The major story this week was SolarCity’s partnership with Honda Motors on a $65 million residential solar project fund that will be used to finance thousands of residential installations in fourteen states.
The fund is impressive, but the visibility of the partnership is the payoff. Solar energy companies are still making their mark with the American public and searching for ways to incorporate their products into daily living to build familiarity and trust. Honda is a major player in the car market and SolarCity’s connection with them builds its credibility with a large swath of the public in their key states.
This announcement adds to the trend of the “Solar as a Lifestyle,” marketing tactic that sales executives, communications directors and pitchman (this one included) are using to connect with a skeptical public. In many places, solar is not a common sight and there are often conflicting messages about its reliability, quality and cost. The “Lifestyle” strategy - which seeks to make customers believe a product is part of them: expressing their personalities, social status and affluence – is being adapted to panels and services to inspire customers to take the solar leap.
Apple’s dancing with the iPod commercial is an excellent example of the “Lifestyle” pitch. The shadowed dancer draws focus to the signature white headphones while doing moves the targeted audience can imagine themselves doing and identify with being cool. The point is put across without saying a word, “Apple’s iPod is fun and exciting. You are fun and exciting. The iPod is for you.” The simplicity of this syllogism helped sell so many iPods that it served as a stepping to the iPhone.
For solar to sell well, it must make a similar connection that makes people identify solar with some part of themselves: the environmental advocate, the saving homeowner, the cutting edge consumer, etc. Solar Fred touched on this with his most recent blog post, “SolarCity Teams Up with Honda: Who's Your Non-Solar Co-Marketing Partner?” He wrote, “both have similar sustainability goals and both have similar customer demographics: They’re environmentally conscious, homeowners, and have enough income to get a car loan, so will probably pass SolarCity’s solar leasing/PPA credit standards.”
In a nutshell, Honda’s environmental reputation attracts the types of customers who would be open to solar leasing and stamps SolarCity with its seal of legitimacy. With this strategy, SolarCity hits two birds with one stone, targeted marketing and credibility. Whether it works or not will be based on its tactics moving forward, but the direction the company is moving in is sound and insightful.
Full Disclosure: I own and drive a 2009 Honda fit nicknamed “the moving shoe” by close friends and family.
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