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Branding, a Challenge for Cleantech Companies

Scientists and engineers have traditionally dominated the cleantech industry. However, because of a lack of resources, they have also been in charge of transforming an invention into a business concept and then commercializing it. This one of the reasons why many cleantech businesses have difficulties positioning their company as a brand and not just another new invention. Marketing and R&D are inherently different disciplines and although branding for cleantech might not be easy, it’s essential in a rapidly growing market focused on sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Amanda North and Porter Novelli (Agrion, Business Network for Energy, Cleantech and Sustainable Development http://tiny.cc/8sgqg) recently interviewed several marketing executives of leading solar companies and recorded some interesting notions about branding that might serve the cleantech industry as a whole.

The first important notion in these interviews with solar representatives was: It’s not one single industry! – most cleantech companies face this. Whether it’s lighting, wind, clean water, smart grid or any other cleantech industry, their market is segmented. Although vertical integration is on the rise, most companies provide a specific piece in a cleantech solution. Correct positioning of products and their specific benefits is therefore essential.

In a B2B environment, product reliability, company stability and company size (a sum of factors addressed as “bankability”) are seen as THE most important brand attributes. What might come as a surprise, B2B companies are beginning to consistently focus on a more general public in their communication strategies. Obviously, no matter the buyer of a product, having a brand with a positive appeal amongst the general public helps expand a business.

B2C companies, communicate the ease of use and installation, low upfront costs and reliability as the most important features of their brand. While cutting edge technology was the message in the past, the message has shifted to end-user benefits. And it’s not enough to refer to ecology only, cleantech solutions have to be economically viable.

The morale: Some companies offer turnkey solutions as a matter of simplicity instead of letting consumer do their homework in selecting, installing, maintaining and financing. Several residential solar companies, offering vertical integration are now very successful. Vertical integration is a brand enhancing condition; the solution comes from one company and not from a conglomerate.

Not only is the cleantech market segmented, but the audience is also continually being segmented. Buyers, investors, opinion-leaders (bloggers, journalists), certification-institutes, local and national governmental institutes, just to mention a few. They are reached through specific media and require tailored messages in order to be effective in branding. Cleantech companies need a consistent branding message tailored to their different target markets using the communication channels they consume.

As no surprise for the cleantech industry, social media channels are becoming more and more important in reaching out to different target markets. A personalized dialogue with specific target markets allows a company to respond more effectively to the needs of a specific audience. Social media channels provide this dialogue.

Cleantech companies have to take branding serious. There is solid evidence that the successful cleantech companies of tomorrow will later be analyzed as the ones that excelled in branding.

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