Marketers in the renewable energy sector see a clear need for a great logo and website, but “messaging” is less well understood. Some companies might say, “Well, if I hire you to do a logo, I get a logo. But a messaging project doesn’t really have a tangible deliverable.” This is akin to saying to an architect, “I don’t want to pay you to make a blueprint. I just want the house.” The resulting structure, made without a plan, would fall to the ground at the first slight breeze.
A well thought out messaging platform is the foundation of all your other marketing, and often separates successful companies from the also-rans. In this article, I’ll provide a definition of a messaging platform, and offer tips for how to make one that will help you beat your competition. Fundamentally, this is about how you tell your story to the world. Either customers listen to your story and ‘get it’, or they move on until they hear a story that works for them — and take their business there instead.
Messaging platform definition: A brief description of your company and its products/services that captures the essence of what you do in a way that matters to each of your core audiences — and most important, leads to the desired business results.
The deliverable is a document with detailed copy and headlines for each audience (i.e. customers, investors, partners, etc). Often there is more than one type of customer, which means you’ll need a breakdown by customer type with copy variations that are specific to them. For example you might want to target current customers, new customers, investors and the public.
Here’s a step-by-step guide for developing your messaging.
- Interview senior management. Get their perspectives on your company, your unique value proposition, customer perceptions of your company, and background on the competition. Don’t shy away from questions that might seem like they have an obvious answer. It’s the obvious things that are often overlooked. For example, ask questions such as, “What business are you in?” and “What’s the number one problem you solve for your customers?” and “Who is your competition and how is your company different?”
- Interview your top sales people. Your sales people are on the front lines day in and day out, and they know your customers better than anyone. Ask them, “At what point in your pitch do the customers’ eyes light up?” Chances are they will have an answer for you – and once you know it you can make that message more prominent in your marketing.
- Identify your key audiences. Who do you need to appeal to in order to achieve your goals? Also, be sure to understand how these audiences impact your number one problem (see #1H). For example, if your wind energy projects are not getting approved, who is standing in the way, and why? These are critical things to know, because once you have the answers you can start to create messages that will help change their behavior (or prevent their ideas from spreading to other people who have influence over the approval process).
- Interview your customers. Often the customers’ perception of your company and why they buy from you are very different from your perceptions – or those of your senior management. That’s why interviewing customers is so important. They are the source of your income, your bread and butter, your livelihood. Current customer perceptions are key to creating the headlines, sentences and paragraphs that will appeal to new customers. For example, a solar energy installer might think that customers choose them because they’ve been around for a long time and are reliable. But you might hear from a customer that the real reason they chose you is because your salespeople really knew their stuff.
- Research your competition. Take a long and careful look at the websites and messaging being used by other companies in your space. How are they appealing to customers? What are they doing well, and what could be better?
- Think like a chef. Imagine that each of the answers you get plus the research findings, are individual ingredients. They all go into the pot one by one. And as they simmer the connections are made in your mind. It might sound like alchemy (or the cooking channel), but there is a science to it.
A Hypothetical Scenario
Here’s a rough hypothetical example that illustrates what a company might learn in the research and interview process. In this example, the company’s current tagline is “Decades of great service.” The CEO really likes it. The company’s tagline and overall messaging approach needs to be cross-referenced with the approaches used by competitors, plus the findings from interviews with sales and the CEO.
Solar Competitor A is called Solar Mavens and its key message is “We’re the solar experts.”
Solar Competitor B is called Cleveland Solar and its key message is “Your local solar installer.”
Solar Competitor C is called Green Solar and its key message is “Fight global Warming with the Sun.”
Your CEO thinks your competitive advantage is “We have the best service and support in the industry.”
Your sales people light up your customers’ eyes with this statement: “With these government incentives, the up front cost is low, so you get faster ROI than ever.”
Your satisfied customers say: “You made it easy for me to go solar.”
So, what needs to change here?
Clearly there is a big disconnect between what customers are looking for and the way the company – and all its competitors — are trying to appeal to them. The sales guys know the answer, but nobody ever asked them before what they thought. The CEO was right in a way; his company does have the best service and support. But what does that really mean from the customers’ perspective? It means the sales people are providing the service and know-how needed to make the process of going solar easy and affordable.
That’s what matters, and that’s what should be front and center in the messaging. It’s also the thing that will help this company beat their competition, because none of them are saying anything that’s top of mind with customers. Yes, some customers are going to want to fight global warming and be really motivated by that. But any solar panel, from any solar company, will fight global warming just as well.
The company’s new key message is: “Affordable solar. Made easy.” This, to carry on the cooking analogy, is a very tasty theme.
This new theme is just the top of the messaging platform pyramid. The next step is to outline all the sub-messages that fall under that umbrella. What are all the different ways the company helps customers through the process, from start to finish? How do these messages need to be modified for sub-groups of customers?
The end product should be a copy deck that describes each customer group and their mindset, and the best messages that will appeal to them. These headlines and paragraphs of text are your blueprint. And once you have that, you can pull copy from it as needed for various marketing projects. Your company description, for example, can be your website’s home page copy, or the intro to your brochure.
This is also where the value of your message platform builds over time, amortizing the cost of your investment. Because you won’t have to start from scratch every time you need to create a new marketing piece. Pull your text right out of the blueprint, quickly and for no extra cost, and you’re off to the races. In an industry sector that’s growing quickly, speed matters. It’s just as important, however, to take the time to do the messaging project right the first time. It may take six to eight weeks, but you’ll save that time later on. And your message — your story — will dominate the market.
For more how-to’s, from logo and web design to video testimonial production, download this free e-book – Branding & Marketing for Renewable Energy Companies.
Ted Page is co-founder and Creative Director of Captains of Industry, a marketing agency and video production company with renewable energy expertise. Ted oversees the creative development of websites, logos, videos and interactive web marketing campaigns on a range of clean tech and renewable energy companies such as First Wind and Alteris Renewables. His non-fiction articles have been published in Boston Magazine and Marketingsherpa.com.