Thomas Edison was an Energy Marketing Genius

Most of us think of Thomas Edison as an inventor. But if you look closely, you’ll see Thomas Edison had an expert understanding of technology adoption and marketing strategy.

Edison’s first public demonstration of his incandescent light bulb was on December 31, 1879. And in 1882 Edison dramatically accelerated the adoption of electric power and light to the early majority using specific techniques designed to humanize his new invention.

Edison’s strategy for accelerating the adoption of electric light was based on minimizing disruption to people’s lives. Since gas lamps were the dominant method of indoor lighting, Edison designed his electric lights to look and operate almost identically. His initial electric lights provided 13 watts of light, almost the same as the 12-watt gas lamps he wanted to replace. The new electric lamps looked almost exactly like those same gas lamps.

Recognizing that many commercial and residential landowners in New York had invested considerable capital in gas infrastructure to light their buildings, Edison chose to run his first electrical wires through existing gas lines, fitting directly into the system people already understood for the delivery of light.

Edison’s technology was new, but the form and function were decades old. In fact, Edison’s strategy of adapting his technology to systems people were familiar with, and minimizing disruption of the customer’s habits, led to accelerated acceptance and adoption.

Part two of Edison’s ingenious marketing strategy was in selecting the location of his first customers — financial institutions in lower Manhattan. Seeing the windows of the financial district aglow by night demonstrated electric lighting technology to the metro population living across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

Because the financial community was seen as a credible source of innovative new products, Edison helped meet the reference requirements of the early majority, who then shared the idea with their local communities. This endorsement of electric power and light, as demonstrated by a credible (and influential) reference in a visible location, had tremendous influence on the rest of the country.

Renewable energy organizations of all types can learn from Edison’s techniques. The more a supplier works to reduce disruption, lower perceived risk, and provide credible references, the faster adoption will occur.


Warren Schirtzinger is dedicated to helping organizations accelerate the adoption of disruptive and renewable-energy technologies. He believes technology must be humanized before it leads to progress.

Schirtzinger is the owner of High Tech Strategies, Inc. a consulting firm specializing in strategy and marketing. In his work at High Tech Strategies, Schirtzinger studies the effects of disruptive technology on people, business and society. As a result of his work, Schirtzinger has helped leading companies, associations, non-profits and startups humanize their innovations so they are adopted and put into practice.

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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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