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Solar Fred's Top 5 Solar Marketing Wishes for 2013: Stand Out and Educate


Welcome to Solar Fred's annual solar marketing wish list, 2013 edition. If you missed my previous years' wishes and still want to make them come true, bless your solar marketing heart. See 2010 here, 2011 here, and 2012 here.

This year’s theme, “Stand out and educate,” is familiar to anyone who’s received an email from me, since it’s a quote in my signature. It reminds me every day about why I’m in this business and what my task is as a solar marketer.

Whether you’re a manufacturer that’s marketing to a solar company or an installer marketing to a consumer, your most important goals are to build brand awareness and trust to increase sales. To do that, you’re going to need a strategy, and certainly, you’ll need some creativity. Otherwise, you risk becoming a $/watt commodity, and we all know how that's turning out for PV manufacturers.

You’ll also need a bigger marketing budget. I’m not going to put that on my wish list, because I think that’s a given for any solar marketer today. Marketing departments have been cut along with their budgets, forcing fewer people to do more with less. Yet, there’s only so much that a handful of people can do, especially in the B to B solar world. While I know times are difficult, I wonder how solar will grow past early adopters if we’re just allowing fossil fuel companies to control our nation’s energy conversation with massive green-washing campaigns.

And that last pre-wishlist thought leads me to my first solar marketing wish for 2013 and their corresponding bottom line benefits:

1) Shine a light on natural gas and oil green washing. If you do anything in social media in 2013, or do any press, please, please, please, I beg you to correct solar myths and shine a light on all of this oil and natural gas green washing. It seems like every news station, radio, and newspaper have slick green-washed videos and websites showing how natural gas is creating jobs, and “has its risks.” Those fracking risks include contaminating water supplies, explosions, and earthquakes, not to mention releasing harmful methane, a greenhouse gas. As Bill Clinton said at SPI, it’s our job to control the energy conversation, whether it’s about solar growth, creating solar jobs, or the benefits of solar for utilities and ratepayers.

Bottom line benefit: You’ll give pro-solar policy makers ammunition and support to change America’s energy policies, which help you directly or indirectly. Plus, you’ll be viewed as a solar energy thought leader, which is always good for PR and brand awareness.

2) Get more visual. I hate to admit it, but it’s increasingly becoming a short-attention span world. If something doesn’t catch our eye, we quickly move along with the next mouse click. Consequently, you must not only educate consumers and clients with words, but also with videos, infographics, cartoons, animation, or odd but relevant pictures and graphics.  Whatever it takes to stand out… and then educate. (And for those wondering, no I didn't buy billboards in Times Square. Its a doctored photo. But it got your attention, didn't it? Refer to 2013 theme above.)

Bottom line benefit: You’ll grab the wandering eye and keep more customers focused on your solar messaging.

3) Frame solar as a climate change solution in your marketing. I recently wrote a blog post about this. To sum up: Hurricane Sandy’s devastation to New York and New Jersey and other Atlantic states should be a wake-up call to act on climate change. Solar is an energy solution, and in your marketing, you can explain why. In addition, you can of course explain the personal financial benefits, as well as the taxpayer benefits of not having to spend disaster relief funds every year. Do your financial climate change homework. The info is out there. (And if you're still a climate skeptic, all of your arguments are answered here.)

Bottom line benefit: PR thought leadership, especially in states suffering from climate change effects, such as floods, drought, and hurricanes.

4) Stop waiting. Start your own "Got Milk" type solar campaign.  I think some of us are waiting for SEIA, ASES, or some other non-profit entity to do our industry’s “Got Milk” style campaign. Stop waiting. Maybe they will or maybe they won’t. In the meantime, you can come up with your own hilarious, fun, viral campaign, or just do a great music video like this 2012 holiday video done by SolarEdge. If we all do something fun, then we’ll have a bunch of mini-solar Got Milks, and who knows? Perhaps one of them will become viral.

Bottom line benefit: Refer to “Got Milk?” “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner;”  “Pork: The Other White Meat;” and “Las Vegas: Know the Code.”

5) Protect solar’s reputation. The world (and your customers) are watching. The solar industry can’t afford any bad apples. Really. It can’t. As the industry knows, Solyndra’s failure was due to market forces, not any type of swindle. But that's what solar’s enemies have suggested through useless hearings and media outlets. Nevertheless, we really can’t afford any illegal or unethical activities, whether related to subsidies or to consumers. Solar still has favorable poll numbers, but that could change quickly, especially in this internet/media age. So, watch your Yelp ratings, respond quickly to customer complaints, especially on Twitter and Facebook, and please be ethical and safe with everything you and your employees do. The world really is watching, especially fossil fuel companies and utilities wanting to point an "I told you so" finger at our clean green-energy reputation.

Bottom line benefit: Obviously, acting with strong ethics, you protect your solar company, as well as the entire solar industry.

That’s it for 2012’s UnThink Solar posts. As always, I wish you all a happy and prosperous new year.

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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