Growth in the use of solar energy has surged 183 percent among America’s top companies in the past four years and shows a 59 percent growth in solar installations since just last year, according to Solar Energy Industries. But with all this growth, customer acquisition still isn’t an easy process for manufacturers in the energy space.
Today’s prospective customers conduct more online research before ever talking to a sales rep. So how do you convince them that “going solar” will offset carbon dioxide emissions, create thousands of good, skilled manufacturing, research and development jobs on U.S. soil, and is a low-cost, long-term energy solution? And how do you convince them your product is the right one for them?
The answer is to create a powerful message mix—known as content marketing—to help tell your story.
Content marketing, according to Heidi Cohen, is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It delivers a multi-channel mix of useful information that educates and entertains to help engage and build trust with a prospective audience, while making emotional connections.
As a renewable energy manufacturer, you need to educate investors and potential customers about who you are, what you do and how the technology works—before you can ever begin a sales pitch. Often, the bulk of ongoing content publishing centers on industry news updates tied to the latest government incentives or regulatory changes. But that is just a small piece of a larger solar energy content marketing strategy.
Begin by defining your preferred client base to focus your strategies and most effectively utilize your resources. One of the best ways to do this is to develop buyer personas to help you understand the motivation of potential buyers. Begin by asking these questions:
Solar power buyers often hesitate over costs. To overcome this concern, information could include:
A solid content marketing strategy with a robust blend of information to meet people’s needs at each stage of the buying journey creates interactions that build trust. As buyers move from the awareness to the consideration phase, they seek solutions to business problems, desiring to make safe investments that will result in a healthy return on dollars spent. And in this age of linked networking, chances are the compelling information you produce will be shared among their associates. Share-worthy content is produced with two thoughts in mind:
Each item should include a call-to-action that encourages buyers to receive additional content. Content-generated leads then can be tracked in your customer relationship management system, along with the description of the content that drove the lead, helping you track and close the buying loop.
While the channels you choose depend on the personas you develop, a 2015 report by Content Marketing Institute, Changes in B2B Content Marketing Tactic Usage, shows the top formats chosen. Social media came in first.
Social Media. Because messaging is brief, these channels entice people to find out more. They also help amplify the detailed information of other tactics.
Online Newsletters and Email. Establish a schedule for these informative pieces that can include timely industry news as well as technological advances.
Articles and eBooks. These versatile formats can cover a range of topics. Turn customers’ top questions into articles delivering solutions to common problems, and then compile the articles into a shareable eBook that will help to establish your company as an industry leader.
Blogs. A mix of educational and product-specific topics keep readers engaged and help raise you to the top of searches when optimized through the use of keywords and links. Make sure several are prepared in advance, and once a schedule is established, stick to it.
Print and other offline opportunities. Use these to complement your digital voice. Speaking at in-person events such as conferences solidifies your reputation. Associated media coverage and articles expand your influence.
Video. A short, customer success story told in video format highlights how a customer problem was solved. Videos, such as the Walmart example below, can be shared online or sent directly to the customer, helping to shorten the buying cycle.
Case Studies. Walmart is just one of America’s big box retailers to go green with solar power. The company has installed more than twice as much solar power as the next closest company, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Package your customer’s success as a powerful testimonial.
Be clear on what you want to achieve, the numbers you are looking to target, what your long-term goals are, and how to preemptively douse any fires you may encounter along the way. Once the potential benefits of solar power are understood, be ready for market growth.
Elizabeth Wagner began her career in photojournalism and now specializes in what she refers to as message marketing that matters to build business and brand awareness. Elizabeth has successfully developed campaigns for NASA’s space program, sustainable farming, elearning and now solar power manufacturing. She also managed a major U.S. registrar’s international rebranding campaign that included entry into the Chinese market. When not working, she enjoys travel, outdoor activities and running with her Sheltie – which balances out her PMP classes.