At first glance, solar pros and policy advocates are going to totally disagree with the title of this post, but before you submit your comments below, let me fully explain what I mean.
You’re probably thinking that lower pricing and subsidies have everything to do with the last 10 years of solar industry growth. Without a deep drop in solar manufacturing and installation prices and low upfront solar PPAs, leases and generous FiTs, and net metering, the global solar industry would not be where we are today, right?
Right. I agree. Thank you for all those efforts. But here’s the nuance that I want to drive home—especially if your solar business is feeling like a commodity these days:
From a marketing perspective, lower costs, subsidies, financing, and technology innovations are all really marketing tactics for making it easier for people to install or buy a solar product or service.
This concept may seem obvious, but I think many solar CEOs and their marketers miss or downplay its significance for shaping their solar products, services, and messaging.
Whether the goal is to help someone to switch from utility power to solar or to switch solar racking brands, getting people to change a long-held belief or product choice is challenging. On the other hand, staying with a familiar product—or utility service—requires no effort at all.
Since that’s the case, the most important goal for solar marketing, solar product development, and solar advocacy can be summed up in three words: “Make solar easier.”
In this context, everything the solar industry has collectively accomplished in the last 10 years can be seen as a huge solar marketing campaign with different tactics:
- No-upfront solar PPAs and leases make financing solar easier.
- FiTs, the 30% solar ITC and 1603 grant, the CSI, and all other incentives and subsidies have all made the decision to switch to solar easier.
- Solar friendly policies, including net metering, TOU rates, and community solar are all tactics to make it easier for businesses, homeowners, and utilities to decide to switch to solar.
- Solar product efficiency and technology improvements help solar to be more competitive—and therefore easier for solar installers to decide to switch brands.
- Reduced solar manufacturing costs have also made it easier for installers to sell solar to new consumers.
Of course, the opposite is also true: If you want to slow down solar’s growth, solar opponents will try various obstacle marketing tactics that make going solar more difficult. For example:
- Changing net metering policies makes solar less competitive and thus more difficult to sell on the basis of cost savings. (In fact, California utilities are trying this tactic right now.)
- Similarly, attaching flat fees to solar customer utility bills decreases solar savings and makes the decision to switch to solar more difficult.
- Suddenly changing an existing FiT rate also makes the switch to solar more difficult.
- Outdated and non-standard US permitting and interconnection requirements make going solar more difficult and more expensive for installers, who must therefore raise their prices and in turn, make it more difficult for consumers to decide to go solar.
- Eternally renewing fossil fuel subsidies while letting solar subsides sunset also makes solar less competitive and makes the solar switch harder.
With all of this in mind, you now have a new solar marketing test that can be applied to every initiative:
- For B2C solar markets including commercial, just ask yourself: “Will my business or marketing actions make switching to solar easier?” If yes, go for it. If not, rethink until you can include a “make solar easier” element.
- For the manufacturing sector—especially those products considered commodities—it’s mostly the same question: Ask “Will my technical, business, or customer service actions make it easier for my installers to sell and/or install solar?” If so, do it. If not, add some kind of “make solar easier” element and make sure you can explain why.
- Solar advocacy organizations are created to make going solar easier for their constituents, so this tactic is largely moot.
In short, no matter what you do in the solar industry, focus on making whatever you do easier and simpler for your target markets. Your “make solar easier” actions will not only help grow your own company, but also the entire industry.
Making solar easy is just one more way… to UnThink Solar.
Tor “Solar Fred” Valenza is the Chief Marketing Officer of Impress Lab’s new Solar Lab, and the author of Solar Fred’s Guide to Solar Guerrilla Marketing. The thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog are his own. For more solar marketing info, sign up for the UnThink Solar newsletter or follow @SolarFred on Twitter.