What do the following all have in common: Caller ID, spam-filters,ad-blocking on web browsers, TiVO, Satellite Radio, Hulu. Answer? Theyare all commonly used methods consumers are employing to control thecontent and messages that come to them. Until the day when some savvymarketer can figure out how to get everyone and their neighbor to make a solar energy systems as ubiquitous a part of the American dream as home ownership or a car, solar will continue to be a niche product. And asniche products go, many traditional outbound marketing tactics might not be as effective in customer acquisition.
Modern marketing is often separated into two camps: outbound andinbound. Outbound marketing is a marketing strategy that focuses onfinding customers by building brand awareness through advertising andpromotion. This would constitute your classic “interruption” marketing – direct mail, television commercials, magazine ads, etc. Inboundmarketing, once defined more as market research, has taken on a newdefinition through the availability of social media to promote acompany.
As renown social media marketer David Meerman Scott says:
You can buy attention (advertising – outbound marketing)
You can beg for attention from the media (PR – outbound marketing)
You can bug people one at a time to get attention (sales – outbound marketing)
Or you can earn attention by creating something interesting and valuable and then publishing it online for free: a YouTube video, a blog, aresearch report, photos, a Twitter stream, an ebook, a Facebook page.(inbound marketing)
Today’s inbound marketing involves creating effective frameworkswherein customers already interested in your products find you asopposed to your competitors. Compare this to a broadcast based strategylike a magazine ad. Thousands of people might see it, but maybe only asmall fraction of them are potentially qualified customers, let aloneinterested in your product. Focusing more time and energy creatingcontent that draws in potential customers who are both qualified andinterested in your product is the ideal.
More potential customers are turning to the internet to seek outsolutions to their problems, to find companies to provide a service,and, most importantly, to research the companies and products onunbiased terms via third-party review websites. From the perspective of a small company serving a residential niche market, inbound marketingtechniques can be the best cost of acquisition methods you can employ to engage with your potential customers. That’s not to say that alloutbound marketing techniques are completely outdated and useless. Infact, the best marketing strategies will rely on inbound marketing while selectively using outbound marketing strategies to funnel potentialcustomers to engage with inbound marketing. For example: sending out apress release that links to a blog post about a featured project thatthen links to a portfolio of similar projects which then links tocustomer review on Yelp from that project… you get the idea, right?Engage with content and funnel customers using real narratives about the way your product/service has solved real problems.
The following are a few suggestions for creating a strong inbound marketing strategy for your solar company:
Build a solid, easily navigable, and content-driven website. The crux of strong and effective inbound marketing strategy is awell-designed and conceived website that is properly search engineoptimized and frequently updated with new content that is penned with agenuine and jargon-free voice and easy to share in the social mediaspace (Facebook, Twitter, StumbledUpon, and other linksharing andbookmarking websites). Write the website using language that isapproachable, genuine, and conversational. The “how” of building thiswebsite and best optimizing it could be a whole series of blog posts onits own.
Keep the message simple and clear. Organize yoursite so that the top level information is simple to follow and ifreaders want to get into the nitty-gritty, they can drill down intogreater level of details. Resist the urge to use the many confusingacronyms and technical jargon that our industry bats around frequently.We might be able to talk to each other like that, but we can’t expectout potential customers to know a NABCEP from an SREC. Maybe save thatfor one of the techier “drill down” pages. Offer to educate, but keepthe top-level messages uncluttered.
Encourage and offer incentives for customers to write third-party reviews of your service. I have found that so many small solar installers that I begin to workwith do not close out their projects. Even if your installation was amessy process and fraught with delays and problems, properly closing out your project can help salvage the customer relationship, which iscritical to building the next part of your strategy: soliciting positive reviews. After all is said and done, circle back with your customer amonth (roughly a billing cycle) after the entire project has been online with a personal email and/or phone call to check in and see if they are happy or if anything needs to be attended to still. When everything issatisfactory, ask if you can send the customer a short online surveywelcoming their feedback and then link them to your company’s presenceof review sites like Yelp, FindSolar.com, and Solar-Estimate.org. Offer a premium at the end of the survey for filling it out such as animprinted mug or reusable shopping bag with your company’s logo or theopportunity to be put in a drawing for a valuable item like an iPod.This is valuable market research that your company can use to continueto improve its processes.
Flesh out and have fun with your Social Media Presence. Add photos to your Yelp profile, keep your Solar-Estimate.org statistics up to date, publish installation time-lapse videos on YouTube orinteresting behind-the-scenes looks at parts of the entire process ofthe project, and don’t just use your Facebook page or Twitter feed like a channel for press releases. Consider running Twitter or Facebook-onlycontests or specials. Repost content from SEIA, VoteSolar.com, ASES, and other solar and renewable energy-related news and advocacy groupsthat you and anyone interested in solar energy would find interesting,especially local and regional ones. And, please, if you are showingphotographs of employees working on installations make sure they are all using OSHA-compliant practices in the images.
Show Real Results. Are you installing monitoringsystems for your customers? See if you can anonymize the content foryour potential customers to see. Link to it in a prominent place on your website. In fact, build case studies of some of your finest work andembed the data there, too. Some of the biggest questions potentialcustomers bring to the table besides “How much does it cost?” is often“Does it really work?” Show them the numbers.
There are many other ways to develop a great marketing strategy tohighlight your company. Start with these and you will be well on yourway to higher quality leads. Next post, we’ll talk about how you canwrap all this up into a comprehensive year-long marketing strategy thatwill keep you well ahead of the game.
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