Solar Marketing Lessons, Learned in the First Grade

Most of us learned at a very early age that it’s not a good idea to kick sand in the face of the biggest kid in school. Unless you enjoyed getting pounded into the ground like a tomato stake, the best strategy on the playground was to avoid physical confrontation.

This simple lesson in life also applies to the practice of marketing.

The number one rule of marketing is never attack an entrenched competitor in his or her area of greatest strength with an emerging technology. (especially not with an emerging technology like solar)

Yet that is exactly what many people in the solar industry actually do by promoting solar as a “reliable” source of electric power.

Every week I hear a solar vendor or clean energy lobbyist or solar advocacy group proclaim that the solar industry needs to emphasize “reliability.” Well like it or not, reliability is a key strength of solar’s biggest competitor…the electric utility industry. So claiming reliability as an advantage of solar is like challenging Lance Armstrong to a race immediately after learning to ride a bicycle.

Not only does solar provide something that people already have (electricity), but their current supplier (the electric utility industry) has created an enduring public perception of being the most reliable source of electric power. The utility industry spent more than 70 years building their reputation and all electric utilities are perceived as having specific advantages — reliability, unlimited capacity, plug-in ready, and constant availability.

Utilities are the 900-pound gorilla of the electric supply “playground” and power from the grid is perceived by the public as the safest, most reliable choice.

Those of us in the solar industry know that PV is in fact very reliable. But utilities have already captured the reliability square on the game board. They own that part of the playground. And it’s a waste of time and money trying to compete against a 70-year-old public perception.  People think utility power is the most reliable. There are many other ways in which to successfully compete against electric utilities. (see an example: here)

One more thing. Next time you are playing basketball at the local gymnasium, don’t challenge LeBron James to a game of one-on-one. The results won’t be pretty.

As owner of High Tech Strategies Inc. Warren makes disruptive technologies such as solar more compelling for mainstream buyers. Warren helps leading companies, associations, non-profits and startups humanize their innovations so they are adopted and put into practice.

In his work at High Tech Strategies, Warren studies the effects of disruptive technology on people, business and society. He has over 20 years experience helping solar and energy management organizations accelerate the adoption of new ideas, programs, products or technologies. Warren is especially skilled in the commercialization of disruptive and emerging technology.

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Warren Schirtzinger has made the understanding of market dynamics surrounding disruptive innovations the core of his life’s work. He is widely recognized for his expertise in solar market development and CleanTech product management. Since 1991, Warren has consulted with leading organizations in the solar industry, and also in high technology. Warren pioneered development of the Marketing Chasm framework that addresses the challenges companies face when transitioning from early adopting to mainstream customers. Highly regarded as a dynamic public speaker, Warren is the founder and CEO of High Tech Strategies, Inc. where he serves as an advisor to solar companies, utilities and energy education organizations, and draws upon best practices derived from his extensive work. Earlier in his career, Warren was a principal at Regis McKenna, Inc., a leading high tech marketing strategy and communications company, and for the decade prior, an engineering and marketing executive in Silicon Valley.

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