A Baseball Cap, the #ElonEffect, and the Power of a Personal Solar Brand

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Elon Effect in relation to Tesla’s successful battery launch. What I was really referring to was Elon Musk’s very successful personal brand. He may be the CEO of Tesla and other companies, but Elon is in many ways his own media product—and a very powerful one.

Whether you’re the CEO or a solar intern, having a unique personal brand can be a very powerful asset to your solar career and to your company.

We all need to stand out in some way, not only to make a positive impression on our bosses, co-workers and customers, but also to make a positive impression on those who don’t think or care about solar. (If you’re shy and don’t want a personal brand, think again. Your shyness automatically becomes your undefined personal brand.)

Having a successful personal brand means that people easily recognize you, know who you are, and know what you stand for. It leads to stronger connections and trust, building long term relationships that follow you wherever you go in the solar community and with social connections, as well.

A Personal Example of Creating a Personal Solar Brand

It’s impossible for me to tell you how to create your own personal brand in a blogpost, but I can share my own experience choosing “Solar Fred” for my blogger name and Twitter handle, and why I always where an unbranded baseball in photos and at conferences. My process involved a combination of reflecting about my customers, as well as a personal reflection of myself.

When I started in the solar industry in 2008, I knew that I wanted to help solar companies with marketing, especially social media. But no one in the industry knew me or cared about my marketing thoughts, so I had to work on that brand recognition.

Having a goal in mind is the first step in creating a personal brand: In my case, the goal was to get personal brand recognition and respect from my new solar marketing peers. To accomplish that goal, I needed to be visible, visual, and memorable.

Why I go by “Solar Fred” instead of “Solar Tor”

I love to blog and use social media, so I first thought about calling my Twitter handle “@SolarTor.” However, I knew that “Tor,” while unique, is a confusing name. When the baristas at Starbucks ask me for my name, they often respond “What?” because  think they’ve heard “Jorge” or “George.”  So, I knew my Twitter handle and blog name had to involve a more familiar name.

“Fred” came out of a joke with my ex-wife. We lived across the street from a neighbor who wouldn’t tell us his name, so we just started referring to him as Fred. From then on, anyone we didn’t know the name of, male or female, we called “Fred.”

So, it was natural for me to select “Solar Fred” for my personal solar brand. For one thing, it reflected my own personal history. Second, I liked the sound of “Solar Fred.” It was kind of quirky, and Fred sounded like it could be the name of a friendly installer on a roof, and I wanted my personal brand to reflect my solar installer customers.

Why I always wear an unbranded baseball cap 

If you ever see me at conferences, you’ll see me wearing an unbranded baseball cap with my suit. Yes, I have a shaved head, but I don’t wear a cap because I’m hair challenged. Like “Solar Fred,” the cap was a personal branding decision.

A good personal brand should have a memorable look or style. I thought about a special Solar Fred tie or a solar panel shaped pin, but those looks didn’t reflect “Solar Fred” or my potential installer customers. They wouldn’t wear a tie on a roof, but … they would and do wear baseball caps… and so I decided that I would too.

And so the humble unbranded baseball cap photo became my blog, LinkedIn and Twitter images, as well as a constant reminder to me of my installer customers.  It also helps people to recognize me at conferences, making it easier to strike up a conversation and build new relationships.

Today, I’m part of a marketing agency that represents both solar installers and solar manufactures, but I still come to the office every day with an unbranded cap. Whenever I’m stuck on a campaign, I take my fingers off the keyboard, think of the cap that I’m wearing, and imagine the challenges and needs of the people I’m often trying to reach with messaging or a story.

Tor-Solar Fred

Why I Started the UnThink Solar Blog

The final piece of my personal branding came in the form of my blog voice. I chose a topic—solar marketing—that I was passionate about and that few write about, even today. I strongly recommend this tactic for everyone’s personal brand strategy. The solar industry needs strong voices from knowledgeable people who are willing to share their ideas, not keep them secret.

If Elon Musk can share his thoughts on blogs and social media—and even share his company’s billion dollar patents—surely more of us can add our own ideas to our particular solar specialty. That can be done here on Renewable Energy World, or on LinkedIn, or on your own blog site. If your voice involves images, share your voice through Instagram or Pinterest. How you share your personal voice is up to you, but put it out there. Start a solar conversation.

Yes, it may be frightening to publicly share your voice for the first time, but it will be worth it, not only for your own business interests, but for solar advocacy and for growing our industry.

So, that’s my personal Solar Fred brand development story. What’s yours? UnThink Solar.

Tor “Solar Fred” Valenza 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.

6 Comments

  1. Tor,
    Growing up, my dad (the founder of American Solar) always wore tie dyed shirts. Unbeknownst to him, that was his brand. Since I have taken over the company, I have socially branded myself as “The Solar Dr”, the go to guy for fixing solar thermal systems. But after reading this, I realized, I don’t have a visual brand. Sure, my company logo stands out, but how do I stand out? Well, I don’t. So, that has led me to think that it’s time to start some visual branding. I think I will combine a bit of the past and present with custom tie dyed shirts with the new company logo printed on them. That should get some brand recognition! :-)

    I really appreciate the free advice you give us each week! Keep up the good work!

  2. Great story, Joel! Glad the blog is helpful!

  3. I never quite thought of it that way when I had my show badge labeled Pamm McFadden: Exhibition Goddess. I did it so people would smile at the trade shows (which are stressful enough).

    Thanks, Tor!

  4. Any time, Pamm!

  5. Fred, great blog and glad I found it. Why is there a shortage of bloggers in the PV community?! Such a great way to offer and receive valuable (and free!) advice on the many challenges that we face together, as professionals in our industry. In regards to your message about personal branding – absolutely. I’ve seen time and again businesses doing a poor job leveraging your advice, at the time they have the opportunity to do so the most – that is, when sales reps meet with potential customers in-home, during their first 60-90 minute appointment! I think the “trust” and “connections” you talk about often goes amiss between homeowner and sales rep here, and it can very well prove to be the limiting factor to the success of the sale altogether, which is quite unfortunate.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    -Mike

  6. Mike, thanks for your comments. So glad this resonated with you. Please feel free to share with your sales team members.

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