Solar Marketing Lessons, Learned in the First Grade

Most of us learned at a very early age that it's not a good idea to kick sand in the face of the biggest kid in school.  Unless you enjoyed getting pounded into the ground like a tomato stake, the best strategy on the playground was to avoid direct, physical confrontation.

This simple lesson in life also applies to the practice of marketing.

The number one rule of marketing is never attack an entrenched competitor in his or her area of greatest strength with an emerging technology. (especially not with an emerging technology like solar)

Yet that is exactly what many people in the solar industry actually do!

Hardly a week goes by without a solar vendor, clean energy lobbyist, solar advocate, industry analyst, PR agency or marketing organization proclaiming that the solar industry needs to emphasize "reliability."  Well like it or not, reliability is a key strength of solar's biggest competitor…the electric utility industry.  Using a less traumatic metaphor this time, claiming reliability as an advantage of solar is like challenging Lance Armstrong to a race immediately after learning to ride a bicycle.

Not only does solar provide something that people already have (electricity), but their current supplier (the electric utility industry) has created an enduring public perception of being the most reliable source of electric power.  For more than 70 years, Reddy Kilowatt served as the official mascot of the electric power industry, and in the process became a permanent symbol of our culture.  Reddy represents specific characteristics and attributes that are the competitive strengths of all electric utilities -- reliability, unlimited capacity, plug-in ready, and constant availability.

Utilities are the 900 pound gorilla of the electric supply "playground" and power from the grid is perceived by the public as the safest, most reliable choice.

Those of us in the solar industry know that PV is in fact very reliable.  But utilities have already captured the reliability square on the game board.  They own that part of the playground. And it's a waste of time and money trying to compete against a public perception, built over 70+ years, that utility power is the most reliable.  There are many other areas in which to successfully compete against electric utilities.

One more thing.  Next time you are playing basketball at the local gymnasium, don't challenge Shaquille O'Neill to a game of one-on-one.  The results won't be pretty.

Related Articles:
Marketing High Risk Products
Solar's Main Competition

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