Akeena Solar's Market Research Raises Some Interesting Questions

I was surprised by the remarks made by Akeena's VP of marketing (Gary Mull) in a recent interview with Seth Masia from Solar Today Magazine (see: Why the Westinghouse Brand Matters for Solar)  The subject of that interview was Akeena's new partnership with Westinghouse.

About 1 minute and 15 seconds into the interview, Mr. Mull states that Akeena discovered through market research that there are currently no recognizable brands in the solar industry.

Here's the exact quote:
our research showed that consumers really couldn't recognize a major brand within the solar market today
The first question I would ask is…what about Sharp?  Isn't Sharp a recognizable brand name in mainstream America?

Please keep in mind that I'm not picking on Sharp Solar.  I know there was a lot of disagreement when I recently suggested that Sharp's brand failed to help them maintain the #1 ranking as a fabricator of solar cells. Many people were unhappy with my opinion about branding.  (see: Branding Only Works on Cattle. Just Ask Sharp Solar) I even got the publisher of Renewable Energy World (Oliver Strube) to moo like a cow in protest, which is not an everyday occurrence.  My goal here is to stimulate a worthwhile discussion about interesting topics in the solar industry.

The other question I would ask after listening to the Akeena interview is: if there are no recognizable brands in solar (per Akeena's research) and Sharp is a brand that is not recognized…what makes them think the Westinghouse brand will be of any value?

There are many similarities between Sharp and Westinghouse.  Both companies have a long history of financial success and are known for innovative household products that are marketed worldwide.  Both companies have a reputation based on reliability and trust. Wouldn't either brand be equally recognizable?

Obviously there are many details regarding Akeena's research project we don't have.  Did they forget to list Sharp on their survey form? Did Akeena's research focus exclusively on pragmatic/conservative mainstream customers or did it include all types of buyers? How does Akeena define the difference between early adopters and the early majority?

I feel these and other questions are worth asking, because the issue of "recognizable brand" forms the basis of Akeena's strategic decision to partner with Westinghouse.  At least that's what I'm hearing in this interview.

I would enjoy hearing everyone's thoughts and comments.

Warren Schirtzinger advises solar companies on how to: differentiate their products, grow during an industry shakeout or consolidation, and thrive without government subsidies. He has authored articles as a "Renewable Energy Insider" on RenewableEnergyWorld.com and writes about marketing strategies on the solar strategies blog.  Contact him via e-mail (warren["at"]solar-strategies.com) or follow him on Twitter @SolarStrategies.