In today’s marketing you hear a lot of buzz about capturing “thezeitgeist.” Zeitgeist is, simply put, a muddled-at-best understanding of the spirit of our time. A great example of this is how we end up withphenomena like the rise of the Daily Show and other news satire programs in response to rising distrust and skepticism in the mass mediacoverage of politics.
In marketing, having a feel for the attitudes and preferencesexhibited in the zeitgeist of different demographic groups feeds theengine that can be used to capture attention in viral marketingcampaigns. You might not think solar energy and zeitgeist in the samesentence, even though the result of adoption of solar energy is arevolutionary thing that truly captures these changing times.
Unfortunately, the messages of the solar industry are less-than-revolutionary. How can we turn this around?
On the whole, the face of the solar industry is still way too serious – mostly correlating itself with doom and gloom problems like climatechange and environmental destruction. This sets up the entire valueproposition of solar with negative messages that it then has toovercome. In a 2009 blog post for the Huffington Post, Mark Sinclair declared that this messaging, which is still beingprimarily used now in business-to-consumer solar marketing, as dead:
“Americans still believe that solar energy technology is tooexpensive, unreliable, and hard to purchase. [...] To overcome thesemisperceptions and create a robust marketplace, the solar industry mustbegin to market solar energy like Coca-Cola sells soda or McDonald’ssells hamburgers. Essentially, the industry must create a greater demand for solar energy than exists now.”
Sinclair’s words ring even more true now in this still-tough economy.
The most salient point Sinclair makes is the importance of states,not solar contractors, in promoting solar energy to help enliven thelocal industry and promote the available incentive programs.
As more consumers are finding their way around ads and becomingskeptical of marketing tactics, having the marketing support of abrand-neutral third-party like a quasi-state agency running a solarincentive program driving a pro-solar campaign can be helpful. A risingtide lifts all boats, after all.
So, solar contractors, if you are in a state that has alesser-developed solar incentive program or an incentive program that is not well-known, consider crossing party lines for a few moments andjoin with your competitors in petitioning your rebate management agencyto do a little marketing on behalf of everyone. It is entirely likelythat they have not thought about doing this, don’t have the internalresources or experience to run a campaign, and/or will need somecontracted assistance in this process.
Sinclair also suggests a shift to demand-generating marketing likeCoca-Cola does. Coca-Cola does not regale us with technical informationabout the beverage flavor or amount of effervescence in its product. Itdoes not talk about costs. Coca-Cola’s marketing and branding focuses on creating an emotional connection with the brand. Thebusiness-to-consumer solar industry can learn a lot from this eventhough we are not marketing food products. What are the emotionalconnections we can create with our brands and services?
In another 2010 Huffington Post blog, Brian Keane of SmartPower.org put together a Top 10 list of solar findings from market researchconducted by his non-profit organization that can help us better frameour messaging. This is a must-read and includes some incrediblyimportant demographic insights about prospective customer reactions tomessaging points.
Now, the execution. How do we promote the messaging we have worked to produce in a fun and engaging way that will appeal to new demographics? We started this article talking about working the zeitgeist. Today’szeitgiest revolves heavily around user-generated “social media.” Thesocial media landscape allows us to track trend trends in real time, and determine which ones have lasting value
The solar industry can learn a lot about how to reach new audiencesthis way. Through entertaining and engaging with our brands, we cancreate “advertainment” that has standalone value as well as replay andsharing value — a vastly different proposition from traditionalinterruption-based marketing.
I’ll close with an interesting example of advertainment. This style was popularized by a group of musicians, The Gregory Brothers, and their series “Autotune the News.” While perhaps not the style or delivery method needed for capturingcurrent demographic interest for the solar industry, it’s a lesson wecan take into our own marketing strategies to inform how we frame anddeliver our messages.