The Glaring Hole in Renewable Energy Marketing

March 21, 2016

The Glaring Hole in Renewable Energy Marketing

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The Glaring Hole in Renewable Energy Marketing

The renewable energy industry has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years, especially solar energy. Solar energy has potential to create energy thousands of times greater than it’s currently producing. Unfortunately, there’s a giant hole in most residential and commercial renewable energy marketing strategies.

Most marketing messaging for renewable energy is based solely on cost savings and tax credits. If you put solar panels on your roof, you save money on your electric bill and you can write the cost off when it comes to tax time. Wouldn’t it be nice if consumer marketing was that easy? It’s not.

Typical messaging from solar energy marketing starts and ends with saving money.

Convincing people to buy something solely on the impact to their wallet ignores decades of research in behavioral economics. In “rational actor” theory, consumers process the information presented to them looking for the benefits and potential costs and then chooses the best choice of action. But this overly simplistic theory has largely been debunked. When was the last time you bought a car, a house, or even a sweater solely on the price or the list of benefits? Of course price plays a big part in the buying decision process, but something deeper than price stirred you to take the first step. You had to have that black sedan, or you just loved the hum of that engine.

Recent research (Ehrhardt- Martinez et al 2012) shows that, when it comes to using energy, consumption behaviors are rarely informed by rational, calculated information processing, such as saving costs on bills or “doing the right thing.”

US solar-energy use 2016
Glass 2% full – Despite tremendous growth over the past 15 years, by the end of 2016 solar energy will still only represent 2% of America’s electrical energy production portfolio.

Reaching people where it counts

Before sustainable energy marketing became the juggernaut that it is today, we helped launch the first 100% solar powered resort in the Western Hemisphere (second only in the world). And we didn’t do that by marketing it as low cost (it was $750/night.) So what convinced people to travel to a remote Caribbean island to stay in a bungalow without air conditioning? Emotion. Instead of a room on the beach, we sold relaxation and getting away from a hectic lifestyle. And what kept guests coming back wasn’t the composting toilets or because they knew their stay had almost zero impact on the earth. They came back because of the high level of service and the thoughtful, personal touchpoints during their stay. They felt like they were a part of something unique and special.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in our years of higher education marketing, choosing a college or university is an emotionally charged choice. Because you’re not just making a choice for the next four years, you’re making a choice for the next forty. And while the cost of tuition, scholarships, and financial aid is always part of the picture, we know that students and their parents choose a school because it “just feels right.” It feels safe. It feels like home. It feels like this is where you belong.

So what does this have to do with solar energy marketing?

When it comes to the typical approach to marketing renewal energy, there are a lot of cold hard facts and complicated math. And the concept of “reducing consumption” is often met by customers with an unsettling feeling and fear of austerity.

What if solar energy made people feel empowered and comforted? What if it could make them feel like they were part of a movement that positively impacted the world and their children’s future? Renewable energy marketers should heed the lessons learned from decades of consumer research and engage people at an emotional level. Because renewable energy is not a commodity. It’s a lifestyle choice.