As someone with deep-seated solar-industry experience, I could hear the sighs of relief in the solar industry when the investment tax credit (ITC) extension passed the U.S. Congress on Dec. 13. The battle had been long, the outcome in doubt and the lobbying efforts Herculean. Given the odds stacked against the industry, the passage was nothing short of extraordinary.
The victory showed that the industry is a political force when united behind a cause. And companies throughout the industry deservedly took a victory lap…or two.
But the battle for the long-term survival of the solar industry is far from over (net metering battles, SunEdison’s fall to name a few), and companies that rest on the laurels of 2015’s success could face rude awakenings as the ITC steps down in the future.
Now is the time to press home the advantage, to etch solar power’s place in the minds of business owners, municipal government and consumers as inevitable and far preferable to other energy sources. That’s why it’s so important to have a strong marketing and public relations program in place to position your organization well for the near-term and beyond.
A Blog Is Essential
Blogging isn’t just for shut-ins living in their parents’ basements anymore. In fact, having a blog has become an essential part of any search-engine optimization strategy. The more content you have on your website (peppered with properly chosen keywords), the more traffic will be driven to your website, giving you opportunities to capture new customers and bind existing clients closer to your brand.
Three key components that make a blog successful are:
- Consistency—You should always post on the same day around the same time so frequent visitors know when to expect your content.
- Variety—A blog is not the place to sell your services. A blog should focus on general-interest issues concerning the solar industry. Write about policy, financing and the basics of solar, and maybe even mix in the occasional post about your favorite sports team. The point is this: If all you’re doing is marketing your company, readers will get bored and not return—and that’s no way to build a following.
- Brevity—If your post is more than 600 words, it’s too long. We live in an instant-gratification, time-crunched society, and people don’t have time to read dissertation-length posts. A short post is a good post, and the shorter it is, the better traffic you’ll get.
There are also tricks of the trade when it comes to structuring the posts themselves, and structuring blog posts is an art that needs to be practiced.
Sing About Your Success
If you don’t tell the stories of your own successful projects, no one else will—so create a series of case studies on the projects of which you are most proud and feature them on your website. Make sure you pitch them to trade publications, local newspapers and other outside media sources.
But be careful. Case studies that sound like sales pitches won’t get published and turn off potential new clients. The best case study format is:
You should also limit mentions of your company to two to avoid the sales-pitch trap. And, involve the customer to help you tell the story. Quote them or include highlights important to their particular project. Don’t underestimate the importance of third-party validation. And don’t write the pieces yourselves. There are plenty of great content writers out there who would be willing to develop these pieces for you. If an outsider tells the story for you, the more unbiased it looks to potential customers and increases their confidence that you will have their best interests at heart instead of your own.
Become A Thought-Leader
You know you have great ideas about how to move the industry forward. Your team knows you have those ideas. But how do you ensure the people who really need to hear these ideas—a wider industry audience than you may have access to—can be exposed to them?
The answer? Write. Pick a topic you’re passionate about and write a blog or a column. Pitch it to trade publications. Force people to hear you by being a thoughtful, persuasive and perhaps controversial opinion-leader. And don’t be afraid of criticism—all great leaders have been challenged on their ideas, and you’ll be no different. It’s okay; it creates dialogue and relationships. The more you position yourself, the more the industry will recognize your thought leadership and revere you as an innovative, interesting leader.
Complacency Is Not An Option
The victory the solar industry experienced in December was phenomenal. It was unexpected, but very welcome. And it brought stability to an industry that sorely needed it.
But that stability offers the industry a golden opportunity to place itself in the public consciousness as a logical and better alternative to traditional fossil fuels. The only realistic way to do that is through a coordinated marketing and PR campaign using all the tools at your disposal, including blogs, case studies, news releases, social media and contributed thought-leadership articles.
Seize the day with effective marketing and PR, and you’ll be another solar success story about which we all can brag.
Lead image credit: alex lang | Flickr