By Carli Evilsizer, marketing specialist at WTWH Media

Originally published on Solar Power World

Solar installers who think their biggest competition are other installers are probably wrong. The real competition and challenge for solar marketing, according to companies large and small, is convincing the public that solar technology works.

“There are still awareness issues and myths to debunk,” says Fred Greenhalgh, Digital Marketing Manager for Maine-based ReVision Energy. “Most people would go solar if they knew they could.”

Solar marketing managers say that customer reviews, consistent content marketing plans and a strong digital presence are the most effective strategies to educate the public. A recent study from SPV Market Research confirms that recommendations and Web research lead to more than half of residential solar installations.

With this in mind, ReVision Energy has discovered that its best marketing strategy is providing educational articles as well as customer reviews directly on its website.

“We have had tremendous success by providing unbiased, quality information and letting people contact us once they’ve made up their own minds,” Greenhalgh says.

Rick Hunter, CEO of Microgrid Solar, has noticed the power of referrals. In fact, he explains it this way: “Marketing is all referrals, either directly or indirectly.”

Hunter says people gravitate toward what friends and family endorse more than what traditional advertising tries to sell. Acting on this, Microgrid Solar has organized its entire marketing approach around referrals by leveraging every existing client. The company checks in with customers on a regular basis, sends newsletters and throws customer appreciation events throughout the year, keeping customers excited.

Microgrid Solar heavily depends on social media to stay connected with its customers and is active on 10 platforms. While the company has received successful sales leads from social media, Hunter says social media should be viewed as a way to build customer awareness and loyalty.

Greenhalgh agrees that social media is a great platform to connect with current and potential customers. “It is a way to get in front of people who don’t know us yet and to let customers remember we are still around,” he says.

Another East Coast company, Exact Solar, also uses social media to stay connected with customers. Dara Bortman, VP of Sales and Marketing, says customers especially enjoy seeing photos of recent projects on Facebook.

Bortman says she doesn’t consider solar installers to be her competition so much as the challenge of convincing the public to go solar.

“It is a big step to go solar still,” Bortman says. “People are more comfortable if their neighbors, people just like them, have it already. We need to show them they do.”

Exact Solar also creates unique content to post on their website. For the last three years, Exact Solar has published a monthly solar article in the local newspaper to help educate the public. These articles have been successful because they are easy to understand and cover topics the public finds interesting, such as solar pool heating.

Bortman hopes these articles will convince more people to go solar and benefit the industry. “I’m happy to see other successful installers because it’s good for the industry and there is plenty of work to go around,” she says.

Hunter of Microgrid Solar agrees.

“We aren’t trying to take a piece of the pie, we are trying to expand the pie,” he says.