The concept of brand can be a little confusing: you might wonder how branding is different from marketing, or why having a brand matters in the first place. It's a buzzword that a lot of people use and few can define, but understanding what brand is--and how to effectively build one--will set you apart from your competitors as a true player in the solar game, and take your solar marketing efforts to the next level.
What is a Brand?
At its core, a brand is the promise you're making to your customer. As defined by Entrepreneur, your brand:
Tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from that of your competitors. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.
In other words, how are you different? What's your niche in the solar market? How do your customers see you? Where's your business heading? What are the core values, services, and standards that form the building blocks of your business? Fundamentally, a brand is what your audience--whether it be your customers, leads, or people who you haven't reached yet--thinks of when they hear your company's name.
Building A Solar Brand
If you've spent some time analyzing your business and your place in the market through a strategic SWOT analysis, you're already well on your way to developing a strong solar brand identity. Don't be afraid of defining yourself: it's better to excel in a specific niche, or be known for being excellent in a few key areas, than to try and spread your brand thin. As they say, you can't be everything to everyone, so stick with what works for you and your business. You want to be the go-to dual-axis solar tracker in your area, known for efficient installations of high-quality solar products? Great--that's your brand.
Once you have a sense of what your identity as a solar brand is--or what you want it to be--it's time to execute the actual process of branding your business. Remember that branding can be as far-reaching or as focused as you want it to be, so don't get overwhelmed by this project. While some companies have entire departments dedicated to branding, the building blocks of a brand are not complicated.
Having an actual logo, designed by an actual graphic designer, might seem like an unnecessary expense (or something you should be able to do yourself using Microsoft Paint). In reality, a well-designed, visually-appealing logo is one of the biggest branding tools available to you. A logo is an immediate visual association with your company: think of the swoosh on your Nike sneakers, or the apple with a bite taken out of it on the back of your iPhone. Even without words or company names accompanying the images, you know exactly who--and what--they represent. It's a pipe dream to imagine that your logo will someday have the same kind of recognition on a global scale, but you can certainly achieve it locally.
You want your logo to make a statement and subtly convey your brand values, so go for something simple, bold, and colorful. And don't be afraid of going against the grain: green for an environmentally-focused company, or yellow for a solar company, is expected. Purple? That's something people will remember.
And once you've invested in a good logo, put it to work! Your logo can, and should, go anywhere you think to put it. Company t-shirts for installers and polos for salespeople, company vehicles, bumper stickers, signage outside of your office, on lawn signs and marketing materials...the more places you put it, the more eyes will see it, and the more likely people are to remember it.
Your brand can be thought of as the message you want to be consistently delivering across all channels. And what better way to convey your core message than through your website? In our digital age, Google is the first place people go when they're trying to solve a problem or learn more about a business. If you're not online, or your website is poorly-constructed and uninformative, you're missing a significant opportunity to grab your audience and let them know who you are and what you're all about.
As with your logo, simple is fine (and often, better): sites like Wordpress, Squarespace, and Weebly are easy to use and inexpensive to run. It's worth investing some money into an actual web designer who can create something sleek and user-friendly, but don't get caught up in the need to have all the bells and whistles, especially if you don't have a dedicated marketing team to maintain it. Your website should convey who you are (through a prominently-positioned logo and a brand statement in the form of an "About Us" page), what you do (a "Services" and/or "Products" page) and a way to get in touch with you (a "Contact Us" page).
Once you've built out a few core pages, make them more visually interesting with some high-quality images of the installations you've done. If you don't have a photo library, do some searching for pictures you can use for free. Some manufacturers will offer up images of their products for partners to use at no cost; you can also use sites like Unsplash to source free, high-resolution stock images. You could also add in a couple of customer quotes to leverage the power of the testimonial.
Make sure the whole site is SEO-optimized (again, this is worth spending some money to have a professional do for you), and you'll be good to go.
Your Core Messaging: The Elevator Pitch
The concept of an elevator pitch--your brand message delivered in the time it would take to ride an elevator, around 20-30 seconds--might seem silly, but can actually be one of your most powerful tools. Taking all of your strategic thinking around your brand and summarizing it one or two lines that will concisely and efficiently explain what you do, and why, can be a challenging task, but is well-worth the effort. We live in a world of short attention spans: being able to deliver your value proposition via a quick, slick sales pitch is invaluable. Use the results of your SWOT analysis to nail down what your key differentiators, offerings, and values are, then spend some time distilling these down to the most salient points.
Once you've gotten that core message down, you can expand upon it--creating a memorable business tagline, outlining your key talking points for new customers, and agreeing on common terminology used among staff when talking about your products and services are all good ways to flesh out your brand messaging. Then make sure that everyone in the company not only knows and understands this message but is actually delivering it, whether or not they're in a customer-facing role.
The Power of Consistency
So you've set out to master solar marketing. You've done the brainstorming and brand strategy work. You've had a logo designed, and you've put it everywhere you can think of. You've had your website reworked for clarity and user-friendliness. Your staff knows your elevator pitch and key talking points. "Great," you're thinking, "I've built my brand. My work here is done."
Well...not quite. These are the building blocks of brand identity, but true solar marketing success comes with how (and how well) you use them. The rule of thumb? Consistency is everything. You could have the best solar brand in the world, but if it's not being applied consistently, to everything that your company touches, it's useless. This means auditing any existing marketing and sales collateral, and redesigning them if necessary to fit with your new brand identity (language, logo, and imagery). It means ensuring your staff is speaking a common language, and that everyone is on the same page in terms of what your company represents, and how you're going to represent it. It means regularly updating your website to reflect new developments in the business, and to evolve alongside your brand. If your brand is, as we defined earlier, the promise you make to your customers, you want it to be apparent in everything you do.
Successful solar marketing is not easy, but putting in the time and effort to clearly define your brand identity--who you are as a business--is an invaluable initiative that will pay off over time. Establishing your solar brand will, in turn, help you establish yourself as a recognized, trusted, go-to installer in your area.