one company’s clean electrons are identical to another’s.
Based on Captains of Industry’s experience in branding and marketing for renewable energy companies, I’ve put together this guide. This article specifically on Massachusetts because, as you’ll see, the local aspects of solar energy marketing are important, although these tips can be customized for any state.
1. Research the customer’s mindset in each local market.
A lot of companies jump into making direct mail pieces and websites before they really understand who they are talking to, what matters to them, and what they think is true about solar energy.
Many of these beliefs are local in nature.
When a company conducted focus groups of consumers in the Northeast, they found that people thought the solar panels were prohibitively expensive. They liked the idea of solar, but didn’t want to jump into making a $40,000 investment.
Research of the California residential market’s consumer mindsets would be very different, because there’s simply more awareness there of the fact that these days, there’s no need to purchase the solar panels. All kinds of lease options are available.
But does someone in your target market know this? Maybe not so much.
Understanding your customers’ beliefs and desires, locally, is an essential first step that will lead towards creating your key message.
2. Nail your message.
Most marketing practices keep shouting message that doesn’t catch customer’s heart. A better path is creating a message based on what will work with consumers in one local area.
For example, in Lexington.
I received a mailer from a solar company yesterday with an envelope teaser headline that read, “Use the sun to lower your electric bill.”
First off, the message is generic.
Any solar company could say the exact same thing. But just as important, the message itself didn’t take into account the reality that most residential customers in my town still think they have to make a big up front investment. If a consumer thinks they have to spend a lot of money, then cutting their electric bill as a message isn’t enough. It could take ten to twenty years to get payback, so why do it? Having explanatory copy on a website is one step too far for most consumers: that’s why the key message has to be the first message. It’s the one thing your customer must know in order to drive them to seek out your content.
Here’s an example of a message that would get the attention of someone in my town:
Your Lexington electricity rate jumped 39% in 2014. Here’s how to lower it—without buying solar panels.
So, right off the bat, I know this company is talking directly to me, in my hometown. This feels relevant and timely. This company has done their homework. While a lot of people have experienced sticker shock when they’ve opened their electric bills recently, many are not aware that their rates have in fact gone up this much. So the message feels startling and gets my attention.
Then they pay off their headline:
Inside this letter is information that can help me save money. Everybody wants to save money. And I won’t have to invest in solar panels? Tell me more.
3. Use valuable content to show your difference.
If all clean electrons are the same, you have to give your brand a halo that helps you be different and more attractive to just the right audience.
But how can you give your brand a halo?
What works today is to share your company’s values in a way that is genuine, deep, and transparent.
Consumers want to buy from companies who share their beliefs. They want to see your people and what makes them tick. They want to see your vision and mission, not just a piece of junk mail. For example, a solar company could state their mission as “to lower electricity costs for every American.”
The company can live this mission by (as just one idea): having a customer referral program based on providing free solar power to low income people in underserved communities.
When a current customer in Lexington refers a neighbor to the solar company, the company makes a contribution towards a fund that goes towards installing free solar panels for a family that’s having a hard time making ends meet. The company’s website can share a whole range of content that shows how this mission is being carried out in Massachusetts, including videos of the families participating in the program.
Suddenly, what at first appears to be a generic electron becomes something much greater: the embodiment of a mission.
4. Stop selling and start educating.
Before consumers buy, they seek knowledge.
They ask their friends, and they go on the web to do a search. But most solar companies are still in the business of selling, forgetting that there is a big knowledge vacuum. So when a web search happens, what comes up are sales offers.
People needs more information than selling information.
This is a huge opportunity for a solar company to create and publish content that appeals to people in their local communities.
5. Ride the locavore movement.
In some towns, there are weekly farmers’ markets that sell locally grown fruits and vegetables. There are chances to meet the farmers and artisans. This puts a face on each company, a personality that matters when we’re choosing what to buy.
Clean energy is local as well.
Solar companies should consider setting up their own booths at local farmers markets, positioning their brand of solar as another kind of local, green, affordable produce.
Call it “fresh energy.”
This creates a close link to the values of customers who want to save money and help the environment at the same time. And it demonstrates that the solar company understands how to make solar work in their town, and that they care about the local environment 🙂
Our identity revolves around one concept: The youth is our future. We’re bold and loud about Climate Change and take the health of our planet very seriously. We’re all in on sustainability and will do just about anything to help people go green.
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