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UnThink Solar
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Solar on the White House: Thanks and Solar Marketing Lessons Learned

By now you’ve probably heard that Secretary Chu and President Obama have announced that solar PV and solar thermal will be be back on the White House roof by the Spring of 2011.

This is a victory for the entire solar industry, but especially for those who had the courage and vision to support the idea, despite its challenge.

So thank you solar companies Sungevity, KACO New Energy, and Free Hot Water (now my client) who quickly stepped up to the plate to offer the White House free solar. Also to the many other solar pros and companies that followed these solar leaders. 

Sungevity contributed additional time—and expense—attracting solar non-profit organizations to the cause. I suspect it was involving Bill McKibben and his that finally pushed the White House to plotz or get off the solar pot. Thankfully, it plotzed.

Moving forward, what solar marketing lessons can we learn from this romantic and yet ultimately realistic “Solar on the White House” initiative? Plenty.

1) Solar advocacy works as a business strategy. It inspires people to think and act. Over 50,000 people across the U.S. have signed the Sungevity petition. As a result, Sungevity, previously a California brand, is now a national brand thanks to advocacy—not advertising.

2) Solar social media works. There were plenty of traditional social media tactics that made this campaign successful. When applied correctly, people will share good solar information told simply. Study the Globama website and its tactics: Blogging, Twitter, easy to share with friends and social networks, a relevant history lesson (why now/why needed), visually attractive, tee-shirts, etc. They also used Google Adwords to drive traffic as well, an important part of any social media campaign.::continue::

3) Social media isn’t cheap or instantaneous. I have no idea how much this campaign cost, but I suspect it wasn’t inexpensive. However, a traditional national television, radio, or print advertising campaign would have been far more expensive and less effective. Why? Because people don’t trust ads, but they will invest themselves into a cause. Stand out and educate, as I always say here. This initiative is a great example.

4) Find like-minded partners. Though the Obama administration doesn’t admit it in their press release, I think Bill McKibben bringing an old Carter hot water panel to the White House was certainly the push that was needed. In addition to McKibben, many other solar advocacy organizations also pitched in: SEIA, ASES, to name just two, as well as the publishers and editors of Renewable Energy World. Eventually, one of these partners –—found the creative means to the goal: The Carter solar panel tour.

5)    Genuine solar advocacy leads to profits, not the other way around. Many called this White House initiative a publicity stunt. I have no problem with that because it was a stunt for a genuine cause: Getting the President to lead by example and being and an international symbol of America’s clean energy commitment. If the only motives were profits and publicity, I think it would have failed.

With all of the above in mind, adapt the above lessons and do your own solar/advocate initiative. How?

1) Find a non-profit cause you truly believe in. It's hard to fake being passionate about something that you "should" care about, but you'll find it's energizing when you are seriously committed to an advocate goal, despite hard work ahead.

2) Somehow link solar to that belief and cause. Helping schools reduce energy costs? Saving city parks? Green jobs/vocational training for the unemployed? What ever. Starts with you and your passion…

3) Find partners who genuinely believe in both causes too. Listen to their perspectives and come up with a creative message and marketing plan.

4) Spread the word through social media and press releases. Call and email reporters too.

5) Be persistent, creative, and give it time to grow.  We’re talking six months, at least. (Remember that this initiative was first proposed in February 2010, 8 months ago! And there were previous calls to action even before that. )

Meanwhile, if you’re coming to SPI, come celebrate solar on the White House with us at the SPI 2010 Tweetup next Wednesday, October 13th. Happy Hour, bowling, beer, solar. Woo-hoo! What’s not to love?

Whether or not you join us, as always, UnThink Solar.

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




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