Solar Fred Marketing Tip: Being a Tariff-Free Solar Panel Ain’t Enough

My, my, I’m getting all sorts of e-blasts and seeing ads from various solar companies telling me that they have tariff-free solar panels! Yay! …Or not.

Yes, you have a temporary advantage over those tier one brands that do or will have tariffs imposed, but you’re not the only tariff-free brand on the block, and –wait! Looky-looky over there! Many more bankable solar panel brands, including the Chinese, are moving into new facilities outside of the dreaded tariff zone. In perhaps a year or less, so much for your tariff-free pricing advantage.

No, my solar PV panel manufacturing friends, marketing on price—essentially “tariff-free”—is still a low profit margin strategy. You’ve entered the solar race to the bottom rather than marketing like you’re the most reliable, best-in-class, bankable solar panel that solar installers want to hug, or at least buy consistently.

So let’s agree that you have a short window until most of the Chinese manufacturers are tariff-free again and the supply chain returns to normal levels. With that in mind, what are you going to do now to make sure that your new customers stay with you after “tariff-free” isn’t an advantage?Tariff Free Solar

While you’re thinking about that, here are my three general tips:

1) Treat customers, big and small, equally.

Congrats on selling a few megawatts to the big guys, but a) I’ll bet they drove your price down, and b) next month that same developer is going to find another panel manufacturer that’s even lower.

The fact is that there’s still a lot of competition out there, so you should continue to treat every solar customer, big and small, like royalty. Give everyone the same terms, deliver when you say you will, and if you’re going to pick and choose who gets your currently sparse inventory, very publicly state that due to blah, blah, blah, you need a minimum purchase of X Watts. For those who meet that minimum order, deliver as promised and on time, even if another big order comes in. This transparency makes you a trusted partner, not a one-time solar panel cookie jar that sells panels to selected good customers when you feel like it.

2) Start building solar communities.

You’ve got your new customer’s attention with your non-tariff pricing and perhaps you even have inventory for them. But once again, you don’t want this to be a one-time sale, do you? How are you going to use this opportunity to make your new customer feel like you give two Twinkies about their business, not just about your bottom line? By building solar communities on LinkedIn and other social networks that give customers great info that’s helpful to installers of all sizes, not just promoting your solar brand and your latest offerings. (Giving helpful info is promoting your solar brand, by the way.)

3) Do a PR solid for the entire solar industry.

If you want to really seal a long-term brand relationship with customers, Wall St, and non-customers, then do a random act of solar kindness that not only boosts your company, but also boosts the solar industry. And don’t do what’s already been done a million times like an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I mean do that, sure, but also do something equally original that brings attention to the solar causes of clean energy and climate change.

All of what I’m saying has a cost, I know. Extra levels of customer service, marketing initiatives, and solar advocacy all cost money, but think of it as a brand loyalty investment that will especially pay off when all those tariff brands are back at the same price and telling your new customers that they’re tariff-free just like you. Then what? Will they stay or go?

If you’ve done any or all of the above and truly given your new customers a reason to stay at a competitive price, then perhaps they’ll not only become brand loyal, but also proudly talk about your solar brand to their customers and other installers, and wouldn’t that be swell. …  UnThink Solar.

Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” is a solar marketing and communications consultant at UnThink Solar and the author of Solar Fred’s Guide to Solar Guerrilla Marketing. For more solar marketing info, sign up for the Solar Fred Marketing Newsletter or follow @SolarFred on Twitter.

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