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Solar Sales Part 1: The Importance of Branding – with Katherine Glass

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Here at Aurora, we’ve been thinking about how we can help you better sell solar to homeowners. We retained Katherine Glass, founder of SpringMark – a marketing and brand strategy firm, to interview homeowners and solar installers on our behalf. Our research culminated in a day-long roundtable session with a collection of leading solar sales professionals at our office in Palo Alto.

We are excited to share what we learned with you in the form of a 3-part series: the first two articles will cover what we learned about branding, and the third will highlight tips for developing strong solar sales proposals, and unveil some new features to help you sell more solar.

Brand is a word that every business owner has heard, but few know exactly what it is, why it is important, and how to build it effectively. Katherine Glass is an expert in helping companies create their marketing and branding strategy. She spent seven years at Lippincott where she worked on the branding strategy for companies like Delta, Petco, and Starbucks. Four years ago, Katherine launched her own firm, SpringMark, which works with young companies on creating, developing, and launching a cohesive and powerful brand. Here, Katherine shares her insights on how solar companies can use branding to increase sales.

What is your definition of the word “brand”?

Different people have different definitions, but the one that I always like the most is what Jeff Bezos of Amazon said: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Your brand is everything about you that creates a reputation or sets an expectation for a customer. It doesn’t really matter what you’re saying about who you are if that’s not what people think about you.

Now that you’ve gotten a feel for the solar industry, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to a burgeoning solar installer?

Customer service is king. Because solar is becoming more of a commodity, I think good ol’ customer service is crucial for differentiation. Going in person to the house, giving fast responses to phone calls and emails, and really showing that you recognize this is a big purchase for most people will help garner loyal customers. Usually, customers are going to be living with the installation for many years, probably as long as they’re gonna be in the house, so acknowledging that fact helps sow the seeds of trust. Building that rapport will be the strongest way to win business. A lot of that is reflected in your brand by being professional, from wearing nice shirts with your logo on it to putting together a short and to-the-point presentation that tells a good story about what they’re doing. Anything they can do to create a cohesive brand is helpful, but having customer service people being genuine and helpful is most important.

Customer service is king… building rapport will be the strongest way to win business.

In your research with both solar buyers and solar installers, what are two things you saw solar installers doing right, and two things you saw them doing wrong, from a branding perspective?

A lot of the solar installers I spoke with were very cognizant of being consistent with their brand. They make sure that typography, color palette, and messaging in their proposals matches their website and their business cards. This is a great step to both look professional and to reinforce who they are as a company.

Another thing they’re doing right is experimenting. A lot of solar installers are looking at new and different ways to advertise and reach out to consumers. They’re using more traditional methods like radio ads and direct marketing, but also trying new things like customer referrals structures or throwing block parties after an installation within the community. I think constantly being open to trying new things is always great; you’ll see what works best and what reflects your values and personality as a brand.

I think that since solar is becoming much more of a commodity and it’s hard for homeowners to differentiate this product, many homeowners focus on price. Smaller companies have to differentiate the value that they bring as a company in order to get people away from price. That may be emphasizing warranty or customer service, or whatever it is that makes them unique.

Another thing for solar installers to improve upon is to be really clear about the story you’re telling when you’re selling. From a sales perspective and the way that you’re branding your sales decks, really be clear about what type of customer you’re talking to and address that customer specifically as fast as you can.

Be really clear about the story you’re telling when you’re selling.

How would you say that one’s branding strategy changes with size?

The similarity between companies of all sizes is that everyone needs a brand. It doesn’t matter if you are business to business, business to consumer, small, medium, or large, your brand has to tell a clear and engaging story.

What is different about small brands and big brands is that when you’re small, you have the opportunity to be a little more flexible; if you start out communicating that you’re one thing, chances are you will pivot and evolve over time. You need a brand that is flexible enough to accommodate that, from the name you have to the messaging on your website. A bigger brand, on the other hand, is more established; it’s a lot harder to change people’s perceptions of them. With a company like Coca-Cola or Nike, people have a very clear expectation in their minds about what that company is, and so it takes way more marketing dollars and touch-points with customers to actually change their viewpoints. Often times, a smaller company can make a splash more easily with the same amount of marketing dollars because it’s something novel and piques people’s curiosity more.

Enjoyed this article? You can read more branding insights from Katherine Glass in the next article in this series, and learn about how to make your solar sales proposals more compelling in the third installment. 

What have you done to create your brand? Leave us a comment below, or tweet us at @AuroraSolarInc!