These days, applying a bumper sticker to your car is mostly reserved for two things: Bragging about your kid being an honor student and for presidential election years. While I’d never say that bumper stickers alone are a must-have solar marketing tool, what I will say is that when a customer voluntarily pastes your bumper sticker onto their vehicle, you’ve done an amazing job of creating solar brand equity, and you will be rewarded for it in future referrals.
Those solar referrals won’t come from the bumper sticker, but from the person who loved your solar product or service so much that they willingly put your virtual brand tattoo on the equivalent of their car’s virtual behind for all to see, including future owners, current neighbors, and that guy stuck in traffic behind them. They’ve publicly defined themselves through your brand. Wow. That’s powerful.
Few brands achieve that kind of hardcore brand equity. Harley Davidson is most famous for it, and so are the Marines, the Navy, and the Air Force. Fraternities and sororities also achieve that kind of bumper sticker pride, and so do colleges and sports teams of all levels. But why not solar companies? It seems pretty rare.
What’s Solar Brand Equity and How Does My Solar Company Get It?
Let’s discuss what I mean by brand equity and then how solar brands achieve it. Of all the definitions I read on the internet, I like this definition of brand equity best from Business Dictionary:
Brand equity is the brand’s power derived from the goodwill and name recognition that it has earned over time, which translates into higher sales volume and higher profit margins against competing brands.
The key word there is “power,” and I’m not trying to be solar power punny, here. Let’s list several main brand equity powers right now:
- Great brand equity has the power to inspire customers to refer your brand to friends and family.
- Great brand equity has the power to help customers to gladly pay more for what they perceive to be a high quality product.
- Great brand equity has the power to make customers trust you enough to not seek another quote or haggle.
- Great brand equity has the power to make customers feel like they have a pride of ownership in their solar system or solar product.
- Great brand equity makes people feel like they’re part of a happy brand community…and one of the ways they show this could be plastering their car with your bumper sticker.
In short, great brand equity makes your customers feel good not only about your brand and service, but also about themselves for choosing your products and services.
7 Things Solar Companies Can Do to Build Solar Brand Equity
Defining brand equity is easy. Achieving solar brand equity is of course the hard part, and I’m not just talking about the residential solar world.
Many installers I know trust one racking brand, one or two panel brands, and one or two inverters—or one distributor that sells them all. Prices still need to be competitive, but as defined above, brand equity allows customers to love the product more than a lower priced generic.
There are many, many actions that solar companies can do to get that bumper sticker brand equity. Here are seven general ways.
1. Education. This really is number one. People want good, useful information about your product or service, and if you can explain it to them with blogs and white papers and videos and webinars, you’ve bought a lot of brand equity from people who generally mistrust advertising.
2. Customer care. It’s more than “The Customer is always right.” Customer service includes delivering on your promises, your appointments, and your patience when things go wrong, like the customer’s dog gets out, or when you treat small installers the same way as your huge customers. It’s also about added values, such as extended payment terms and on-time drop shipping to the site.
3. Keeping things simple. Solar can be complicated, even for installers. How are you making your product or service simple? The easier it is to install and the easier it is to make going solar simple, the more your customers will love and praise you for reducing their stress about trying something new.
4. Designing your product to be attractive. Weather it’s your website, employee uniforms, or your solar panel, people appreciate design almost as much as functionality and reliability. Ask brand equity king Apple, which provides both to its very loyal following.
5. Having a unique and appealing brand voice. One way to differentiate yourself from a sea of quality solar installers is to have a unique brand voice. Don’t be boring. Have a sense of humor, and be known for something that’s creative and specific to your installations and/or products. Only you do X for your customers. What’s your X?
6. Having flawless integrity with everything you do. This applies particularly to marketing, but also to your sales people, warranties, and after-sales service. If you have terrible word of mouth and reviews from solar peers and Yelp!, you have a huge problem with brand equity. If you have great word of mouth and Yelp reviews, the opposite is true, and good for you.
7. Having a sincere mission that isn’t about making money. I’ve written about this before. Brand equity starts with knowing why your solar company is in business. Essentially, it’s to lead and advocate about something, whether it’s the best installation, saving the planet, or making the most efficient solar widget. Or it could be about helping customers to reduce their electric bills to $0 with solar. Whatever it is, be an advocate about something that your customers care about, and that you can care about too.
Having strong solar brand equity is the key to surviving through solar’s ups and downs, so if you don’t have it, then you’re definitely not… UnThinking Solar.
Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” is a solar marketing and communications consultant and the author of Solar Fred’s Guide to Solar Guerrilla Marketing. Sign up for the Solar Fred Marketing Newsletter, or contact him through UnThink Solar. You can also follow @SolarFred on Twitter.