Talking Solar in 2017 — What Marketers Need to Know

Image of sun rays

In 1974, Congress passed the Solar Research Development and Demonstration Act to help people pursue opportunities for solar energy on earth, rather than in space.

Forty-three years later, solar power has firmly found its place — becoming a staple for more and more American homes (Business Insider reported that by 2020, between 900,000 and 3.8 million homes are projected to have rooftop solar) and enhancing communities with real, functional benefits like illuminated bike paths for evening commuters. Business, too, has found the sunny side of the street through solar, with major companies like Target installing 147.5 MW of solar capacity last year — the top corporate installer in the United States.

As the solar experience gets ever sexier (with tools like the Vivint Smart Home app to help consumers easily monitor energy usage), and ever more cost-effective,

Fortune reported in June 2016 that solar energy is more affordable than ever and will get cheaper over the next decade

marketing to consumers will likely increase as solar capabilities and products improve.

With all this progress, it may be tempting to woo consumers with the promise of photovoltaic nirvana, but recent data suggests that marketers need to fight the urge to make messaging too clever. In the 2016 Solar Marketplace Intel Report from EnergySage, consumers proved that while solar might be getting sexy — the message needs to be simple. The report, which analyzed message traffic sent by solar shoppers to solar installers in order to identify the top areas of interest for consumers, provides some valuable insight on how to talk to consumers about solar in 2017. While the study focused on residential and small commercial consumers, the takeaways work for any prospect of a solar solution.

Focus on the Basics

In the 2016 EnergySage report, users discussed solar equipment offerings frequently in their messages to installers. The report notes that while both solar panels and inverters were featured prominently in the user message data, the term “panels” was over four times more likely to be used than the term “inverter.” Users were also more likely to inquire about loans over other financing options (like lease, or PPA).

What does it mean? Consumers need a simple way to understand the equipment and the payment options associated with going solar. To make it a reality for them, and to inspire them to truly entertain the idea of what a solar experience will look like in their home or business, marketers must provide them with enough information to allow them to see how the system looks in their world, and on their spreadsheet. Providing complex details around financing options and a laundry list of components to install will overwhelm consumers without giving them any sense of the tangible benefits the technology can bring. This advice isn’t just for single-focus installers or panel manufacturers — this goes for full-service solar solution providers too. Keep it simple, whether you’re talking about a single solution or a total solar system.

Build up the Benefits

In the same report, EnergySage noted that consumer messages featured a variety of terms that indicate an interest in more specialized products, including energy storage options (as indicated by the frequent appearance of the terms “battery” and “Powerwall”). What does it mean?

Consumers want to know how they can build from the basics to the expanded benefits solar technology can bring to them.

In other words, what’s after “simple”?

Consider the above example of the Vivint Smart Home app. While the end result offers an attractive visual display of important consumption data to help the consumer manage a more efficient lifestyle, that benefit cannot be fully appreciated until the consumer first has a sense of the basic elements needed to bring that information to life. It’s like using “Step 4” to sell solar to a consumer that hasn’t seen “Step 1” yet. Without a proper understanding of what’s involved in steps one through three, the consumer might not be able to seriously consider the outcome of a solar solution, and therefore lose interest in the conversation before it has even started.

Keep it PG

The technology is getting sexy, but marketers would fare well to keep things from getting too hot in their messaging. Solar, as a renewable energy source, will be scrutinized for its ability to perform up to expectations. Avoid the temptation to tell customers they’ll never receive a bill again, or that solar can provide 100% of their power — such statements are unrealistic. Take care not to romance this renewable, as the solar power that goes back to the grid is actually less reliable than traditional power sources.

In summary, overpromising on the ways solar solutions may increase efficiency or save money could set marketers up for failure, rather than success. With President Trump coming into office (a man who has made clear his skepticism over climate change and the importance of renewable energy in our future), this scrutiny may be amplified. Stick to light, family-friendly messaging that reads with a hint of sexiness between the lines. It’s a great way to inspire them to ask for more information and continue the conversation through the path to purchase.