Sunday, January 17, 2010

Solar Market Leadership

There seems to be wide spread agreement that solar power is well on its way to becoming a commodity. And when it does, there will be a consolidation of the industry with only a handful of solar suppliers left standing.

So how does a company survive an industry shakeout? And what does it take to build a lasting position of leadership in an industry that makes and sells a commodity?

The answer is: those companies that effectively market their solar offering (using a mix of tangible and intangible product attributes) and are always in step with the changing preferences of the market.

The relationship between product tangibles and intangibles shifts dramatically as different stages of the adoption process are achieved. This shift in customer emphasis from tangibles to intangibles can be demonstrated as:

As products move through the adoption process, intangibles assume more importance. Often, pioneering new products or "first movers" lose their initial prominence because a new entrant is more successful in product positioning based on a more effective mix of intangibles. This can be the case even if the second product is not technically superior.

Apple was not the first microcomputer company, nor was the Apple II the first microcomputer. It was the first product to be called a personal computer, but much of the success of Apple, at a cost to MITS, Tandy and others, was the result of emphasis on intangibles.

Similarly, International Business Machines was not the first mainframe computer company. A number of others were ahead of IBM (generally, Univac is credited as being the first moderately successful mainframe company). But IBM was ultimately successful in dominating the mainframe market. The main reason was an appropriate emphasis on intangibles in the early stages of market development. Univac and the others continued to compete mainly on the tangible aspects of the product, even though the situation had changed.

The power of the tangible / intangible mix of the perceived product is so strong that it can be used to identify markets and segments where pioneers can be superseded.

This seems to be a persistent weakness in the marketing practices of solar suppliers today. Most solar companies are not working to build intangible attributes into their offering, and instead seem to be focused on just the tangibles (module efficiency, price, technical specs, etc.)

A number of solar/pv market segments exist, for example, where the major focus of suppliers should be intangibles. The solar installation business is also ripe for the effective marketing of intangibles.

Related Article(s)
Solar Product Perception

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