In conversations with solar people, I sometimes hear people mix up "strategy" and "tactics." I'll hear something like "I use several strategies, mostly press releases and Twitter." These are not strategies, they're tactics (tools) that work with your strategy (or strategies) for Twitter and press releases.
So, before we get into a few suggestions for intermittently reviving your solar marketing strategy in 2013, let’s go over some terms so that we’re all on the same page:
Goals. This is pretty self explanatory, and yet people can often forget to set them, especially small solar businesses. Benchmark yourself now in terms of sales or inquiries or referrals. Whatever metrics you have, set a goal of increasing them by at least 10%. Now you know the marketing mountain you have to climb in 2013. You may not reach them, but at least you're shooting for a destination. Now, how are you going to get there? That's where strategy comes in.
Strategy. When I say have a solar marketing “strategy,” I’m talking about having a theoretical path to climb that marketing mountain goal. From the ground, you can see a lot of ways to the top. For example, “We’re going build brand trust and increase referrals through implementing dynamic social media” is one basic path. Or, “we’re going to build trust and referrals through massive public relations, media, and advertising” is another potential path. Most solar companies will (should) have strategies that use both paths.
Of course, the above are general and need to be refined to be more specific to your solar brand. So, if you’re going to take the social media strategy path, what’s the basic message that you’re going to use to build trust? And how are you going to convey that message? With humor? With authority? With a new branding/look that reflects your new message?
Similarly, to hone the above PR/media strategy, you need to decide what you’re going to be saying to the media and within your ads and videos. Which media outlets will you choose? How will you get the publications' attention? Will you make comparisons to solar competitors? Tout a new innovative solar product or service? Perhaps you’ll rely on the face and words of a CEO with some thought leadership. Lots of ways to go up that hill.
When you’ve figured out those things, then you’ve got the makings for a flesh and blood strategy. Now you’re going to need climbing tools or “tactics.”
Tactics. “Tactics” are the tools that implement your strategy. In the case of social media, we’re typically talking about blogging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, e-newsletters, etc, but there are many, many tools in the social media toolbox. In fact, there are tools withiin tools, such as Hootsuite for managing multiple social networks. Your fully fleshed out strategy will need to determine which ones are right for you and how you'll use them. For example, are your customers on Facebook? Probably. But do they want to be marketed to at home? If they’re residential customers, then Facebook is probably a good tactic. If they’re B-to-B solar customers, you’re better off carrying LinkedIn on your toolbelt instead.
So, you'll need to develop a micro-strategy for each tactic that you use in order to effectively use. Ask yourself, "How will I use this tool? When will I use it?" That micro-strategy should reflect the overall strategy. In the case of the above example, how will you use Twitter to build trust through CEO thought leadership?
If you’re talking about utilizing a public relations strategy, then your tactics toolbox consists of things like press releases, media relationships, advertising, trade shows, webinars, and white papers, to name a few. And you're still going to need to figure out how you'll use these tools. Every solar marketer may use press releases, but what you say, when you release it, and how you utilize a PR platform is unique to you--or should be. Once again, you'll need a micro-strategy for this tactic.
Ultimately, you may successfully scale your marketing mountain many times. The problem develops when you wear a grooved path up to the 10% goal summit with the same strategies and tactics, over and over again. If it's working, then perhaps automatic pilot is fine, but I think that’s a mistake.
The problem is that competitors are always thinking about new ways to get up the mountain. If they're not and everyone is taking the same grooved path, then it’s going to get crowded, and it may be difficult for customers to tell one solar traveler from another. This may explain why solar booths at the last SPI were still huge, despite consolidation trends. The strategy was "Let's appear big and successful." But this strategy comes at a high cost. One wonders if brands could have had smaller, more innovative booths that stood out in another way beyond size.
So, one way or another, it's important to constantly UnThink your 2013 solar marketing strategy:
Think about it. Or rather… UnThink about it. Thanks for reading. Next week, tune in for my annual Solar Fred Marketing Wishes for the coming year.
Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” advises solar companies on marketing, communications, and branding. Want more solar marketing info? Sign up for the Solar Fred Marketing Newsletter, or contact Solar Fred through UnThink Solar. You can also follow @SolarFred on Twitter.
The information and views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of RenewableEnergyWorld.com or the companies that advertise on this Web site and other publications. This blog was posted directly by the author and was not reviewed for accuracy, spelling or grammar.