Just back from another great Solar Power International 2011, perhaps the largest SPI ever in terms of the number and the size of exhibits, though I believe attendance was a bit lower this year compared to Los Angeles.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be covering more about what I learned from the show from interviews and observations, but first let’s cover a few solar event marketing trends that I saw. The following are some good event marketing examples...and bad examples. As always, just my professional marketing opinion, but I hope there are constructive lessons within:
Solar Event Marketing Trend #1: Supersize My Booth! This is my third SPI, but I cannot recall a larger booth spectacle, especially among the solar PV manufacturers and the inverter manufacturers.
The biggest booth award goes to Sharp, which had the largest floor footprint by far and featured a full size moving solar tracker, as well as a roof display, a thin film wall with racking display, and private meeting rooms. Runner ups for Biggest Booth prize goes to inverter manufacturers Fronius with its huge two-story “inverter wall and sprawl” concept and SMA Americas, which also laid down two stories parallel to adjacent and smaller exhibitors.
As for the other manufacturers of solar PV and inverters, let’s just say that they weren’t shy (or cheap). Brands I’d never heard of (mostly Chinese) were in attendance trying to get attention and bought significant real estate to make their mark.
With such a huge trade floor, it was smart for exhibitors to invest in a canopy above their booths. I got lost several times, despite knowing the booth number. Having an overhead beacon made it easier to set a course across the convention floor.
Hanwha SolarOne (formerly “Solarfun”) wasn’t the biggest booth on the floor, but it was perhaps one of the most noticeable. A white, 2-story longitudinal monolith with a flat screen television cyclops eye, the booth was comprised of a café, meeting area, more TV monitors, and PV panel displays. I admired the modern design and clean lines. If there was a flaw, it was the artificial, corporate, monotone voice coming from huge monitor, speaking platitudes about “happy energy.” While I get the gist of what Hanwha is trying to say, I think something was lost in translation from their Korean parent company. Solar energy is well established as being clean energy, but happy? Is coal sad energy? I think this theme and phrasing needs to be rethought, at least for American audiences.
So, is bigger better—and cost effective? Certainly, there are well known brands that most attendees would notice without such large size and cost. Then again, it might be embarrassing to be upstaged by competitor brands with larger footprints. Size does matter up to a point, but I think it is your booth people and thoughtful, thematic, design and exhibit events that matter more than length, height, and girth. (More about this below.)
Solar Event Marketing Trend #2: Can solar event marketing be sexy? Funny? Maybe. … Or maybe not. Many companies and marketers have tried to make solar “sexy.” In European solar shows, it’s common to see “booth babes” and models hardly dressed and passing out fliers and other branded paraphernalia. This trend appears to have now crossed into the American shows with some booths featuring models dressed in less than casual business attire.
I’ve previously written about the flaw in this marketing tactic. In sum, it might attract the predominantly male audience of solar conferences, but the men aren’t thinking about your solar products, but about buying the model a drink after the show, so why use such a tactic at all?
In addition, the professional women (and the reporters) attending the show are not amused by these attempts to mix sex and solar, judging from this article and this article. I've also seen several negative reactions to this trend on Twitter.
Another attempt at mixing sex and solar at SPI came from Kyocera. Two red-body suit clad mimes silently handed out buttons with sexual-solar innuendo, wink-wink, nudge-nudge. The buttons were inscribed with messages that ranged from “Bigger is in fact better” to “I’m huge and I’m hung,” and “More than just a pretty rack.” Some had the Kyocera logo, while others did not.
On the one hand, I commend Kyocerra for being bold and trying to be fun, as well as engage on the show floor. Again, I can see how Europe’s culture could appreciate this humor, but here it was a swing and a miss. As marketers, I think we always must keep in mind the host country's culture. What plays in Dusseldorf doesn't necessarily play in Dallas. (And similarly, what plays in San Francisco doesn't always play in Dallas either.)
Solar Event Marketing Trend #3: Show time! To me, the most successful event marketing is comprised of fun events that engage people walking down the aisles. There were the usual demos, and that’s all good, but to go the extra mile, I think demos should be product relevant and entertaining, not just someone speaking into a microphone about the latest and greatest.
This year, I saw a great deal of fun engagement. Microinverter company Enphase invited 6 solar installers from across the U.S. for a solar install speed contest, timing them to see who could rack panels the fastest with embedded Enphase micro inverters.
I also saw several interactive games, video and otherwise, engaging people to learn about their solar products through virtual interactions or by working with models.
On the other hand, I also saw a card magician/mind reader who drew crowds and applause, and yet… I can’t remember the booth where I saw it. Once again, it shows that it’s not enough to be entertaining, but you must also be interactive with your products in order to make a lasting brand impression.
In other fun event news, SES21, Kaco Newenergy, Trina Solar, Schletter Inc, and Joint Forces for Solar all contributed to an SPI scavenger hunt, with the 1st place winner winning a 1.3 kW solar system package that included all their respective products as well as photo op for all contestants. The takeaway here is not only that you can do something fun, creative, and interactive, but that you can also find event marketing partners to draw people to your booth.
The scavenger hunt contest was also promoted by all four companies through Twitter, an increasingly important promo tool before and during solar conventions. I’ll have more insights about that, as well as interviews from SPI 2011 next week. Until then, as always, please continue to UnThink Solar.
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