People view solar and other renewable energy sources positively–according to SEIA, nine out of ten Americans support the growth of solar and a majority favor renewable energy over fossil fuels. Yet that support doesn’t always translate into action.So how do we communicate about solar in a way that drives action?
That was the focus of one of the key panel discussions at SPI 2018. The General Session “Turning Positive Solar Attitudes to Positive Results” kicked off the first full day of SPI. SEIA President and CEO Abby Hopper moderated the panel, which featured an impressive lineup.
The three panelists included marketing and branding expert Omar Johnson–former Chief Marketing Officer at both Apple and Beats by Dr. Dre., former White House Communications Director and CNN Contributor Jen Psaki, and Matt Lewis, author and Senior Columnist for the Daily Beast.
The panel highlighted a number of specific tactics that solar supporters can use in their communications to more effectively drive action in support of solar. The conversation focused on industry-level communication to help grow the solar industry as a whole. However, many of these strategies could also apply at an individual and company level to engage more persuasively with prospective customers.
We identified five key strategies for effective communication about solar based on the panel discussion. Try incorporating these tactics in your solar sales and marketing efforts to connect with new audiences and convert more prospects into customers.
1. Use Culture to Connect
One of the recurring themes of the panel discussion was the importance of cultural identity.
Matt Lewis of the Daily Beast emphasized that “We don’t just act rationally”–identity, faith, tribe, and community are hugely powerful drivers of our actions. He argued that “culture is more important than politics, community,” and many other factors in shaping people’s behavior.
Lewis believes that a key deciding factor in whether people will support solar is whether they see it as something for people who are like them. He cautioned that if we want solar to have broad support, we must ensure that it doesn’t become seen as an option just for “latte-drinking liberals.”
Lewis suggested that one of the best ways to connect with new audiences is to share stories of people that they identify with who have adopted solar.
Applying it to your business: Highlight the stories of a variety of diverse customers, making it clear that solar energy is for everyone–from low-income customers, to customers of different cultural backgrounds, to non-profit customers, and many others.
2. Highlight Human Stories
We often think that data, hard numbers and facts, are the best way to persuade. But the panelists underscored that data may not be nearly as effective as connecting with people on a human level.
This point was highlighted by Jen Psaki, former White House Communications Director, who summed it up as “Data doesn’t drive people; people drive people.”
According to the panelists of the SPI 2018 General Session “Turning Positive Solar Attitudes to Positive Results,” sharing the human stories behind solar can be one of the most effective communication strategies to build support for solar.
Psaki explained that when she worked on the White House communication strategy to build support for the Affordable Care Act, they initially focused their communications on cost savings data, sharing many charts and graphs. But they ended up realizing that was a mistake because it didn’t communicate the human impacts. “What made a difference was when we shared human stories, how lives were saved,” she explained.
Omar Johnson, former CMO of Apple and Beats, remarked that “The last thing you’re going to win on is data.” He commented that people are bombarded with so many different pieces of information on a daily basis that–especially if they're skeptical of your message– they’ll easily find other sources that contradict your arguments.
Applying it to your business: Putting your message in terms of the human impacts of solar–how it tangibly benefits your customers–however, can help connect with people in a way they’ll remember and be more open to considering. That could range from a blog post about how solar savings are helping a non-profit provide important community services to a video testimonial from a customer about how solar has benefitted their family.
3. Drive Action with Emotion
Another related takeaway from the panel was the importance of emotion in your communication. Whether it’s positive emotions like nostalgia or more negative ones like fear and greed, all of the panelists agreed that emotion is a powerful driver of action.
Johnson explained that simple emotional messages are a valuable tool for effective communication because they easily cut across group lines. For instance, “we all want more for ourselves and our families” so that can be one angle for explaining the value of solar. Psaki remarked that urgency is also a powerful emotion for driving action–people act when they feel they may lose out on something, or have something taken away.
Applying it to your business: Explore opportunities to incorporate emotion in your messaging. For instance, as the deadline approaches for reduction of the Investment Tax Credit, incorporating an element of urgency in your communications might drive customers who are on the fence to take action to install solar.
Connecting with people through emotions they can relate to like... stress over utility bills, can be an effective communication strategy.
4. Know Your Audience
The panelists also emphasized the importance of understanding the audience you’re trying to reach with a particular message, and tailoring your message to what they care about.
Psaki shared an anecdote about her work at the White House leading their communications around climate change. Through research, they realized the message that most resonated with women focused on the health impacts of climate change. When talking to farmers, they found that discussing “the changing climate” was much more effective than talking about “climate change.”
These kinds of insights, whether from market research or just getting out and talking with the groups of people your solar company is trying to sell to, can be incredibly powerful in helping you find the marketing or sales message that works.
In some cases, that might mean changing your strategy. As Psaki said, “Sometimes when you have new information, you need to throw out your old assumptions about how to reach people.”
Applying it to your business: Question your assumptions about what different audiences care about and seek out opportunities to understand those groups better (surveys, customer conversations, etc.).
5. Sell a Solution, Not a Product
Finally, another strategy for effective communication about the value solar offers is to think bigger. Instead of framing your marketing and sales initiatives around why people should buy a solar installation, think about putting your message in terms of the solution you’re offering.
Discussing his own decision to install solar and energy storage, Omar Johnson explained that he wanted solar so his family would have power in the case of a prolonged outage. That security for his family was the solution he was looking for, so messages that put that front and center would have been the most effective with him.
Applying it to your business: Once you understand what your audience cares about, highlight the value of solar in terms of the solutions they’re seeking, such as greater financial freedom, resilience, or sustainability.
Taking a leaf out of these experts’ playbooks can help you communicate more effectively about the value of solar–both to close more solar sales and to help grow support for the industry as a whole. To paraphrase one of the concluding comments of the panel, “As the pie gets bigger, there’s more for everyone.” Here’s to growing support for clean solar energy!
Do you have other tactics for effective communication about solar? Let us know in the comments below!