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UnThink Solar
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Solar Fred's Top 5 Solar Marketing Wishes for 2012: Build Solar Communities


Welcome to Solar Fred’s 3rd annual Solar Marketing Wish List for the coming year.  If you haven’t granted my last two years worth of wishes, take another shot: Here’s 2010 and 2011.

For 2012, the theme is focusing your marketing on building solar communities. And when I say “communities,” I’m not just talking about installers. In fact, more than ever, it’s important for solar PV manufacturers, BOS, and inverter companies to start building their own micro B to B communities instead of treating every customer like a one-time sales target.

I’ve touched on this subject before, most recently before SPI 2011, but I want to hammer it and elaborate on it.

So, with that in mind, here are Solar Fred’s Top 5 Building Solar Community Wishes for 2012 and their respective bottom line benefit.

1) While remaining price competitive, make pleasing your customers your number one priority in 2012.  Price is typically the #1 concern on everyone’s mind these days… except when it isn’t. Nevertheless, when all things are equal in price and relative features, it’s that extra-mile customer service that will bring back repeat customers and inspire referrals. Whether residential, commercial, or solar widget manufacturer, grant me and yourselves this first wish: Think of one unique new customer service added value. Whatever you decide to do, be creative, conscious of customer concerns, and generous.

Bottom line benefits: Win hearts, as well as wallets, solidify brand loyalty, and customer referrals. 

2) Get involved with customer causes in 2012, not just solar causes. Of course continue to be a solar advocate, but I'm talking about asking your customers what they care about too. It might be fighting cancer through walk-a-thons, supporting your religious organization, or sponsoring a high school team. But building communities means that you can’t just think about “What’s in it for me?” You must have that “How can I help?” attitude. You’ll have to spend on marketing regardless, so include this tactic too. Oh, and by the way, you should personally care about your chosen cause too, so it’s a win-win anyway.

Bottom line benefits: Brand awareness, solar leadership, possible customer education and referrals.

3) Own a social network in 2012. I don’t care if it’s Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, or your blog. Whatever it is, learn the rules of that community, invite past and future customers, and regularly communicate with this virtual community. I’ve done this several times for myself and other customers, and I promise you that it works. If you’re reading this blog post or found it via Twitter (my two main social networking tools) then that should be proof enough that it works. It’s not easy and it takes time, but mastering at least one social network is essential. Make it a 2012 resolution. 

Bottom line benefits: Brand loyalty, referrals, industry thought leadership.

4) Make news by giving a solar quote to a reporter.  Thank you, Bill O’Reilly, for saying “I can’t get a solar quote on Long Island." I’ve called for this type of guerilla marketing action before, but Bill’s (erroneous) solar lament reminded me of how misinformed the news media can be about solar. So this year, find a way to give a reporter, local or national, a solar quote and suggest they write/do a segment on the experience. The public needs to see examples. They are the icebreakers. As Jeff Wolfe of groSolar pointed out in my last post, “Nobody wants to go first.” Here’s a way to educate thousands (potentially millions) about the residential solar quote process. Don’t say this is too hard. Just do it. Pick up the phone. Write a press release. Find a way.

Bottom line benefits: Local or national brand exposure, public relations, building solar authority in your community.

5) Get over this trade dispute. President Lincoln famously said “A house divided cannot stand.” Our solar house is divided. I’ve written about the brand and marketing repercussions of the Solar World trade dispute, and I’ve personally seen a great deal of vitriol on both sides in the comments section. Most recently, China is threatening U.S. polysilicon exports. I don’t want to litigate this here or, quite frankly, anywhere in public. Adam Browning of the Vote Solar Initiative said famously that this was like a circular firing squad. Everybody gets hurt. Solar has enough attacks from the oil, coal, and gas lobby. Must we fight ourselves, too? Must we give more ammunition to pro-fossil fuel politicians?  So, my last solar marketing wish for 2012 is that this entire dispute is settled in some non-public way.  Go to a resort, work it out, shake hands publicly, smile, and then let’s get back to the business of building solar coalitions and communities that work for solar, not creating coalitions against each other. Please.

Bottom line benefits: The whole solar community benefits, great PR for settling it out of courts and public eye, getting back to work focusing on our real competitors: fossil fuels and their political lackeys.

And so ends my 2012 Solar Fred marketing wishes — and my solar marketing blog posts for 2011. Thank you all for reading...and UnThinking Solar.

Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” advises solar companies on social media, communications, and public relations. Contact him through UnThink Solar or follow him on Twitter @SolarFred.

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