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UnThink Solar
a div of Impress Labs
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Phone: 415-395-0941

Should Solar Marketers Focus on Preaching to the Choir or to the Skeptics?

Yesterday, I received a message on Twitter from Tom Kimbis over at SEIA. He Tweeted, “WSJ wants to know what you think about promoting #solar. VOTE HERE!! @SEIA @SolarFred"

When I clicked on the link, it took me to a Wall Street Journal blog post where the author asked readers if solar and wind subsidies should be eliminated, increased, decreased, or remain the same.

At the time, about 8:30 AM Pacific, solar was being hammered in the voting by regular Wall Street Journal readers. A 500-vote margin suggested that solar and wind subsidies should be eliminated. That’s not so surprising. The blog was preaching to its conservative oil and gas investor choir, and while the More Solar Subsidies vote had received just a little less than half the votes, for solar PR and advocacy reasons, I strongly believed that solar needed to win this non-scientific but very public poll.

So, thanks to Tom’s heads up, green social media marketers and activists on Twitter reached beyond WSJ’s normal oil and gas choir. By the afternoon, support for increasing solar subsidies had gained the majority of votes. As of this writing Wednesday night, the vote now stands at over 4006 votes (47.7%) for increasing subsides versus 3374 votes (40.2%) for eliminating solar and wind subsidies.

Update September 7, 2012: Fossil fuel advocates are catching up again! Click on the above link and cast your vote for solar and wind.

On the surface, the solar and wind industry won this public PR battle. The Wall Street Journal is a notoriously conservative news organization, and perhaps this “win” will inspire some conservative readers to think again about America’s support for solar and wind…but probably not.

If you take a look at the comments below the post, you’ll see typical yada, yada, myths and misunderstandings about solar and wind subsidies. Solar and wind advocates attempted to set the record straight, but were the other conservative commenters really listening? Or were they just seeking confirmation of their predisposed views. (One could ask the same of solar and wind advocates.)

Here’s the thing: As solar marketers, we are already short-staffed, underfunded, and hard-pressed for time and resources. So, we have to ask ourselves whether it’s worth our time to preach outside our choir in this type of conservative venue in order to generate leads from predisposed skeptics.

In truth, no matter how many facts we have, it’s extremely difficult to change people’s minds once they believe something, even when economic and scientific facts contradict those beliefs. To change these minds, you need time, repetition, creativity, and especially “Trust Agents” (a great book).

By “Trust Agents,” I mean personal, local, or national conservative thought leaders. If they change their minds first about solar and preach about the change, it breaks down ideological barriers, and many eventually follow.

For example, if Bill O’Reilly ever did finally go solar and preached about its money-saving attributes on his radio and cable shows, that would be a huge coup for solar energy. Many of his millions of listeners and viewers would rethink (UnThink?) getting a solar quote for themselves. Similarly, if your conservative best friend who follows “energy” changes his or her mind about solar, it may persuade you to reconsider your solar subsidy position too.

So, is it worth our time to get the troops to vote up solar on these types of conservative forums? Shall we find and market to conservative Trust Agents and try to make our case to them in the hopes that they’ll spread the word to others?

My answer is yes…but in moderation. This Wall Street Journal example was an easy win. It took me a few minutes to get the word out on my own personal and business social networks, while SEIA and other solar social media people were doing the same. Good and urgent causes spread quickly.

However, if this were purely a solar marketing call-to-action to buy a solar widget or service, I doubt this mini-campaign would have had the same response or PR effect.

The fact is that our very own solar choir is still very uneducated about solar technology and its economic benefits. Progressive, open minded, and  “green” individuals, businesses, and politicians may already support solar, yet they still don’t understand that solar can be financed with leases and PPAs or PACE, and that it doesn’t need batteries — or even a roof in some cases.

So, unfortunately, we’re still in the early adopter stage of solar. While I would love to go to Mississippi and Alabama and try to get legislators to pass state-wide net metering and to preach to the non-solar choir and sell oodles of solar…. we are probably going to be more successful and profitable marketing to progressives, independents, and moderate Republicans who are already favorable to solar, but uneducated and/or unmotivated.

That’s not to say that solar marketers are giving up on selling solar to conservatives. By solar being successful with the low-hanging progressive fruit, eventually the information and the financial sense will spread through personal peers, colleagues, and Trust Agents.

Meanwhile, it’s still worth it to take a few minutes to correct solar myths on blogs and news articles, and it’s always worth it…. to UnThink Solar. 

Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” advises solar companies on marketing, communications, and branding. Want more solar marketing info? Sign up for the Solar Fred Marketing Newsletter, or contact Solar Fred through UnThink Solar. You can also follow @SolarFred on Twitter.



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