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Plugging into the Future: Eight Simple Rules for Marketing in the Renewable Energy Sector

An Industry Electrified by Growth and Potential

The renewable energy sector has experienced rapid growth in recent years, fueled by the desire of industries and governments to reduce their carbon footprint in light of the climate crisis. Valued at $1.1 trillion in 2022, the global renewable energy market is expected to experience a staggering 16.9% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2023 to 2030, driven by advancements and investments in digital technology, smart grids, and electric vehicles. 

The shift to low-carbon fuels and the implementation of increasingly stringent environmental standards around the world has primed the market for renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal. Consumer preferences are also shifting to align with firms’ net-zero commitments and renewable energy ambitions: Three-fourths of people say they consider a product’s sustainability when making energy-related purchases. (Hey, would you buy a washer/dryer unit that wasn’t energy efficient?)

In this quickly evolving and highly competitive landscape, effective marketing and branding can set renewable energy companies apart and help them get in on the gold rush. But the same spirit of bold innovation and out-of-the-box thinking that has led to R&D breakthroughs in wind turbines, solar panels, large-scale energy storage, and off-grid renewables doesn’t always extend to the industry’s marketing efforts. In this article, we’ll look at some pitfalls to avoid so renewable energy firms can separate themselves from traditional oil and gas players, attract and retain new customers, showcase their capabilities, build their brand, and take advantage of emerging digital marketing trends. 

1. Don’t adopt a one-size-fits-all approach 

Renewable energy appeals to a wide range of customers, including developers, utilities, governments, nonprofits, commercial and industrial (C&I) firms, and residential units. That’s why it’s important to clearly define your product/service and audience, and tailor your message accordingly. Whether you’re targeting individual homeowners in a B2C email campaign or manufacturers or suppliers at a B2B industry conference, the most effective renewable energy marketing efforts communicate a clear value proposition for specific use cases and customer bases. 

Unlike B2C marketing, which aims to reach large swathes of consumers with overarching messaging, B2B marketing involves a more targeted and customized approach that reflects the complexities of client business requirements, specific industry regulations, and long-term investment considerations. What works in one energy context may not work in another; therefore, it’s crucial to identify your target audience and understand its demographics, values, and budget. Ignore the market research at your peril. 

2. Emphasize the “E” in ESG … 

Research shows that environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues are of increasing concern to customers and shareholders. In the energy sector, the environmental component is of paramount importance, and firms’ carbon emissions reduction efforts are often seen as a yardstick of their approach to sustainability. 

But there’s more to ESG metrics than a feel-good factor; they also boost the bottom line. A recent study by the consulting firm McKinsey found that products making ESG-related claims in their packaging averaged 28% cumulative growth over a five-year period, compared to 20% for products that made no claims, and accounted for more than half of the growth in their sectors.  

3. … but avoid greenwashing at all costs

If you’ve got a good environmental track record, flaunt it. But be careful not to lapse into “greenwashing” – which involves exaggerating, fabricating, or spinning ESG-related “achievements” in an attempt to win favor with environmentally conscious consumers. Using vague terms like “eco-friendly” in your marketing materials isn’t good enough anymore; multiple recent studies have shown that consumers – especially in the Gen Z set – are increasingly aware of greenwashing practices. Informed by social media and the market research that’s available with a few swipes of their phone, they distrust brands that slap fake “certified” labels on their products rather than adopt internal processes that are genuinely sustainable. 

If you ever worry your marketing department is merely blowing hot air, consult the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides. By keeping tabs on all the new and revamped regulations enacted by consumer protection agencies to guard against false claims in environmental advertising, the Green Guides give companies no excuse to mislead their customers about their sustainability efforts. One of the most important roles a renewable energy company’s marketing arm can play is making sure all of its communications comply with these regulations. If you run afoul of them, the cost of greenwashing lawsuits can be steep, as Walmart and Kohl’s learned after falsely marketing dozens of rayon textile products as … wait for it … “eco-friendly” bamboo.    

4. Don’t forget the lessons of the solar sector.

The future has never been brighter for the U.S. solar industry, which had its best first quarter in history in 2023, propelled in large part by tax incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Large-scale projects long delayed by COVID and bureaucratic bottlenecks have moved forward, and the consultant firm Wood Mackenzie expects the $36 billion solar market to triple in size over the next five years — bringing total installed solar capacity to 378 GW by 2028.

One of the keys to the solar industry’s sunny outlook has been strong, effective marketing, with campaigns that have helped transform it from a fringe tech employed mostly in aerospace applications to an everyday power source for residential, commercial, and industrial uses. The success of solar underscores the importance of clear messaging that drives home a cleantech’s environmental benefits (you’ll create less pollution!), emphasizes its trust and reliability (the government will give you tax breaks for installing solar panels!), and underlines its cost savings (you’ll pay less on your utility bill!). 

5. Don’t hesitate to utilize a wide range of channels.

The renewable energy sector touches on many different aspects of society, which means firms have numerous and varied opportunities to shape their brand narrative and contribute to the public dialogue around renewables. For example, firms can produce news releases to accompany important events, like the construction of new plants and facilities or the hiring of influential executives; paid media and bylined articles can inform public meetings on environmental or permitting issues; and content marketing can build trust in the minds of consumers, investors, and the wider marketplace.  

The crucial point is to emphasize the company’s values – such as reliability, safety, cost-efficiency, uniqueness – throughout all of these materials and channels. Whether you’re announcing a new, more sustainable approach to shipping and storage or a technological breakthrough that will address a looming environmental issue, consistency in tone and messaging is vital. While the medium can vary widely -- from traditional to digital ads, owned content, social media posts, or articles in the press – your company’s core values should always be clear.

6. Don’t assume your customers understand an emerging technology; embrace the expert role.

As Salesforce reports, nearly 90% of buyers want salespeople to act as experts or advisors who guide them in their purchasing decisions. This is especially true in the renewables industry, where consumers are often buying large-ticket items with long-term commitments in an unfamiliar technological setting. Effective training and sales demonstrations are crucial to marketing the kind of novel or unfamiliar devices, solutions, or services that characterize the sector.

Education can be more persuasive than advertising, and the marketing department can support these aims by producing content that enables everyone in the organization – from salespeople to senior VPs -- to speak confidently and knowledgeably about emerging technologies. Consider the following content types to help build your company’s reputation as a smart, trustworthy source in the renewables space:

Case studies

By providing overviews and discussions of previous projects, you can demonstrate how you’ve overcome obstacles and solved clients’ problems. Case studies also help potential customers visualize their own successful outcomes.

Client testimonials

Including comments and positive feedback (with client permission, of course) throughout your marketing materials, website, RFPs, and case studies enhances the sense of trust you’ve built with your customers.

Company blog

Having a dedicated space to discuss issues in the energy industry or post product updates signals to readers that you’re active and engaged; just make sure you update it regularly! 

Thought leadership

Publishing employee-penned articles in trade magazines, technical journals, and industry newsletters is a great way to showcase your knowledge and enhance the reputation of your leading executives. 

7. Don’t be impersonal

Effective marketing in the renewable energy sector means more than just reading a meter and sending a bill. Using personalized or one-to-one marketing, companies can optimize data and technology to glean insights into consumer purchasing trends. Armed with this knowledge, the marketing department can send customized communications to existing and prospective customers. Recent research by McKinsey has found that companies that provide effective personalized content can increase sales by 10% or more, and realize five- to eightfold improvements in their return on marketing spend. 

Personalization is an especially important tactic in renewables because of the high level of customer churn; in many sectors, digitization, rapid growth, and an influx of competitors have made switching from one company to another a relatively cheap and simple option for consumers. 

Even simple forms of personalization -- such as testing two different messages on two different subsets of your customer base – can pay dividends. For companies wanting to explore personalization, the first step is to begin storing and analyzing basic customer data (such as age, gender, zip code), along with behavioral information (energy consumption, billing data) and interaction patterns (website browsing and search behavior, social media and telephone inquiries). In this way, companies can begin to create a comprehensive database of each customer, and market to them accordingly.

8. Don’t fall behind on digital marketing 

Leveraging digital platforms and technologies helps connect you with your target audience, build brand awareness, inform customers about new products and services, measure results, and drive growth. It’s also closely tied into personalization efforts, with customer data underpinning some of the most effective digitization approaches. Digital marketing can take many forms, including:

Content Marketing

Using either an in-house editorial team or an outside agency, you can create blog posts, white papers, videos, webinars, and infographics that help position your company as a thought leader in the field. You can also use these materials to keep customers up to date on industry trends, emerging technologies, and energy-saving tips.

Social Media Marketing

Social media is great for promoting products, posting educational content about the latest renewable trends, interacting with customers, and spreading word-of-mouth about your brand. But remember that responding to complaints, compliments, or questions is also a chance for your marketing department to express – and exemplify -- its core values around sustainability, innovation, and customer service.

Email Marketing

This type of direct marketing plays into the personalization strategy, enabling energy companies to deliver tailored content right to their customer’s inbox. By dividing your email list into different customer groups (e.g., residential, commercial, and industrial), you can target them with specific campaigns that speak to their particular needs.

Search Engine Optimization

SEO – which involves optimizing a firm’s online presence to rank higher in search engine results – can help companies reach potential customers who are searching the internet for information on renewable energy sources, solar panels for their home, energy efficiency for their business, or smart grid technology.

Pay-per-click (PPC) Advertising

By bidding on select keywords and terms, such as “solar panels” or “EV cars” or “energy-efficient dishwashers,” you can guarantee your ads appear next to the search results when people are shopping for these products. And, in line with the personalization and data optimization ideas we discussed above, PPC campaigns can be targeted to very specific demographics, locations, and devices, so your marketing efforts are breaking through to the most relevant audience.

The Road Ahead for Renewables

The rapid growth of the renewables industry has brought enormous opportunities, but also heightened competition, customer discernment, and regulatory scrutiny. All of which means renewable energy companies are at something of a crossroads – where the right kind of strategic communication can sway public opinion, increase awareness of new technologies, and drive purchase decisions. But the wrong type of communication – or the failure to reach customers where they live, shop, and work – could rob the industry of its momentum at a critical point.