Solar Marketing Lessons from EcoAmerica’s Climate Change Research

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This post was originally published at the Impress Labs Solar Marketing Think Tank

The first rule of talking to Americans about climate change: Don’t talk about climate change. That’s the word from EcoAmerica, based on their latest research on climate messaging.

While that’s an oversimplification of EcoAmerica’s message, we all know that “climate change” and “global warming” are politically loaded terms. Plus, most people are overwhelmed by the idea of climate change. So how do we get them engaged? With values-based messaging that makes personal connections to climate. Our messaging must also move from eliminating the bad to creating the good — and the concrete benefits that come with that.

This is good news for solar marketers: It’s easy to show the benefits of solar.

Who’s your audience?

The message you use always depends on to whom you’re talking to. EcoAmerica identified three key groups of American voters:

  • The base. EcoAmerica found that 13% of registered voters are already on board with the climate change message. They tend to be Democrats, and racially diverse.
  • The opposition. A mere 10% do not believe in human-caused climate change and don’t think we can do anything about it. They tend to be white men, and Republicans.
  • Confused but persuadable. A full 77%, whose demographics closely reflect those of the national population of registered voters, believe we’ve at least partly caused climate change. But they’re confused about whether we can do anything about it. As solar marketers, it’s our job to convince them!

When it comes to communicating about climate change — and solar power — these groups are especially open to hearing the message:

  • Women. The focus on health and family that works with many Americans resonates particularly well with women.
  • African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos. These groups have been more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and tend to believe in it more than other Americans.

How should you talk to your audience?

The good thing about solar power is that you can sell it without ever mentioning the climate. Even so, EcoAmerica’s messaging advice includes some nuggets of wisdom for anyone communicating with the public about solar.

It’s no surprise that we need to get away from messages of Armageddon and polar bears. Today, it’s all about personal relevance.

Connect with common values

To keep people from being overwhelmed, we can use values-based messaging that makes personal connections to the climate.

  • Connect climate action and moral responsibility. Persuadable Americans respond strongly to the idea that we have a moral responsibility to future generations.
  • Focus on family, children, and health. Americans react with more urgency when the message is about protecting their family’s well-being — and health is one of the strongest messages for Americans.
  • Focus locally. Community-based messages help people feel they can make a difference. They also seem less political, and they bring the economic opportunity closer to home.

How to use this in your solar marketing

I won’t name any names, but there still are some solar companies that don’t feature pictures of children or families on their websites. What? Given the fact that messages of moral responsibility to future generations, focus on families, and health benefits tested so strongly, it seems like a no-brainer to include at least a subtle reference to these with some nice photos of happy, healthy families.

This messaging is especially motivating for women, who are important solar customers. So do include women in your images of families — and of course, African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and the other groups making up modern America.

Think about how to incorporate this messaging in your text as well as images. When listing the benefits of solar, for example, you might move away from “saving the planet” to mentions of cleaner air and healthier communities.

Speaking of communities, solar marketers can also emphasize the local. Are you a local installer? Play up that fact! But even a nationwide company can remind people that with solar on their roof, they’ll be using locally made energy from the sun — and creating jobs that can’t be outsourced. It can be very empowering to people to realize that with solar power, they don’t need to wait for politicians in Washington to solve our problems.

Move from impacts to solutions

People are tired of negative messaging. We can change this by highlighting the solutions.

  • Sell the personal benefits, including dollar savings. Americans tend to think that action on climate change will cost them. Show how they will benefit.
  • Pivot quickly to solutions. Make climate impacts personal, using one or two obvious local examples — and move on to solutions.
  • Use “we” instead of “I” or “you and I.” When it comes to climate change, people are more likely to believe that “we can” or “we need” to take action now.

How to use this in your solar marketing

We’re in luck with this one. In most parts of the country, people can start saving on their power bills immediately by going solar — and most solar companies do a good job of putting this front and center. Savings are even more important to emphasize than local jobs; EcoAmerica found that people are more worried about money in their pockets right now than about jobs. We have a strong message at our disposal with solar: It not only saves you money now but also hedges against rising electricity prices. All of this with no sacrifices required!

We can also connect solar power with better health and a better future for our customer, their family, and their community. This is a simple solution that will benefit all of us.

Help people feel empowered

Americans are increasingly concerned about climate change, but they feel powerless to do anything. We need to show people that they can make a difference in their daily lives.

  • Evoke lived experiences, use visual language. People understand what they’re seeing with their own eyes. Focus on preventing damage to the climate.
  • Project a can-do attitude. Americans are starting to doubt America’s exceptionalism — and they’re not happy about that. Use messages that tap into American pride.
  • Convert blame and villains into opportunity and choice. People know that fossil fuels are the enemy, but they’re tired of blame and villainization.

How to use this in your solar marketing

Solar was invented in the U.S.! Without saying things people might doubt, like “America is great,” we can emphasize what we have achieved. EcoAmerica suggests wording like “We led the way into space and onto cell phones and the internet. Today, the next big thing is clean energy.” We can lead the way there, too.

It’s important to give examples of how this is already happening: We can show that affordable, local solar power is being made here, in Texas, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina — not just places like California.

Since freedom tested very strongly in EcoAmerica’s research, we’d also do well to emphasize the freedom of choice that going solar represents. There’s a reason Tea Partiers around the country are fighting for solar.

As solar marketers, we should be thankful that we have an easier job than anyone trying to talk to the American public about climate change. Our message can be summed up in this wording from EcoAmerica: “Thankfully, we have a plan for a healthier future. We can move away from the dirty fuels that make us sick and shift toward safe, clean energy, like solar. Each breath we take should be a healthy one.”