In partnership with GridFreedom, we recently sent out a survey to subscribers of our solar energy newsletter in order to pick their brains about good solar marketing. In particular, we asked solar installers about their most effective marketing efforts, and we asked everyone else for their best solar marketing ideas.
Now’s the time to dive into the results, for the broader benefit of solar installers and marketers across the US and the globe.
Solar Installers Recommend…
Unfortunately, the responses don’t seem to coalesce around any particular method. They’re all over the place. If anything, “online” or “internet” or “web” seems to be the most popular answer. But here’s a list of responses we received from different installers (my comments in parentheses and italicized):
- Online/Internet/Web (with no specification to online method)
- Facebook Ads
- Google Adwords
- Home Shows
- Word of Mouth
- Direct Marketing
- Partnering with Electrical Engineers
- Pounding the Pavement (i.e., going door to door)
- Inbound internet leads supplied by agencies
- Spring (yes, I think that’s a joke, but it’s also an important observation — people tend to be drawn to solar power in the spring)
The good thing is that there are a lot of ideas there. The problem is that none really stood out as the answer of the majority, though advertising in some form or another online seemed to win the day.
Well, let’s take a look at what individuals not working in the solar installer world but passionate about solar thing.
Tapping into the masses in Family Feud style, the answers were still widespread. With slight edits for grammar/punctuation, below were some of the responses that came in (again, my comments are in parentheses and italicized):
- Showing consumers they save money in the long run.
- Short, concise materials with good lead lines to additional information on line.
- My electric bill was $9.87 last month with my 28 solar panels working at full output :>). (I think that’s a pretty good example of the above.)
- Pay $0.00 for your electricity just like me!
- Marketers should have all the data to convince user of profitability of solar energy and also easy access to cheap loans.
- To tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
- Stop the false claims about wiping out energy bills. To wipe out my energy bill, I would need to install a further 93 panels on my roof, and I already produce more power than I use.
- Have 3 marketers do 3 free estimates and compare efficiency and cost and answer questions like cost and and what is ideal setting for PV.
- It’s not about the money, it’s how long we leave this continue for our children. This is an emergency!
- Look at current satellite photos and call only those that have good exposure and no solar cells. We constantly get calls from solar providers and we already have panels. (Certainly a good idea to not waste your advertising money/time!)
- Sharing real-world installations with no hype or technobabble.
- For me, there are two critical things to get across. 1. Show normal, everyday businesses using solar energy in order to normalize it and show just how much energy can be created with panels. (This would relate to changing the culture around solar users from just interested people to all people). 2. Do the math for people. Again, interested people will do their own math / cost-benefit analysis to figure out how much the investment pays off. I feel that if people are shown clearly understandable data on how much they’ll generate, save, and maybe the amount of CO2 they’re NOT using, this would help them get on board. Cheers!
- Small in-home group promotions.
- Set up some panels, a metre and maybe a storage solution on a local market stall, and talk to people.
- More approachable presentation of their products.
- Local displays and demonstrations. (Another similar response: Demonstrations of small solar equipment to public.)
- Public awareness to be increased about socio economic benefits of solar energy by attractive workshops or seminars.
- Targeting BEV owners. Because for me that is how I use the most energy. Not powering my household. (Good idea. And these first adopters are vastly over-representative of the broader public in going solar.)
- Create a community grid where everyone shares their energy and is off the big grid. Advertise being part of self sufficiency.
- “the energy is there if you chose to use it or not” (Similar response: “Use it, or Lose it”)
- Door to Door in a particular area as practical.
- Money-back guarantee.
- The one-day install.
- National TV ads with a memorable musical riff. Central freephone number which dispenses local suppliers details by nearness.
- Partner with airlines to offer frequent flyer miles when signing up — I saw an offer like this for a competitive electricity provider and I signed up — could work for solar too!
- Strongly and personally encourage everyone with rooftop solar to commit to speaking with at least one friend or associate each week about their experience of solar’s many benefits. (I like this as a post-installation focus for installers. Really try to get your customers to evangelize and help others.)
- Being in Nevada and having the rug pulled out from under us please show not only how we can benefit from solar but how the utility companies are terrified of us all being suppliers of our own electricity. And how they are trying to kill our options.
- In Canada, bring a variety of cutting-edge solar product innovations from the world market to home solar customers!
- A light, flexible roll(?) of solar panels ( already exists) which could be moved round residential gardens to catch max sun. Or make solar panels look like roof tiles so that they look less ugly.
- Good online presence. Get an expert firm to design your webpage and help optimize search results.
- Use of social media.
- Making sure there is constant feedback between the customer and the installer. The “after the sale contact” is very important. The company I used let me know when they were still on track AND when issues popped up. It alleviated any concerns I may have had during the time from contract signing to complete installation. The sales people need to remain in contact throughout the process even though the sale was finalized as did mine.
Here’s one more that is a bit lengthy but I think succinctly covers many of the bases:
1.) They need to be convinced that solar is now ready to save them enough money to make it worth their while.
2.) They need to believe the company they are dealing with are “reputable good guys” that put their customers first and not scammers that take the money and run.
3.) They need to believe that the units you sell or lease(? hint-hint) them are superior to others on the market.
4.) You need to offer them various purchase plans and options so the entire project fits their budget.
5.) Find a good lender you can work with and offer flexible financing for those with good credit. Offer leases or (?) to those that can’t pass the credit check. If they own the home, the company or lender will have a lien against their property as a backup and a good lawyer can write the contract with increased interest rate and penalties in the event of a default (or, don’t sell them)
6.) Include all costs in the finance programs, equipment, installation, maintenance(?), profit, insurance (if their existing doesn’t cover it)… so its a one turn-key price for everything. Always make it as easy for the customer to do business with you as possible….
And one more long one that I think is worth acting on:
Fight the political battles with all you’ve got. Unless you can win those, nothing else you might do matters a damn. Don’t get killed again by loss of well-deserved buyer incentives. That’s how Reagan stopped the original solar renaissance of the late ’70s and everyone involved with it lost their shirts. I was then creating first-of-type marketing campaigns for solar and wind equipment makers, as well as solar builders. In those days, it was considered irresponsible in the Southwest to build anything that wasn’t at least passive solar — and the ultimate goal was to add active equipment and get off the grid entirely. That should still be our aim — all the more urgently, given what the greedy utilities and the Koch cabal are up to at state level. (Note especially Nevada.) Also, don’t get suckered by trickster finance schemes offered by some manufacturers and allied companies. As soon as one of these deals is signed, every assured cash flow or other asset attached to it (lease payments, maintenance contracts, RECs) is being securitized into dangerous derivatives. Remember that derivatives based on subprime mortgage debt blew up the world economy in ’08 and there’s been no meaningful regulation since then. Derivatives based on every form of loan and have a “notional” value far beyond all the real money in the world. Taxpayers already coughed up the full fictional value for piles of this rubbish. It’s going to happen again and again, as long as banksters get rewarded for predatory behavior. Unless we’re wary of all long-term financial agreements, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot, in terms of national financial risk. That’s true even if a lease deal is otherwise good, which it probably isn’t. People are going to be left paying much more than the going rate for solar power, which is falling like a stone, and be unable to replace inefficient, outdated equipment that even keeps their homes from selling. And so they’ll STOP paying, rip the junk off and, blooey, another bubble predictably bursts. Then the banksters who set up the whole thing will scream for more bailouts and get them. And the whole industry will unfairly get a black eye.
Here’s a shorter response along the same lines for one state: “Here in Illinois, get the law changed so the utilities don’t get the extra power for free.”
Thanks to all of the respondents! There are a lot of good recommendations there. I also went ahead and wrote up a page of tips and resources for solar installers. Naturally, I encourage everyone interested in that matter to read that page.