Content marketing for the solar industry

Content Marketing for the Solar Industry

December 6, 2016

Originally published on Solar Power World

By Aimee Tuck of Corbae Creative and Glenna Wiseman of Identity3

What, you might ask, is content marketing? Before you start running for the hills, rest assured that it is something you are probably already doing as part of your solar business practice, even if you don’t realize it. As the name suggests, content marketing is simply the practice of creating relevant content for your target audience. Think blog posts about industry topics, white papers posted on your website and customer testimonials uploaded to YouTube. It is a soft sell.

By giving potential customers valuable content, you position your company as a trusted resource in the solar industry. Ultimately, this trust drives profitable customer action. Today’s consumer expects fresh content. Adding new, meaty content to your website on a regular basis also has the added benefit of improving your search engine rankings. Companies that want to stay ahead of the game should consider adding at least one new piece of content to their website each week. But if this sounds daunting, it doesn’t have to be. With a little practice, content marketing can become a natural part of your everyday business strategy.

Gear Content to Your Customers

As with any aspect of your marketing, before you can create content that is valuable to your customers, you need to know who those customers are. You must be clear about who you are talking to in the market. Keep your key customer types in mind and gear your content to those types.

As an example, the Eco-Aware Mom is a customer type we see a lot in the solar industry. Eco-Aware Mom has a couple of kids, is college educated and controls the budget in her household. From research that has been done, we know she also has five distinct buying stages. By understanding these buying stages, you can sculpt vibrant content that directly reaches her. The same is true for any of your customer types. If you understand the questions your customers are asking along their purchasing journeys, then your job is to create content that answers those questions.

Once you’ve honed in on your customer’s purchasing questions, it’s time to get started creating content. If you are new to this, you might be wondering where to begin. Content marketing takes on many forms, but we’ve outlined a few of the most effective types of content for both residential and commercial customers.

Content Marketing for the Residential Consumer

Today’s residential consumer has a lot of information right at her fingertips. Someone considering a solar upgrade often starts their buying journey by educating themselves on the internet before ever approaching a company or inquiring about a specific product. Ideally, your content will be part of this education process. Success stories and solution-oriented content are two formats that work well for this.

Success Stories

Happy customers are often the best, and most authentic, spokespeople for your company. Success stories are an ideal way to package those messages for potential customers. They also humanize a product that is otherwise very technical. There are plenty of other ways to appeal to a consumer’s rational side, such as calculators that compute potential cost savings, but success stories satisfy the equally important emotional component of a buyer’s journey. A good success story helps would-be buyers identify with homeowners who have already upgraded to solar, allowing them to better visualize what their lives will look like once they
make these changes. This in turn makes it that much easier for those would-be customers to take the next step in their buying process.

Essentially, a success story answers the question: “What actually happens when I make these changes in my home? What are the positive effects on my life
and on my bottom line?” It can be as simp
le as a short blog post that shares the reasons a family chose to make solar upgrades and what benefits they have seen from those changes. On the other end of the spectrum is a longer article, interview, or even a video that takes us through that family’s entire journey, from considering an upgrade all the way through the process of choosing products and finally reaping the benefits.

Solution-Oriented Content

If it is done right, solution-oriented content serves the purpose of both bringing potential customers to your website for the first time and keeping them there by proving that your company is a resource and not just here to make a quick sale. If a potential buyer sees your company as a trusted resource in their quest to educate themselves about solar, they are that much more likely to turn to your product when they finally make their purchase.

As you decide what solution-oriented content to present, start by thinking through your potential buyer’s three or four biggest pain points. The flipside to those pain points are the solutions that we offer as an industry. What is the right solar solution for me? What options will give me the most savings based on my property or location? What are the pros and cons of a fix grand mount versus a tracker? Your potential customers are going to seek out answers to their questions. You want to have those answers available when they need them.

Content Marketing for the Commercial Customer

Whereas a residential customer often starts their buying journey by researching on the internet, a commercial client will generally start by asking for referrals from colleagues or going to trade shows. Instead of serving as an initial point of entry, the content you present to this type of customer seeks to reinforce those personal interactions. Because of this, it is important that your content reflects the same messages your sales team is putting out when they are in the field.

Case Studies

In many ways, a case study does for the commercial audience what a success story does for residential. It still uses the happy customer as an authentic spokesperson, but it shifts the focus away from emotions and toward the rational benefits. It helps to demystify the solar education process and allows your company to answer questions such as: “What is my return on investment?” Or: “What is the overall process that gets these changes made without affecting my core business?”

A good case study outlines the specific problems that a customer seeks to solve with your product. It walks readers through the process the customer undertook to solve those problems and illustrates their return on investment. And of course, don’t forget to include some great visuals.

Gated Whitepapers and E-books

Gated whitepapers and e-books are another great option for content marketing in the business-to-business realm. The flow of information might look something like this: A LinkedIn ad targets a specific customer type. That ad directs people to a customized landing page on your company’s website. The landing page contains a small amount of content on a particular topic and ends with a suggestion to download additional content in the form of a whitepaper or e-book. Visitors are prompted to submit their email address before they are able to download this additional content. These email addresses, of course, are collected and pursued as leads.

Re-package and Recycle Your Best Content

If you are starting to worry about how you’ll manage to come up with enough original content, keep in mind that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel each time. One great piece of content can be repackaged and recycled across many different platforms. Track which material is most popular and pull other content from those original pieces. With a little creativity, one piece of content can pack a big punch.

Earlier this year, Glenna spoke to Kent Lewis of Anvil Media as part of the Build it Bright Solar Marketing Series. As an example, he gave a list of the many ways in which a person can repackage a short YouTube video.

Re-Packaging a 60-second YouTube video

  • Send the video out in a targeted email
  • Upload a 45-second version to Facebook
  • Turn a 30-second version into a LinkedIn commercial
  • Make the audio into a mini-podcast
  • Transcribe the audio to create a blog post
  • Strip out a few still images and post them on Pinterest and Instagram
  • Put a few quotes out on Twitter

Test Your Content for the Best Results

To ensure your content is resonating in the way you intend, consider testing it with actual customers. This can be done through in-person conversations. Bring prospects to your office or take your laptop to their home or business, sit with them and go through your content before it goes live. Ask questions such as: “Are there things we did for you as a customer that we should highlight?” Or: “Are there other things that you thought about when you were making your purchase decision that we need to incorporate here?”

If you are a larger business, you might want to utilize automated testing tools such as those available at User Testing. These tools allow you to broaden your reach. You can see how people in your target audience navigate your website and hear them give real-time feedback on what they are seeing.

When you put content up on your website, don’t just leave it at that or only revisit it once a year. It should be tested often to make sure it still rings true. Getting this type of feedback from people who line up with your core audience will ultimately make your content that much better.

Where to Learn More

Listen to Glenna interview Kent of Anvil Media in “Building a Social Media Strategy on a Limited Budget” podcast on Soundcloud.

Take deeper look at your company and its marketing with Glenna through an Energy Trust of Oregon soft cost reduction initiative she created, called “Build it Bright, Crafting Your Solar Marketing Program” series for installers. It is now featured on HeatSpring, an educational platform serving 47,000 visitors monthly.

Aimee Tuck

Aimee Tuck

Principal and Creative Director

With a diverse background in design and marketing communications, including earning her marketing design chops in the building industry, Aimee got her start in the solar industry in 2000, working with Xantrex Technology, post merger with Trace Engineering. Bringing her technical expertise together with her design and marketing experience, Aimee has helped define visual and marketing strategies for B-to-B and B-to-C solar companies national and international in scope.

Aimee founded Corbae Creative in 2002 to provide effective design and marketing communications solutions to renewable and sustainable companies. She has had the opportunity to work with amazing solar companies over the years, helping drive design and marketing strategy in unique ways. Never forgetting “effective”, Aimee works closely with marketing, sales, and engineering teams to ensure on point messaging that tells a story in a visual way.

Aimee has spoken about design as a marketing strategy in the solar industry as well as published pieces offering practical advice to help design stand out.

Glenna Wiseman

Glenna Wiseman

Principal, Identity³

Glenna Wiseman is a solar industry marketing veteran who brings the installer’s point of view to marketing communications. Her solar marketing expertise dates from 2007. For five of those years, she led the marketing initiatives for a California based solar installation firm. Glenna has built integration companies for more than 10 years, resulting in a holistic and enterprise-level perspective on marketing for solar installers.

As founder and principal of Identity³, she delivers vibrant marketing for firms at every stage of the solar supply chain, nationally and internationally. Through an Energy Trust of Oregon soft cost reduction initiative she created the “Build it Bright, Crafting Your Solar Marketing Program” series for installers now featured on HeatSpring, an educational platform serving 47,000 visitors monthly.

Glenna is a recognized writer and speaker within the industry, covering a wide range of topics, including marketing solar to women.  She has been a moderator and speaker at Solar Power International and Intersolar North America.