A few months ago I wrote about the latest study that shows how residential solar sales are contagious. That is, if you make a solar sale in a neighborhood, it’s not long before more installations appear in the same area. However, new non-solar research suggests that it might be persuasion—i.e., old fashion sales and marketing—that is really driving these neighborhood solar clusters.

This perspective is based on a recent epidemiology study that wanted to find out how a new medical test gets adopted by doctors. That is, they wanted learn how a new product—like solar—gets adopted by a particular population.

You can read a summary of what happened here and the full study here, but the upshot is that doctors did not adopt the new medical test just because they were told about it and saw another doctor use the new test. That would be simple contagion. Monkey see, monkey do.

Instead, doctors adopted the new test over time by discussing the new test with their peers and eventually trying it and then permanently adopting it. Those who weren’t open to the new medical test did not adopt it.

These conclusions have great insights for both manufacturers selling and marketing to installers and for installers marketing
and selling to their commercial and residential customers:

  • Peer referrals are most effective. These docs changed the way they did tests because they casually consulted withWheat_DHWright-SolarPanels people they trusted who were using the test. For solar marketers, this confirms that we should do everything we can to inspire customers to share their positive brand experiences as much as possible with friends and families. 
  • Solar adoption takes time.  Switching to a new medical test is like switching from pure utility power to solar PV. Change comes gradually over time with both education and peer recommendations. So, create marketing content that gradually educates customers about your solar product or service. Avoid the high pressure sales and go with the consultative sales process.
  • Forget those who aren’t interested in solar. Nobody wants to lose a solar sale, but this research suggests that it’s probably a waste of time to market your solar product or service to someone who really isn’t interested for whatever reason. With this persuasion model, ideas spread because people are already open to the idea.

This means that if an installer is adamantly solar brand loyal, you’d best let other installers persuade that person to make a change over time.

For residential and commercial customers that are utility-model loyal, don’t waste their time (or your time) if the prospect doesn’t care about utility savings, energy independence, or the environment. Instead, focus your time and efforts on those who are already predisposed to a change and learning more about your product or service.

The good news for installers is that most of the public is open to solar, and that’s probably why solar marketing persuasion tactics like lawn signs, door handles, solar parties, etc might be the key behind these neighborhood solar clusters.

As for solar manufacturers, solar installers may also be open to a brand change if you can address their core needs: Competitive pricing without sacrificing quality, saving time on installations, ease of use and installation, generous terms, on time delivery, and other customer service issues.

Bottom line: Solar installations may cluster in neighborhoods, but that may be due more to peer and solar marketing persuasion tactics than neighbors simply seeing solar and wanting to “Keep up with the Joneses.” UnThink Solar.

Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” is the Chief Marketing Officer of Impress Lab’s new Solar Lab, and the author of Solar Fred’s Guide to Solar Guerrilla Marketing. The thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog are his own. For more solar marketing info, sign up for the UnThink Solar newsletter or follow @SolarFred on Twitter.