As the renewable energy industry moves forward with purpose into 2021, there is reason to be optimistic. But with Covid still devastating communities, the future for many is still uncertain. How can you plan your solar marketing strategy in such a volatile environment?
In the U.S., the new Administration is giving the renewables industry a much-needed reason to exhale. President Biden has already begun making good on his pledge to make climate a top priority, with executive actions to reduce greenhouse gases, reassert our place in the Paris Agreement, and accelerate the transition to renewable energy.
For the solar industry, the extension of the federal ITC ensures that solar growth will be supported by coherent national policy, at least for the next four years. But there is still a lot of uncertainty at the state and local levels, with a raft of challenges to renewable policy and a bumpy economic recovery ahead.
This leaves solar companies — whether local installers, regional solar developers or manufacturers of clean energy technologies – with significant challenges for marketing their businesses.
Companies are still trying to figure out how to calibrate their operations as the economy recovers. At the same time, there’s great momentum behind climate action.
The big question is: How can you make the most of this moment?
Learning to Pivot
The job description of anyone engaged in the rollicking world of solar marketing has always included equal measures of flexibility and resilience, but the events of 2020 made marketing solar a particularly perilous endeavor. We were not alone.
Chief marketing officers in every industry found their worlds rocked to the core, as a massive health crisis, social unrest and economic and political upheaval paralyzed the nation. Digitization – which in many industries was already well underway – snowballed as every aspect of business operations crossed the chasm to digital. Solar marketing was no exception.
Not surprisingly, social media became even more critical to marketing. According to a Special Covid-19 Edition of The CMO Survey, social media spending increased 74% from February to June of 2020. This trend is likely to continue.
In the solar world, the transition to 100% digital marketing was a reality whose time had come. But ensuring the customer journey is as simple and appealing as possible is still a challenge.
Brand-Building in a Post-Covid World
The importance of building a direct, personal relationship with your customers cannot be overstated as we move through 2021.
Showing customers that you’re respectful of their challenges and want to help them find solutions will go a long way toward building your brand.
Marketing in 2021 won’t just be about the tactics and channels companies use, but more about the values, personality and stories companies share. Brands that rise above the digital noise are those who share their authentic selves, which organically stem from their employees and leadership.
Is your brand up to the challenge?
Authenticity is the Key
Empathy and transparency will be critical in the coming year, as both B2C and B2C customers will engage with brands based on shared values. As a business it will be important to develop a meaningful dialogue with customers and connect with them in an authentic way.
Solar companies have been fairly sophisticated users of social media, and in 2020 the industry learned how crucial it was to speak directly with their customers across digital platforms, keeping them up to date on Covid business practices and answering questions. The need for honest, two-way conversations will carry over into 2021.
Expanding the Reach of Solar with Online Platforms and Video
Despite our Zoom exhaustion, for many, webinars and digital meeting platforms have become a great way to expand an audience that otherwise could not or would not make the trek to a physical event.
In the absence of in-person conferences and tradeshows, many events have successfully pivoted online, expanding their reach. For new product introductions, virtual roadshows can be particularly effective, even in the highly tactile solar world.
With most solutions in the renewable energy industry being physical, videos can help not only showcase your products, they can reflect your company’s services, as well as its personality, culture and values, all of which are absolutely crucial to building a relationship with your customer.
Research shows that 70% of B2B buyers are watching videos throughout the buying journey to help them make purchase decisions.
Focus on the Customer’s Challenges
On the product side of solar, there is a bias toward overexplaining: Focusing on a product’s features rather than its benefits. But a recent study by Forrester emphasizes the need to move away from tech speak, to be laser-focused on customer needs:
“B2B marketers need to step away from producing content that focuses on what they do and step up to showing customers that they understand their problems and can help solve them.”
Laura Ramos, VP, Principal Analyst, Forrester Research
One of the best ways to connect with commercial solar prospects is through case studies. The best ones focus first on the customer’s challenges, with solutions expressed in terms of business benefits.
People connect with people, not corporate entities.
Working with the right ‘brand ambassador’ can highlight your company’s values as well. An example of this is Mercedes’ collaboration with The Weeknd on the Video Ad of its first fully electric SUV, which appealed to a wide range of customers, not just environmentally conscious ones, in a creative yet authentic way.
Granted, not all companies have a Mercedes budget. But you can still find important influencers in your community.
In Texas, Willie Nelson has been an advocate for solar and was a spokesperson for an ad for SunPower by Freedom Solar. Many local celebs would be more than willing to put in a plug for solar these days.
Silver Linings: Solar Is Top of Mind
Even before the pandemic, people were seeking change — in business, in their lives and in their community. Solar can be a big part of the conversation as we rebuild our economy and indeed, our world. While the silver linings from 2020 are few, having climate change and clean energy at the top of our national conversation must be chief among them.
With the right marketing partner, you can move through 2021 with grace and ease, even as the only constant continues to be change.
For creative ideas and on-point execution of your 2021 marketing plan, drop us a line.