Whether it’s shouting from the rooftops in support of solar energy or relaying that passion through cyberspace, solar enthusiasts across the U.S. will generate a collective buzz on Jan. 24. It’s the first National “Shout Out For Solar” Day, organized by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) to increase awareness about “one of the fastest-growing industries in America.”
Education, say industry experts, is one of the key factors that will propel solar power into the mainstream market and make it cost-competitive with fossil fuels. “Increased coverage will drive education, awareness and adoption,” said Glenna Wiseman, founder of Identity3. It’s important for solar companies and organizations to keep up-to-date on industry trends and relay how the public can benefit financially—in a “non-push manner,” she explained.
The message that solar energy is reliable, affordable and increasing in demand is important. But as rebates expire, there is also a sense of immediacy that must be clearly communicated. “Newness and opportunities, and the fact that you could miss an opportunity because you didn’t act quickly enough are all motivators,” Wiseman said.
Sharing powerful experiences—by customers and companies alike—is crucial.
”Storytelling works. People love a good story,” said Alison Mickey, Clean Power Finance PR and Corporate Communications Manager. It’s important to relay the reasons that customers decide to go solar, and highlight their financial and environmental benefits through case studies and testimonials. Consumer experiences can highlight a family’s or even an entire community’s dedication to changing their lifestyle. That sense of pride and encouragement can create a domino effect.
It’s equally important, however, for solar companies to share their own stories. “Every company has its own mantra, its own passion, its own unique way of viewing the world that is based on the founding person that started the company,” Wiseman said. “And it relates to the triple bottom line. All these fabulous companies out there—the solar installers, manufacturers and financing companies—all have within them that core mantra to uplift people, planet and profit.”
As the solar industry evolves and companies merge and form partnerships, those events can also be personalized. “Tell the story of collaboration; companies supporting each other for the strength of the industry,” suggested Jill Hansen, marketing director of Talesun Solar USA.
Mickey provides additional insight on coordinated communications: “Solar has ‘category sale’ and ‘competitive sale.’ We’re still in category sale mode, trying to sell people on idea of solar. [We should] consider the idea of ‘co-opetition’—stop messaging against each other for a tiny slice of a tiny pie and instead message against the real threat to solar (status quo, fossil fuels) to grow the pie so we all get a bigger piece.”
A proactive marketing and communications approach can help solar organizations set the tone of their stories. But no industry is immune to the controversial press coverage that piques public interest. When the inevitable negative publicity unfolds, it’s better to address the incident than ignore it.
“Industry leaders need to own the story—be clear why the loan or other issue was a bad idea and offer alternate, good ideas,” said Laura Finlayson, vice president of Schwartz MSL. “The media loves a comeback. If a business can demonstrate we tried, failed, learned and are now succeeding, that’s a good story.”
Failures aside, the solar industry experienced a record-breaking year in 2013, and now employs about 120,000 American workers while generating roughly 13 gigawatts (GW) of clean energy, reports SEIA. That’s the equivalent of 2 million homes.
With all the positive strides the solar industry is making, Sarah Dara of Run on Sun acknowledged a need for solar advocates to adopt a more proactive approach. “In an industry where consumers are in the gray, we need to be reaching out and teaching,” Dara said.
Education, as always, is the first step to mass adoption.
Article by Emily Hois